Stewardess (stewardess) wrote in life_wo_fanlib,
Stewardess
stewardess
life_wo_fanlib

What Disney Bought From FanLib

When Disney bought FanLib, what did it get, and what did it do with it?

The short answer: Disney got the servers and the software — everything but content — and launched Take180 the same month FanLib closed (August, 2008). But to understand the full story, such as why FanLib erased its fanfiction archive, you need background.

FanLib did not begin as a fanfiction archive. It was incorporated in 2003, when its founders developed proprietary crowdwriting software. They could have done all sorts of things with it; they elected to lease it for web-based marketing.

Between 2003-2007, FanLib was paid for conducting dozens of marketing campaigns, usually in the form of writing contests, which were hosted on FanLib's servers and used FanLib's software. IPs (intellectual property owners) could pay for a sub-domain, such as lword.fanlib.com, with FanLib doing the heavy lifting.

FanLib's proprietary software allowed fans to submit content, vote on content, and talk about it. Content solicited from fans was extremely limited in scope, fill in the blank type stuff, hence the name FanLib, as in Mad Libs; it's a common misconception that lib stood for library, and referred to the fanfiction archive.

Perhaps the most well-known campaign was paid for by The L Word. Fans submitted content for a tiny and irrelevant scene (a character's dream), and then fans voted for a winner, to be incorporated into a future episode.

By early 2007, FanLib may have been worrying about future income. As broadband increasingly replaced dial-up, IPs were attracting fans online by offering video content: previews, interviews, and eventually entire episodes; they weren't going to need FanLib to provide "more fun for fans." Rare in 2007, the number of TV shows viewed over the web soared into the billions in 2008.

In any case, it was in 2007 that FanLib added a multi-fandom fanfic archive (copying the fandom list in its entirety from fanfiction.net); it was assuredly thought a smart move in the circles the Williams brothers (Chris and David, FanLib's principal founders) moved in. They already had the domain, the servers, the software, and the employees. The worst possible outcome, as they probably saw it, would be a larger audience for their marketing campaigns — most ads on FanLib were for those campaigns, encouraging people to participate in useless contests paid for by Star Trek, The Ghost Whisperer, Battlestar Galactica, and so on; FanLib members were regularly spammed with the same. The best case would be increasing FanLib.com's traffic and earning big advertising bucks (which did not happen).

To fund the fanfiction archive expansion, FanLib received $3 million in venture capital — far more money than they needed, in the opinion of anyone who has operated an archive. Curiously, FanLib's two business branches, the fanfiction archive and the crowdwriting marketing campaigns, do not seem to have been separated financially, and had a shared budget. I base this on an anonymous FanLib source quoted by partly_bouncy, so judge its accuracy accordingly.

After the fanfiction archive was launched, Craig Singer, a member of FanLib's board of directors, began dabbling in "user generated" video content, no doubt having wet YouTube dreams, and made some sort of deal with massify.com. "In association with" FanLib, Singer solicited ideas for a horror "webfilm." This became Perkins' 14 — a movie which is missing, at the very least, someone familiar with the possessive form. FanLib added fanvid hosting in October, 2008.

Back to Disney. The mouse had no interest in FanLib's tiny and rarely visited fanfiction archive: they wanted the servers and the software. Before handing over the works, FanLib wiped it clean, erasing past marketing campaigns for HarperTeen, Star Trek, The L Word, Scholastic…everything, including the woebegone fanfiction archive.

Disney's Take180 is an awkward hybrid of FanLib's crowdwriting marketing campaigns and what Craig Singer has been up to at massify.com. As Take180 describes it:

"It's a community where people come together to make awesome web shows. You power the weekly episodes, by submitting stories, videos, photos, and artwork — and/or commenting and voting on other people's submissions. And hey — prizes happen."

It is exactly how FanLib's marketing campaigns operated, including the shabby prizes (at Take180, a prize can consist of a microscopically small trophy graphic a member may add to her profile).

Fanfiction isn't mentioned at Take180, although members submitting stories to be possibly incorporated into shows are writing fanfiction (futurefic!), whatever Disney chooses to call it. It is not far-fetched to conclude FanLib gave corporate-blessed fanfiction a bad name.

While I knew FanLib had obliterated the archive when they closed, I did not immediately notice they had also wiped out the marketing campaign content. When I noticed, I was baffled.

It was explained when I learned Disney had bought FanLib and turned it into Take180, but especially after ankaret spotted fanlib popping up in Take180 urls; FanLib trashed the archive and everything else because Disney got the FanLib software and the servers.

Anyone who has submitted fanfiction to an archive may be disgusted about FanLib killing the archive with only two weeks notice (July 24 - August 4, 2008). Did they need to kill it? No.

Even if the archive depended on the software sold to Disney (I believe the archive used a stripped down version), the archive could have been moved to new servers and a new platform. In 2007, FanLib created a script to steal import content from fanfiction.net (infamously asking people for their fanfiction.net passwords for "easy importing," until Xing Li blocked the script); they could have built a similar tool to export content.

Craig Singer is going full steam ahead with his new career, soliciting fans for ideas for movies, which he produces and profits from. I am not sure how Chris and David Williams are occupying themselves [edit: Chris Williams is the new CEO of Take180], although Chris has been making money on the online marketing speaker circuit for the last three years. I believe David Williams was the main developer of FanLib's software, and that it (the software, not the company) was wholly owned by David and Chris, not Singer and the other men who lent their names to FanLib's board of directors. If so, it was the Williams brothers who substantially profited from the sell-out to Disney — minus a cut taken by H.I.G. Ventures, which put up the $3 million. The price Disney paid is unknown, but I expect it will leak shortly, since Disney is a publicly traded company.

While I feel terrible for FanLib members who lost their stories, their forum posts, and their reviews, they should have expected things to end badly — for many reasons, but especially this one: in May, 2007, when FanLib began getting negative press, it immediately turned to destroying web content, particularly at my2centences.com, which was the portal for intellectual property owners looking into FanLib's marketing services.




Thanks everyone, it's been fun! May your stories continue…always. -- FanLib





This post drew on many sources; since May, 2007, I've read every article or editorial on FanLib I could find online, and I've posted in this community about any that were worthwhile. You can find them under the news tag; I list just a few here, those most relevant to this post. My occasional fuzziness on some topics (such as the business roles of Singer and the Williams brothers) is due to FanLib's love of destroying online material. Edit: I have dug up FanLib's original board biographies, and posted it.

FanLib founders dance on its zombified grave: FanLib became Disney's Take180 by Stewardess, January 4 2009.

Filmmaker from North Jersey put fans in charge by Jim Beckerman, January 4 2009.

Craig Singer Looks to the Internet for Perkins' 14 by Kyle Rupprecht, October 21 2008.

The Disney buyout rumor just won't die by Stewardess, August 9 2008.

FanLib: One Year Later by partly_bouncy at Fanthropology, March 26 2008.

Internet Goes Nova Over…FanLib.com by Mary McNamara, May 28 2007.

A round-up of FanLib's activities since 2003 by Stewardess, May 22 2007.

Storytelling Social Net FanLib Launches With $3 Million In Funding by David Kaplan, May 18 2007.

Tags: disney buyout, fanlib: history, take180
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