Every month the OTW hosts guest posts on our OTW News accounts to provide an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom. These posts express each individual’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy.
Punk has been roaming the internet since the days of Usenet, and writing fanfic for almost as long. In 2019, she took over as moderator of the multifandom recommendation community Fancake when its founder decided to step down. Today, runpunkrun talks about the practice of reccing and rec communities.
How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?
It was the mid-nineties. The way I remember it is that I was searching the web as part of an astronomy assignment and stumbled across an X-Files fan page. I was very into The X-Files at the time so obviously this was something I needed to check out.
Once I discovered the lime-green pastures of X-Files fandom it couldn’t have been long before I learned about fanworks, but the specifics have been lost to time. I do remember that the first fanfic I read was also something I just stumbled across, a Mulder/Scully fic without content notes and with, I later learned, a somewhat controversial history. It was a while before I tried fanfic again, but I had much better luck that time and found a welcoming community and all the fic I could ever want.
How would you describe the role of recs as a fandom practice?
We’re all here because we love something and recs are a way of sharing that love. Recs let us connect with other fans, boost creators, and build community. Sometimes literally. I think we’re all familiar with the age old practice of slipping a new fandom onto a friend’s plate by way of an irresistible fanwork.
As fanworks themselves, recs have a low barrier to entry as they don’t require any special skills beyond being able to explain why you liked something or how it made you feel. They can be a casual thing you blast off on Twitter with a link and a bunch of emojis, or more structured, like at Fancake, where every rec has headers and tags and where posting to the community creates a searchable archive that can be sorted and filtered for fans who want to explore a new fandom or revisit an old one.
How does the community you run work? What are some of its advantages?
Fancake is a multifandom recommendation community where all members can post recs. We have twelve rounds a year, each with a different theme chosen by the community. Themes can be genres, tropes, kinks, forms, anything found in fanworks. We’ve recently had rounds for Essential Starter Recs, Mistaken Identities, Comfortfic, and Fanvids. Every month, I try to present the new theme so it’s as inclusive as possible, but, even then, not all themes will work for all fandoms or all forms of fanworks and so creative interpretations are encouraged.
Fancake has been running continuously since 2010 and has more than 7,500 recs in its archives. The community is hosted on Dreamwidth, where it has a dependable—if somewhat humble—home, but we’re also mirrored on Tumblr, which allows for easy sharing, and Pinboard, where everything’s thoroughly tagged and easily searched. We’re on Twitter as well, but there recs consist only of fandom, title, creator, and a link, so it’s more of a tantalizing mystery.
How did you come to run Fancake and what have some of the challenges been?
In 2019, when Jerakeen posted to the community saying she was looking to step down and wanted to know if anyone was interested in taking over, I’d only been making recs there for about six months. I wasn’t looking to adopt a community with more than a thousand members, but I really enjoyed Fancake and didn’t want to see it fade away, so I contacted Jerakeen to see if I could help. She gave me a behind-the-scenes look at all the spreadsheets that tracked the themes and how things were run and what exactly I’d be getting myself into. It was a lot, but as I sat with it over the next few days, it started to feel like something I could do. Then it became something I wanted to do, and so that’s how I got myself a recommendations community.
The community had been running smoothly for many years by the time I showed up, and since I was new to moderating such a large and complex operation, I mostly kept things as they were. The few changes I did make were all aimed at reducing the workload, and, hopefully, the chance of burnout. I allowed users to tag their own posts instead of that solely being the work of the mod, and I retired the Cupcake Rounds—eight, week-long rounds in April and August—and replaced them with two month-long Flashback Rounds with classic themes from the community’s early years. In addition to being less work for me, I thought it’d be a nice way to spotlight old themes and give us a chance to play in some of the broad, highly popular categories Fancake had in the beginning, like Hurt/Comfort and Crossovers/Fusions.
I also updated the community guidelines to emphasize accessibility, including instruction on how to make posts more accessible for people using assistive technology, and over time I’ve made other improvements as I’ve learned more about my responsibilities as a moderator. Spurred on by the racial justice protests of 2020, I added a conduct section making it clear that harassment wouldn’t be tolerated and anyone using Fancake as a platform for abuse would be banned from the community. This year I expanded our content notes policy. Content notes give readers an idea of what to expect from a fanwork so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to engage with it. I encourage members to include these notes in their recs, and I’m happy to report that many people have adopted this practice.
When I took over Fancake, I knew it had a lot of moving parts and would require a lot of work. I’d have to organize and promote the monthly themes, moderate the community, and maintain Fancake’s presence on three other platforms, and I was ready to do all that. What I didn’t fully appreciate was that it was also my job to create an environment where people could feel safe. I was late to that realization, but I’m learning how to do that work now and trying to catch up. Knowing I’m responsible for this space and the people in it is a heavy thing, but it’s rewarding too, and I want to do all I can to ensure Fancake is a welcoming, inclusive community that’s fun for everyone.
How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?
I was around back when the OTW was just a twinkle in astolat’s eye and watched it grow from an idea into an institution. Through its various arms, the OTW protects our right to create and share fanworks, preserves those works, provides a wiki to record our history, and publishes an open access academic journal that examines fandom culture, practices, and works, and the organization has made impressive achievements in all these areas.
However, the OTW also has a responsibility to protect fans—especially fans of color—against harassment in the spaces it moderates and unfortunately in this area its performance has been deeply disappointing. Many fans feel alienated by the inadequate and sluggish response to complaints of abuse, and while the OTW recently acknowledged this in its pledge to address racial bias and discrimination within the organization, its plan to create a more welcoming environment on its platforms seems to emphasize user controls. Such tools put the burden on the individual. I believe the OTW needs to make structural changes to the way it handles abuse, including developing, and consistently enforcing, policies to combat racist harassment, as well as being more forthcoming in communicating its progress with this work. After all, we can’t hold our institutions accountable if we don’t know what they’re doing.
What fandom things have inspired you the most?
One of my favorite stories about fandom is a reminder of what fans can accomplish when we work together. When the founders of YouTube acquired and subsequently destroyed Delicious in 2011, Maciej Cegłowski, the creator of Pinboard, a bookmarking service similar to Delicious, saw fandom freaking out on Twitter and innocently asked for a list of our “must have” features. Maybe, he suggested, as a Google Doc. A group of fans took him up on his offer and over the course of three days constructed a fifty-two page collaborative Google Doc that, along with those feature requests (and some actual features built by the fans themselves after Cegłowski said he couldn’t do it), included a detailed table of contents, color-coded reference key, and, because this is fandom, a link to a Pinboard/Delicious fic inspired by current events.
In 2013, Cegłowski gave a talk called Fan is A Tool-Using Animal that chronicles his experience with fandom. It’s a good read, and seeing fandom’s creative energy from a suitably appreciative outside perspective is a rush, true, but I like this story because it’s also just a flashy example of a normal day in fandom, a small slice of all the planning and passion that fans routinely put into their work, whether that work is a highly organized collaborative document, a podfic with many voices, a fanwork exchange, or a constantly improving archive.