I present my interview with Ian Montgomerie, founder and administrator of AlternateHistory.com:
Who is Ian Montgomerie?
Just some guy. I don't bare it all on the internet.
What got you interested in alternate history?
I've been interested in history and science fiction since I was a little kid. When in college I happened to find the Usenet newsgroup soc.history.what-if, and discovered that speculating about history with other people was pretty damn interesting. It's pretty rare to find people having internet arguments that involve a lot of creativity, reasoning, and actual learning.
Why do you think fans in general like alternate history?
I actually don't think of the people on my web site as "fans". Being a fan of something usually refers to cheering on somebody else. Sports fans watch sports but don't necessarily play them, Star Wars fans watch Star Wars but don't make movies, and so on. The alternate history community on the web is almost entirely about people creating their own stuff, discussing it, and debating it. There's very little time devoted to talking about professionally published alternate history.
It's more like a cross between folk art and internet debate.
What do you believe motivates someone to alter history?
I think there are a lot of different motivations for AH, but it's basically it's a way to be creative but also have an analytical challenge. It's creative, but it doesn't require artistic talent (writing/painting/etc.), and it does require a lot of reading and clear thinking. So it depends on what you enjoy.
Why did you start AlternateHistory.com?
It was almost unintentional. Back when people could first buy internet domain names, I realized that speculators were going to buy up all the good ones for profit, so I decided to grab alternatehistory.com on general principle. I asked the people of soc.history.what-if if they had any suggestions, and someone suggested creating a moderated discussion board. Usenet was unmoderated and soc.history.what-if was experiencing some severe trolling, so it seemed like a logical idea.
The result was that I downloaded some free forum software and installed it on my own PC so that it ran over my cable modem connection. A small number of people joined it, and as it slowly grew I did start moderating to keep out the worst trolls.
Can you describe what the early board was like?
The board in the early days was a lot friendlier and also a lot less serious than Usenet. Most people didn't put nearly as much effort into AH, partly because the audience for each work was a lot smaller. It was more of a casual discussion, coffee house sort of feel. Like many small communities, we discovered that small groups of people being quirky could have an impact on the culture of the entire board. A lot of early members were gay, which was a bigger deal ten years ago, so there were a lot of gay jokes. And there was a religion about giant sheep.
What are some of the differences between how AlternateHistory.com looked at the beginning to how it looks now?
Visually it used to be simple 90s web design - white background with blue links. There were only a handful of forums, in particular there were no separate chat forums so casual discussion was mixed in with everything else.
Do you find that board members have any shared traits/interests (besides alternate history, of course)?
What interests board members seems to depend a lot on their age. Older members range from people who are intellectual in general, to hardcore conservatives who like the past better than the present. The younger membership has a big crossover with geek culture (anime and sci-fi fans and so on). The one thing that I've always noticed is what's NOT there - the tech nerds. People who are highly into computer technology and programming, idolize hackers, love Linux, and so on are a very vocal group across a lot of the internet, but are a tiny minority on alternatehistory.com. I'm sure part of that is because people who are highly into technology usually don't also spend a lot of time on humanities subjects like history.
In your opinion, what was the most defining moment in the board's history?
I can't think of one, because the board has grown so organically over time. All the changes I've made have been to deal with that steady growth, so they've been incremental. Many web sites hit some point when they "make it" and have to deal with explosive growth and unexpected challenges, but we've never had that kind of high profile.