SF Fandom turns 20 years old this month
#1
All last year I kept thinking, I should do something to celebrate SF-Fandom's 20th anniversary.

I did manage to redesign and relaunch the blog at https://www.sf-fandom.com/ but that's about as far as I got.

I don't recall exactly all the details of our transition to SF-Fandom.Com and, unfortunately, I lost all the emails I had from that time to a lighting bolt a little over 10 years ago.

The forums began on Xenite.Org, the first domain (but not the first Website) I ever launched. Xenite has always been a hodge podge of Websites covering many different topics. But the forums were quite popular from 1997 to 2001.

They became so popular I had to update the index files for all the discussions several times a week. It was a lot of work.

Somewhere along the way a company named eUniverse contacted me. They had seen that we were running banner ads all over the Internet and invited us to join their network of sites. This was back before the Dot-Com Meltdown, when everyone thought (or hoped) that they'd become rich by running banner ads. eUniverse's strategy was to sign exclusive agreements with science fiction and fantasy Websites, where they controlled our banner advertising and provided us with hosting. We'd get a cut of their revenue.

By the time eUniverse came along Dixie Harrison was helping me with Xena Online Resources. It was a huge directory of fan Websites and she oversaw a team of about a dozen volunteers who reviewed all submissions and updated the listings. Dixie wasn't working at the time and we spent a lot of time discussing what we could do with Xenite given the right opportunity.

eUniverse seemed like that opportunity.

So we signed the contract and moved everything to their server. We replaced the original Web forum with a new expanded version that ran on Perl. It was supposed to free me from any obligations to manually update scripts.

Unfortunately, eUniverse had never dealt with a BUSY forum before. We crashed their server within hours. I had people from all across North America (including actor Michael Sinelnikoff) calling me and begging me to back out of the deal. But there was no way to do that. We didn't have another hosting account.

I began writing new forum software from scratch that would handle the workload better. I got the forums up and running and migrated as many discussions over as I could. That was the second migration in less than 2 months. And I had to code everything myself.

Somewhere amidst all the chaos I got the phone number for eUniverse's technical wizard. He told me they had never hosted a site like ours. He mentioned he had just burned in a new server and offered to put us on there. We would be the only site on there for a while.

That calmed everyone down for a while.

And then eUniverse suddenly announced that they were shutting down their network. They could no longer make their business model work. All the advertising revenue had dried up as companies failed right and left.

And so once again I had to migrate the forums to a new server. This time Dixie took on most of the workload. We set up a new hosting account and registered the SF-Fandom.Com domain name. I chose that name because an online friend of mine was being pressured by Fandom.Com to give up her domain (Fandom.TV). Their attorneys implied (but did not actually threaten) they might sue her for trademark infringement.

We both knew that was ridiculous. The word "fandom" had been in the public domain for decades. It could never be trademarked. So I offered to register a similar domain name to attract the attention of the lawyers. I was ready and willing to take them on.

And then Fandom.Com began crumbling. Like eUniverse, they had assembled a number fo popular fan sites they wanted to leverage to become the center of online fandom. It didn't happen and then their advertising revenue dried up, like everyone else's.

But by then we had already launched SF-Fandom. I told Dixie I didn't want to bring the forums back into Xenite.Org. It was already too big to manage and I figured Xena Online Resources would decline in popularity as the Hercules and Xena shows wound down. The forums were our future.

We grew the forums to a large community - larger than it is today, admittedly. It's just so difficult to keep up with all the different fandoms. And some people refused to join our community because of our moderation policies. They wanted to be able to have flame wars and attack and provoke people. They didn't say it exactly that way, but you could tell from the way they behaved on other forums that they didn't want to be part of a community built on mutual respect between fans of different ideas.

And that's not an easy path to walk. I have been moderated by the other team members more than anyone else in the history of SF-Fandom. It's fair to ask if I'd still be here if I wasn't "the guy who owns the domain". I'd like to think I'd still be here anyway, but I obviously can't see myself the way others do.

We had a very rough time when New Zealand actor Kevin Smith died. Everyone was upset. CNN put our forums on their broadcast and traffic exploded from all over the world. We collected about 15,000 messages in one thread from grief-stricken fans.

And then one night while performing maintenance on the site I accidentally deleted the database.

Dixie struggled for 4 days to get it back. We finally gave up and restored from an old backup, losing all those 15,000 incredible messages. She was heartbroken. She felt like she had let everyone down.

Dixie eventually got a full-time job and had to withdraw from SF-Fandom. We appreciated everything she had done for the fan community and she was still my friend. But we drifted apart as we both went back to work and had less time for online fannish activities.

And then she passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. I still think about her all the time, and her family. And I remember many late night discussions we had about our personal lives, how to make SF-Fandom better, and all the bitter drama that she and I had to preside over when fan disputes were escalated by the moderation team to "Mom and Dad".

It wasn't easy but having Dixie there was always a comfort.

SF-Fandom still has a lot of life in it. And I still have ideas I want to try out. Someday I'll do them. I didn't think I'd ever get us off VBulletin, which is very good forum software - but our license was too old to keep renewing. And yet, here we are running on another forum platform.

We might transition back to VBulletin again in the future. I haven't figured that out.

Well, my wife wants me to run an errand so I guess I'll wrap up here.

But I wanted to say that these forums are all about the thousands of people who come to read the discussions every month, and the people who participate in those discussions. And I hope that going forward our community grows again.

The last 20 years have been a blessing. And if anyone is owed any thanks, it's everyone who contributed to our discussions over the years. I know Dixie would feel that way. And that's how I feel.
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