Friday, November 6, 2015

Is the Alternate History Community Over-Centralized?

The Holy Roman Empire wishes it could be as over-centralized as the Alternate Historians!
When it was announced that Counter-Factual.net was closing its doors at the end of the year, alternate historians voiced their concern that the community was in danger of becoming "over-centralized". Presumably they are referring to how AlternateHistory.com's size has cornered the market on alternate history discussion, but are these concerns justified?

First, when I say the alternate history community, I am referring to the English-language speaking alternate history community. I know there are plenty of non-English alternate history sites out there, but I don't know enough about them to comment whether they have the same issues the English-speaking community may have. So with that out of the way, before we can state with any certainty about why the alternate history community is over-centralized, we need to ask why is AlternateHistory.com so big?

We know AlternateHistory.com is the largest gathering of alternate historians on the Internet. As I write this, they boast 24,012 members and celebrated a major milestone of having 5,752 of those members online last August. Those are impressive numbers, but while some may dismiss these successes simply because AlternateHistory.com's name puts it at the top of all Google searches for "alternate history", I fear that would be oversimplifying things.

One of the reasons AlternateHistory.com was able to replace Soc.history.what-if (which replaced GEnie and you should remember that fact because its important later on) as the center of alternate history discussion was because it provided a moderated forum to talk about alternate history. Ian Montgomerie, AlternateHistory.com's founder and administrator, and his volunteers moderators work hard to keep the worst trolls from starting flame wars that could destroy a forum (see Alternia).

While some have accused AlternateHistory.com staff of having a liberal bias, as someone who considers himself a moderate and sees conservatives on the forum having reasonable discussions with other people on the political spectrum, I personally find those criticisms to be a tad unfair. I think Ian and the mods have done a pretty good job being fair and balanced. I have seen them willing to admit that they made mistakes and give out second chances. Plus they do try to treat everyone the same regardless of a member's popularity (see joatsimeon@aol.com). That has gone a long way in my opinion in making AlternateHistory.com a successful alternate history site. The name alone couldn't have kept people there if it was administered poorly.

On the flip side, that doesn't really solve the issue of the community being over-centralized. Except for AltHistory Wiki and few other smaller sites, the community is heavily influenced by the culture of AlternateHistory.com. On its face, that isn't necessarily a bad thing (and I already explained the issues I have with the AlHistory Wiki so I'm glad the community isn't taking its cues from them), but it means diverse voices could be (unintentionally) silenced by the behemoth that is AlternateHistory.com. The pressure to conform to the standards of the majority may be too great in a community that seems centered on just one site and is already pretty small to begin with.

Should we be worried? Actually, no. As we should all know, history tends to repeat itself. Remember that not only did AlternateHistory.com's forum replace Soc.history.what-if's newsgroup, but Soc.history.what-if itself replaced GEnie's RoundTables. Thus there is a strong possibility of some other discussion group format replacing AlternateHistory.com. Consider Generation Z, or the post-Millenials. These are the children who have known no other world besides the one that has the Internet in it. And what is the #1 way they communicate with each other? Social media. Places like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr and so on. To them "forums" may seem a tad archaic and old fashioned. That's not saying people of this generation don't use them, but they certainly use social media a lot more.

As this generation of alternate historians comes of age, they may gravitate towards a means of communication they are more comfortable with rather than the format of AlternateHistory.com. In time, AlternateHistory.com may go the way of Soc.history.what-if and other sites that have come and gone. Now to be fair this may not happen for years to come or at all. Some have suggested that certain social media platforms aren't conducive for finding or cataloging alternate histories...at least for now. As time goes on, its quite possible AlternateHistory.com may find itself losing active members to new groups arising on social media.

So I wouldn't worry too much about the community being "over-centralized", but if you find my social media prediction to be bogus or just want to decentralize things faster, then I got an easy fix for you: go create your own alternate history site! I'm not talking about another forum (God knows we have seen dozens of those over the years), but more like the personal websites that were popular during the Age of Geocities (roughly between 1994-2003) when stand-alone alternate history sites were prevalent. These were usually maintained by one author who showcased their work in a central location.

The thing is that it is easier than ever to create a website or blog these days. Blogger and WordPress have a lot of useful tools to help you and for those who post a lot of timelines on AlternateHistory.com or elsewhere, it may be helpful to have one place where all of your work is recorded. Who knows? Some communities of fans may even start to congregate around these sites, much like what happened with the sadly defunct Shattered World. If you want some examples about what I am talking about, check out the blogs of Sam McDonald, Lynn Davis, Sean Sherman, Tyler Bugg and Jeff Provine.

AlternateHistory.com may be the king of alternate history for now, but in time this could change. A whole new generation is growing up in a world that is in a constant state of flux. We have no idea what the future will hold for our community, but whatever happens, there will always be people out there asking "what if".

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

10 comments:

  1. Interesting reflection, Matt. I haven't been on anything as archaic as a forum for years. Mea culpa, but I find social media so much easier - blogs, Facebook in particular. Many people are more time-strapped than they used to be and there is so much more on offer.

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  2. It is true that alternate history is over-centralized and if Ian no longer pays for the site, that means most AH on the web is dead.

    However, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. On AH.Com, there are so many skilled writers that noobs, when they make an implausible thread, they get comments from more experiences AHers on why their scenarios are implausible and they quickly improve.

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  3. I don't think much of Montgomerie...

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    1. He's fairly horrible. yes.

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  4. Well, you were banned by him. I'm not commenting on the specifics (I think he went a bit overboard in your case), but you can hardly claim to have an unbiased opinion.

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    1. He has a definite case of big-frog-in-small-puddle disease. Also, I think Scalzi had a good idea when he remarked that when talking to or about someone on the Net, you should never say or do anything you wouldn't if the person in question was standing six inches away, scowling.

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    2. He has a definite case of big-frog-in-small-puddle disease. Also, I think Scalzi had a good idea when he remarked that when talking to or about someone on the Net, you should never say or do anything you wouldn't if the person in question was standing six inches away, scowling.

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  5. Also, It is a honor to converse with you, even if over the web.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Have created my own forum, and i like it, it not AH.com but its a place i can call home and where i do not need a miner helmet to find my post.

    http://alternate-timelines.proboards.com/

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