Fandom has changed too. Like the internet, it used to be a world apart from the physical, the place misfits went to escape the ever-growing pressure of society. Nowadays, they've both become entrenched within real life, subject to dynamics most of us failed to predict.
As real-life communities and the job market break down, online social spaces come to fill the void. The gap between real identities and internet identities shrinks. It’s harder and harder to participate in fandom spaces as a simple fan rather than as a personal brand selling access to your products, be them your enamel pins, your commissions, or your shitposts. Our online personas are not separate facets of ourselves anymore, but who we exist as.
Corporations awakening to the profitability of fandom are also morphing the face of the average fan. As the prized recipe for turning casuals into stans gets refined, the landscape of fandom spaces inevitably and relentlessly changes. Rituals we shared in secret, like a cabal initiated to the secret world of omegaverse, are now more and more subject to the scrutiny of the mainstream masses.
"It's incredible to think people who bullied us in highschool would be in fandom these days," someone told me recently. As I repeated this to others, I saw it resonate with many.
Truth is, Toto-chan, I’ve a feeling we're not in a niche anymore.
If we want our spaces to be freely weird, we need to carve them outside of the corporate web and rethink our approach to fandom away from the mainstream. But rethinking it doesn't simply mean being blindly nostalgic for the golden days—ask any fan of color, and they'll tell you those days never existed. We need to engage in dialogue with those who share valid concerns over our spaces, to listen and help dismantle the power structures that have always been in place.
The idea of an anonymous fandom platform started as a joke, with the simple observation that, for all the valid critiques of 4chan (and despite some prejudices), fans in the space were able to have conversations nowadays missing from other hubs.
"It's not that there aren't trolls," a user told me. "It's that people feel empowered to ignore them."
In mainstream fandom it’s harder and harder to brush the trolls away. It doesn't matter how thick-skinned you are, it doesn't matter how many people you block, it doesn't matter how good the content filters you set are. For as long as receipts and callouts can follow you from platform to platform, as long as swaths of dedicated people keep track of your movements, as long as your income and connections are held hostage by people without accountability, those of us who stick out can never be truly free.
But if anonymity gives us safety, how can we still engender the connections fandom has the unique ability to create?
Anonymity-first is the answer to this question. By allowing you to transfer contacts you've made on other social networks to an environment designed to be safe, it helps create a freer space that fills the gap in between existing tools. On top of that, thoughtful platform design aimed at empowering the progressive sharing of personal information with trusted individuals will allow you to form new connections with people sharing similar spaces and interests.
In a hyperconnected world, BobaBoard aims to offer a balance between safety and friendship, empowering users to make fewer—but more high-quality—personal connections.
Safety isn't the only benefit of anonymity either. As people in internet fandoms grow into adulthood and beyond, they often have less and less time to build an identity and be consistent contributors to the community. By making identity optional, BobaBoard gives people the ability to jump in and out of fandom spaces, and to have their contributions judged by their value rather than by the number of followers they’re able to accrue.
I'm not promising to create the next central hub for fandom. Even further, I don't believe such a hub should exist. Single communities won't save us. No community can be safe for everyone, and the idea of “peaceful coexistence” is a double-edged sword that ends up silencing the most marginalized among us.
Active, conscious decentralization is the only scalable solution when it comes to social spaces for fandom. It allows us to counteract the issues even companies with disproportionate amounts of resources face, and align our goals to those of smaller subsets of fans, offering them value beyond what a place catering to millions of users can.
Any single social platform that aims to give artists the exposure big internet platforms are able to give will have to eventually bow to powers bigger than its principles, be it for the sake of advertisers, Venture Capitalists, or to achieve the critical mass of users that makes mainstream folks decide to join in. Rather than take corporations head on, we need to nurture complementary spaces, offering respite away from the performative grind of the modern internet and enabling popularity in these cozier communities to translate to popularity in mainstream ones.
BobaBoard aims to be a blueprint for everyone to create their own fandom community, and a stepping stone towards the creation of tools that enable everyone to find the communities that best align with the values they uphold and the content they're interested in.
The rise of fandom servers on Discord shows people are hungry for these spaces, despite the lack of building blocks centered around fandom needs. By creating these blocks, I hope to give birth to a decentralized network of fandom communities, and to safely migrate some of the activity occurring on closed servers back into the open.