Fancy Free

Jim Caughran, who has tried to bring the Fancyclopedia to the web and make it a living, wiki-like document, admitted his frustration with the project in a widely-broadcast e-mail titled “Fancyclopedia free to good home” –

I’ve not had the energy to do a good job with Fancyclopedia. I’ve never been good at asking people for contributions to fanzines or to Fancyclopedia, nor am I knowledgeable enough to write on my own. I had hoped it would spontaneously take off, contributors flocking to the site to write their version of history. Silly me.

Still, the site has its good points. I was proud of the reformatting and cross-referencing of F2. There have been updates to several items. It’s easily available and potentially valuable to fan historians.

The cost is fairly small, but I don’t see the point of paying it in perpetuity for a static site.

If someone is willing to take over, or if someone has ideas of how to get it working, let me know.
Off the top ideas:
    a committee? (would this doom it?)
    Subsume it into Wikipedia?

Jim Caughran can be contacted at fancyclopedia (at) gmail (dot) com.

Jim deserves thanks, both for his work to date and for publicly raising the issue instead of abandoning the project. And if his off-the-top ideas for getting it working bear fruit that will be great, though I will be surprised if that happens. A committee’s failure to significantly advance Fancyclopedia 3 is one reason the project passed into the current hands. Then, the Wikipedia is administered by a tangled fandom of its own that I predict won’t regard most of the material as significant enough to warrant inclusion. They also don’t tend to accept articles without citations, or citing little-known blogs and websites (much less citing dead links at

Let’s remember what was behind the success of the first two Fancyclopedias – a fan passionately dedicated to writing and completing the project, Jack Speer on the first Fancyclopedia and Richard Eney on the update. Over the past 25 years small groups of fans have tried to devise processes to compensate for there being no volunteer wanting to take that level of responsibility for the task. Experience has shown that you cannot get the work of a lion out of a pack of well-intentioned part-time volunteers.

I suspect that level of passion is needed for more than one reason at this point. There’s the mass of writing that needs to be done, of course. Passion will also be needed to overcome any doubts as to why such a project is still a good investment of time. How many people will use an online Fancyclopedia? Questions constantly arise that experienced fans might answer by opening one of Harry Warner’s histories, but they often don’t do it.

On the other hand, justifications like audience size were irrelevant to Speer or Eney (although I’m sure they felt the membership of FAPA made up in quality what it lacked in quantity.) The truth about most fannish undertakings is that nobody really needs them, fans simply insist on doing them. (Consider this blog, for example…) That kind of self-determined fanwriter is what the project requires if it’s ever going to be done.

Postscript: Should a group rather than an auteur continue the Fancyclopedia project anyway, I offer them this advice.

It’s impossible to attract fanwriters by telling them you plan to treat them as unskilled laborers. I wonder how many people turned aside from the project after reading this warning:

Unlike Wikipedia, Fancyclopedia is to be an edited encyclopedia. Your editors will impose their own iron whim on content, style and presentation.

Also, it is necessary to overcome, not be subservient to, the form in which the project is cast. Fans are less interested in articles that deliver data than they are in stories. I think the underlying appeal of the faanish dictionaries produced by Elst Weinstein and rich brown was how many of their definitions conveyed a story about an individual, event or controversy. The online Fancyclopedia needs to draw on the same energy source.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

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