Corporations and People: Content and Control

Corporations don’t get people. There is a fundamental problem with tailoring one’s message for more than one specific audience: Conflicts.

Slashdot has the catch:

bill jackson writes “A couple of former Yahoo execs are trying to create the next MySpace by aggregating fanfiction on a website called FanLib. But the fanfic writers recognized that exploitation was written all over the idea and they’ve refused to participate. ‘Instead of creating the Myspace of fanfic since the launch two weeks ago, sparked a white-hot Internet firestorm.The meltdown is a hard lesson in how not to conduct business on the Internet.But it’s a firestorm of FanLib’s own making because, in spite of the Yahoo pedigree (or maybe because of it), they plowed in like china shop bulls.'”

Mary’s post on multichannel goes into more depth:

Worse, a marketing pdf., posted prominently on the Web site of parent company my2centences, seemed far more exploitative than the happy, happy we’re here-to-serve Fanlib (now chipped) veneer.

The pdf. was first outed on Lis Riba’s blog, in the post Chump Change from My2centences and discussion ensued on Making Light.

Finally, Chris Williams distanced Fanlib from the marketing materials, saying they have “NOTHING to do with fan fiction submitted on the site.

Fair enough but…same name, same people.

But the verbiage below lifted directly from the pdf. is still enough to give anyone – not to mention the freewheeling fanfic culture – pause about the players involved in

“MANAGED & MODERATED TO THE MAX …As with a coloring book, players must stay within the lines..”

Lines? Coloring books? Moderated to the max?

It is this schism between audiences I want to discuss in more detail. Riba Rambles:

And how about Page 4, describing how their site is “MANAGED & MODERATED TO THE MAX,” including the following:


  • As with a coloring book, players must “stay within the lines”
  • Restrictive player’s terms-of-service protects your rights and property
  • Moderated “scene missions” keep the story under your control
  • Full monitoring & management of submissions & players

Part of the appeal of fanfiction, of any user created content, is control. It is you, not some corporation with a bottom line, who decides whether or not Luke’s wookie godfather has an epic shouting match with yoda over hebrew national franks. That is the crux of the problem here. Not that corporations do not understand their audience. They do, and aside from mistakes regarding ads for the site, the site itself focuses purely on creating and sharing stories. The problem is that their internal audience is geared towards the bread and butter of corporate America: profit and control. So much so that every aspect of the site has been framed and painted to play along. People do not like being told what to do, and we certainly don’t like being told how to make money for other people when all we get is condescension:

Business Week touted the project last March. “The genius of FanLib is realizing that fans can be happy just being recognized.”

Contrast this with Youtube:

YouTube founder Chad Hurley confirmed to the BBC that his team was working on a revenue-sharing mechanism that would “reward creativity”.

Part of the appeal of viral marketing and user generated content is that companies can make money off of other people’s work. You invest in the infrastructure, but labor costs are zero. Its an executive’s heaven! The fear that goes right alongside this is the lack of control. What if the users “damage your brand”? Or post content that leaves you in some way liable? Hence the control. Corporate control is always about the fear that accompanies greed.

The coverage will range over the problems of misunderstanding and miscommunication this venture represents. However. This debacle provides a valuable insight into the methods and motivations of corporations approaching user driven content. They understood their audiences perfectly. The problem was not in their delivery: they were crystal clear. The problem was in their content.