Pity the poor internet executive who runs foul of the fan-fiction community, one of the internet's most bizarre tribes. Barak Berkowitz, chief executive of Six Apart, is the latest: he's just penned an abject apology for suspending accounts on one of the blogging conglomerate's sites, Live Journal. He'd received complaints that some of the contributors to the online diary site were promoting pedophilia, and Six Apart, which hopes to go public one day, was a little too zealous in banning users.
So far, just another tedious free-speech case. Those who care can discuss, forever, whether there's a difference between the promotion of pedophilia and "slash" fictional accounts of sex between teens, sex between aliens, sex between teens and aliens, sex between teens, aliens and Captain Kirk., and all the other permutations that spring from the minds of the internet's freakier fanfic obsessives.
Here's the more interesting question: how on earth did the internet suits ever think they could colonize the wilder fringes of the internet? Take three companies: Fanlib, the CBS-backed site which proposed to moderate fanfic enthusiasts "to the max" in the interest of TV and movie marketers; Six Apart, which acquired Live Journal to move away from software and tap into the growth of internet communities; and Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, a virtual world populated by perverts in the guise of furry avatars, and fad-following marketers.
One can't accuse these companies of cynicism: the community, in each case, came before the corporate ambition. But all three companies now have business objectives: Fanlib has big-money backers to satisfy; Six Apart wants to go public, and has other more respectable units;; and Linden Lab needs the blue-chip marketers to fund, indirectly, its tremendous technology costs. The freaks will have to go. But, if they do, what's left?
By the way, Six Apart's problem is not limited to Live Journal. Vox, the company's new flagship, a blogging community constructed on the Live Journal model, has attracted a similarly offbeam audience. Here are the Vox bloggers interested in "ageplay".