Praxis

Sites of participation: Wiki fandom and the case of Lostpedia

Jason Mittell

Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, United States

[0.1] Abstract—This essay explores the award-winning fan site Lostpedia to examine how the wiki platform enables fan engagement, structures participation, and distinguishes between various forms of content, including canon, fanon, and parody. I write as a participant-observer, with extensive experience as a Lostpedia reader and editor. The article uses the "digital breadcrumbs" of wikis to trace the history of fan creativity, participation, game play, and debates within a shared site of community fan engagement. Using the Lostpedia site as a case study of fan praxis, the article highlights how issues like competing fandoms, copyright, and modes of discourse become manifest via the user-generated content of a fan wiki.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Television; TV; Wiki

Mittell, Jason. Sites of participation: Wiki fandom and the case of Lostpedia. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0118.

doi:10.3983/twc.2009.0118

1. Introduction

[1.1] In its December 28, 2007, issue, Entertainment Weekly (EW) indulged its typical list-making fetish by adding to its normal assortment of year-end "best of" rankings a list of 25 "essential" fan Web sites. Not surprisingly, a wide array of cult media and personalities had featured sites, from The Amazing Race to Joss Whedon, including popular films, television shows, musical artists, and books. I read the entry for Lostpedia (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/), which was ranked number 3, with a particular sense of pride—not only did it help justify my own research on this fan site, which I can now claim is an "award-winning site," but I am an owner and author of that award-winning site. Created by me, and thousands of other contributors, Lostpedia represents a collective effort to build what EW calls "the ultimate resource for researching new conjectures and keeping tabs on what's been debunked and what hasn't" concerning the television series Lost. My personal involvement with Lostpedia runs a bit deeper than that of most users, however—during the summer of 2006, I was an active player of the alternate reality game known as The Lost Experience and was one of the most frequent updaters of Lostpedia's coverage of the game. I was promoted to the level of sysop (systems operator) as a result of my work on the site's Lost Experience pages, and served as one of a dozen or so site administrators for around six months, until my professional and familial commitments forced me to shift back to the status of a rank-and-file user—after all, "sysop of Lostpedia" has no clear place on a CV, even that of a television scholar. Yet I continue to engage with Lostpedia as an academic fan, or acafan, interested in how it augments my fan practices around Lost and inflects my understanding of television fandom and new media systems.

[1.2] I'm highlighting my own participant-observer status not only to provide a bit of methodological reflexivity, but also to frame my reading of EW's celebration of Lostpedia. While it praises the site's comprehensive coverage of all things Lost, from spoilers to theories to a multitude of cultural references, EW does not mention me—nor the dozens of other past and current sysops, nor the thousands of contributors who ensure the site's comprehensiveness and quality. Notably, the blurb does not even mention that the site is a wiki, and thus generates content collectively in a constant frenzy of editing, updating, and linking. Only one other of EW's top 25 fan sites was a wiki, Memory Alpha (ranked 11), a Star Trek site; the magazine identifies it as a wiki but does not bother explaining what that means. Perhaps wikis had become sufficiently mainstream and acceptable by 2007 that previous hand-wringing surrounding Wikipedia's lack of authority and attribution had been supplanted by a casual understanding that collective contributions can yield authoritative results. Or more likely, EW was simply more impressed by the product of Lostpedia than the process that yields it, not considering it worthwhile to highlight how such sites are made in what was admittedly a short write-up.

[1.3] In this essay, I do focus on the processes that yield the results of Lostpedia, examining how fan wikis constitute a system of participation. The basic definition of a wiki—a Web site that can be edited by its users via a simple Web interface—suggests a structure that privileges particular possibilities of use and creation. While wikis can be used on a small scale to allow a closed community of writers to collaborate, such as in a class, an office, or an organization, a wiki becomes exponentially more robust as its base of editors expands, as with Wikipedia, the world's most famous wiki. Thus, while there have been other Lost wikis (including one featured as "official" on ABC's Web site), Lostpedia has become the predominant Lost wiki (and perhaps the most prominent Lost fan site overall) as a result of the efforts and size of its user base, not because of the efforts of its initial creator.

2. Lostpedia: The Lost wiki

[2.1] The site was launched in 2005, at the dawn of the show's second season, by Kevin Croy, a computer programmer. Croy created the site as a technical test of how to administer the MediaWiki software, figuring Lost was a good topic to experiment with. The site's growth surprised him, as dedicated editors began adding and supervising content while Croy and others successfully maintained the invisible but vital back end. Lostpedia has since grown into a full-fledged Lost portal, with an associated forum, blog, and IRC chat room as well as more than ten foreign-language mirrors, although my analysis will focus on the original English-language wiki. In 2008, Lostpedia migrated from its own independent server to the wikia.com domain, which is run by the Wikimedia Foundation; despite the migration, the same community of Lostpedians continues to make the site one of the most popular wikis in the world, with more than 25,000 registered users who have generated more than 5,000 unique pages, more than 600,000 edits, and more than 150 million page views.

[2.2] My analysis of Lostpedia seeks to understand how the site functions as a place for the aggregation of fan creativity, what limits and boundaries are placed on that fan-generated content, and what rationales underlie those policies and preferences. I'm building on issues raised by Sarah Toton in her analysis of the Battlestar Wiki (2008), in which she highlights how despite the open-ended, user-generated framework of fan wikis, the Battlestar Wiki limits its content to canonical material from the show, factual definitions and explanations, and hypotheses about narrative enigmas. For Toton, the absence of queer readings, fan fiction, fan vids, and other typical hallmarks of television fandom constitutes the wiki as a masculine space separated from, and even hostile to, the oft-studied female-centered community of science fiction fandom and its associated creative practices like vidding and fan fiction. Toton's analysis suggests that wikis as a platform seem to be better suited to such typically masculinist pursuits of cataloguing and analysis than to feminine creativity and community. However, my experiences with Lostpedia complicate this neat linkage between technological platform, gender identity, and mode of fandom.

[2.3] Lostpedia is both larger and more inclusive than the Battlestar Wiki. Its breadth is in part due to Lost's significantly larger global viewership, and the broader array of Lost transmedia content, including multiple games, novels, toys, and extensive Web tie-ins that extend the show's narrative universe. Perhaps even more central to the growth of Lostpedia, the show's central narrative framework presents Lost as a puzzle to be solved, a set of interlocking enigmas that require viewers to engage with research materials and a searchable archive to understand them. The show's core narrative focuses on a group of plane crash survivors attempting to explore and make sense of a mysterious island, uncovering centuries of complex backstory and unexplained phenomena, including time travel, reincarnation, ghosts, and electromagnetic implosions. Steven Jones (2008:19–46) goes so far as to suggest that the experience of watching Lost is closer to playing a video game than watching a television series. Such ludic narrative logic and transmedia storytelling promote a model of "forensic fandom," a mode of television engagement encouraging research, collaboration, analysis, and interpretation (see Mittell 2009). As Henry Jenkins discusses in his early study of online forensic fandom of Twin Peaks, fans saw the technologies of the VCR and Usenet boards as essential tools with which to crack the narrative codes of the series (Jenkins 2006b). Just as Lost's narrative architecture has pushed the boundaries of television storytelling far beyond the innovations of Twin Peaks, the decoder rings of today have similarly evolved to facilitate a more inclusive, faster-paced, participatory, and multimedia forensic fandom.

[2.4] Thus Lostpedia's core function is as a shared archive of data, culling information from the show, its brand extensions, and its cultural references to make sense of the show's mysteries and narrative web. But in this essay, I'm more interested in how Lostpedia goes beyond the realm of data collection, as it includes elaborate policies on how to treat borderline material such as speculation, hypotheses, fanon, parody, and fan-generated paratexts. How do the users who generate the site's content make these distinctions and decide on these policies? And how does the wiki system enact such policies and put them into practice?

[2.5] A brief methodological aside: I had planned on surveying and interviewing Lostpedians about these topics, getting a sense of their own conceptions of the site and its boundaries. I tried to duplicate the successful online survey that Jonathan Gray and I conducted of Lost spoiler fans, which yielded over 200 responses and a wealth of research material (Gray and Mittell 2007). I created a similar survey for Lostpedia and posted a link to it from the site's popular discussion forum. Alas, the results were underwhelming—only 20 users even began to answer the survey, and virtually none of the responses included any useful comments. While there may be many reasons why the survey failed, including poor design and unsuccessful promotion on the forum, the contrast between this result and the success of our similarly designed and promoted spoiler survey led me to believe an online survey was not going to be an adequate way to get Lostpedians to reflect on their own processes.

[2.6] Fortunately for researchers, the wiki architecture leaves historical breadcrumbs. The MediaWiki software that runs both Lostpedia and Wikipedia saves a record of every change to a page, allowing researchers to view the evolution of pages and track the development of policies. Even more usefully, each wiki page has associated with it a discussion tab where users discuss the page's content, debate ideas before posting them to the main page, and even vote on proposed policies or major edits. In this way, decisions as to how to define the site's parameters and scope are explored and rationalized in public spaces of the site itself. For this reason, fan wikis provide a tremendous resource for scholars to observe a fan community reflecting on its own practices, making the metadiscussions of fandom transparent and accessible to all who know where to look. Additionally, such research avoids the hurdle of the institutional review board: by analyzing the public, published practices of wiki users, researchers can chronicle fan practices without needing to justify research methods under guidelines designed for much more invasive and controversial techniques.

[2.7] Toton highlights the lack of queer readings as one important limit of the Battlestar Wiki, arguing that their absence means that an important aspect of fan culture and creativity is not represented. When I began my research on Lostpedia in Spring 2008, Lostpedia had a space for queer readings and shipping fandom on the page called Pairings (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Pairings). The page's topic was then defined as follows: "Pairings are relationships, either real or suggested, that fans enjoy and would love to see consummated. The desire for love to blossom on the Island between several pairs of characters, to varying degrees of commitment and affection is explored further in fan fiction" (note 1). Beneath this brief disclaimer, the page listed a wide array of romantic relationships depicted in the show and the fannish nicknames for them, such as Sawyer and Kate ("Skate") and Charlie and Claire, whose multiple monikers include PB&J for "pregnant babe and junkie." This page also included relationships more imagined than enacted, like Sayid and Kate ("Kayid") and Claire and Ethan ("Eclaire"). Same-sex pairings were unproblematically included in this list, such as Kate and Juliet ("Juliate") and Locke and Sawyer ("Lawyer"), with links to related fan-created projects that explore these relationships, such as the satirical fan vid Brokeback Island (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Brokeback_Island). On this page, all romantic relationships, from canonical to slash to extratextual (like the mashup of producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse into "Darlton"), were given equal billing, seeming to exist on the same level within the Lostpedia universe.

[2.8] One of the hazards of researching wikis is that the object of analysis is always in flux. On January 2, 2009, the Pairings page was transformed without discussion. On that day, a Lostpedia sysop removed all noncanonical relationships from the page, offering only the explanation "removing fan wished relationships. non-encyclopedic cruft." A link to a page on fan-made names (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Fan-made_names) remained, but the shipping content there is far less prominent and extensive. This edit exemplifies how wiki content can appear and disappear according to a single user's preferences, rather than by consensus or as a result of debate, even when a clear policy on such changes has been established—and often such changes are left in place, simply because nobody within the community notices the edit. While any wiki does reflect a version of consensus among the editing community at a given time, it is important to note that it is often a passively accepted status quo rather than an actively negotiated agreement. Active and vocal editors will be able to trump less forceful and less active users, even if their preferences or opinions are not widely shared.

[2.9] While the instability of wikis can be frustrating, this fluidity also allows researchers to engage directly with them when appropriate. Although as a researcher I would not want to impose a single vision of proper fan practice, the wiki platform allows interventions to be transparent and impermanent. Because I disagreed with the decision to eliminate imagined relationships from the site, I created a page entitled Pairings (fanon) (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Pairings_(fanon)) on March 27, 2009, to restore the "cruft" that had been edited out, albeit within its own fanonical space, as dictated by Lostpedia policy. I made this direct intervention into the site as a fan and dedicated user, informed by my analysis of the site's practices. No users have protested this change, and there have been a few additions to the page since. This relative lack of response suggests that wikis are often transformed not by a unified community, but by individual decisions passively accepted by the user base.

[2.10] The Pairing page's discussion tab (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Talk:Pairings) reveals a history that includes more drama and conflict, concerned not so much with slash content as with the basic validity of shipping fandom. In June 2006 one fan, Pazuzu47, wrote, "This is an unneeded, idiotic and ridiculous article btw." Two minutes later, an active female editor (and self-described "squeeing fangirl" and Skater) named Jengod replied, "Emotion and human relationships ARE a totally legitimate part of the Lost world. Just because it's not hard math or supermystical doesn't mean it's not important. 'Ships are a huge part of fandom for lots of people." Similarly, male editor XSG weighed in shortly after: "The truth is that Lostpedia is used by many different people for many different purposes, and while I share your sentiments regarding the necessity of this article, I can appreciate that folks like Jengod do find that it has value. Let's play nicely in the sandbox!" A similar conflict developed later that summer around what nickname to use for Hurley and Libby as a couple; infrequent editor Offput wrote, "My girlfriend says that Hubby and Hurlibby suck and has proposed Hurby. What say you?" CaptainInsano, a hypermasculine editor whose judgmental attitude toward fans with differing fannish investments than his own was well known in the community, replied, "Are you serious. You have discussions about this, and it what is worse is that it is with your girlfriend (real, imaginary, or inflatable). You guys need to find something else to talk about." One user wrote to tell CaptainInsano to "play nice," while Offput responded with dismay to this attack: "I always thought wikis were there to invite people to discuss not to humiliate them into submission." Notably, Offput did not make another edit for seven months.

[2.11] Such discussions highlight how Lostpedia can function as a space of debate over how to appropriately use the site, as well as how best to watch the show itself. In my own experience, the bravado and insult-based humor of users like CaptainInsano is not tolerated, with a number of prominent editors of both genders regularly weighing in to defend a broad array of fan practices and ways to use the site, not asserting a singular norm of how best to watch Lost or engage with Lostpedia. However, Lostpedians do maintain and discuss some important principles regarding how best to organize and categorize the various types of material contained on the site.

[2.12] Lostpedia categorizes its content into a number of broad types, including canon, theory, fanon, and parody. These categories are central to the organization of Lostpedia, but what material belongs in which category is far from self-evident for a transmedia narrative like Lost. The canon page (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Canon) in Lostpedia has undergone a series of significant revisions—initially, it offered two categories, canon and noncanon, defined by the presence or absence of official endorsement by the show's creators. After The Lost Experience and the tie-in novel Bad Twin complicated the boundaries of the storyworld, Lostpedians began to debate various levels of canonicity. One dedicated editor, Scottkj, proposed a complex and highly Catholic set of canonical levels—Canon, Deuterocanon, Ex cathēdrā, and Apocrypha. While the community ultimately rejected these gradients, both because their complexity was daunting to casual users and their religious connotations put off some editors, the ensuing discussion forced Lostpedians to engage with fairly complex notions of narrative medium, transmedia authority, and intentionality—for instance, if a deleted scene appears on a DVD, does it count as a canonical event in the storyworld? As an active editor named GodEmperorOfHell philosophically posited, "If Claire had coffee with the pilot and someone deleted that scene, did they have coffee?" The canon policy that stands today is more straightforward, with three levels: canon, semicanon, and noncanon. Ultimate authority rests with the authors, both creative and industrial—if it comes out via ABC or from the mouths of producers, it is canonical. Usually.

[2.13] One of the central ways this canon policy impacts Lostpedia's users is that canonical content is presented as the site's standard or norm, which fits with Lostpedia's typical encyclopedic form of writing—a page containing canon is unmarked, simply existing as one of hundreds of entries in Lostpedia's archive of the show's narrative universe. By contrast, most other modes of information contained on the site are labeled noncanonical, creating a clear hierarchy between creator-endorsed truth and fan-created para-truth, or perhaps truthiness, in Stephen Colbert's wiki-friendly term. The most integrated of these noncanonical modes are theories (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Theory)—since its inception, Lostpedia has served as a site for mulling possible explanations for the island's enigmas, with a variety of different ways of separating the canonical known from theoretical speculation and musings. Unlike other encyclopedias and even Wikipedia, Lostpedia has always allowed for original research and analysis, incorporating fan-created knowledge alongside the more encyclopedic acts of collecting, organizing, and distilling canonical information.

[2.14] Lostpedians do try to mark differences between various forms of theory. Some broad-based theories about the nature of the island garner their own pages, such as the Garden of Eden theory (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Garden_of_Eden_(theory)) and the Black Hole theory (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Black_hole_(theory))—these macrotheories are expected to offer compelling evidence, provide links to external sources supporting their underlying ideas, and present a persuasive case for their accuracy. Discussion pages for such theories tend to be robust debates over their merits and inconsistencies, a model of collective engagement that many scholars highlight as one of the most participatory and exciting aspects of fan culture (see Jenkins 2006a).

[2.15] For some Lostpedians, theories and speculations belong on the site's discussion forums, not within the wiki itself, which they see as an authoritative documentation of the canonical storyworld. To enforce this distinction between fact and conjecture, a wiki architecture was developed for including theories in Lostpedia's archive: the theory tab, a separate subpage on each article that allows for noncanonical possibilities. Lostpedians work to ensure that such theory tabs are not simply discussion forums and speculative musings, but more elaborated attempts to hypothesize and support an interpretation. The theory tab emerged in late 2006 out of a frustration that individual articles were being overwhelmed with speculation and theories, which detracted from canonical information. The discussion about the theory tab (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Lostpedia_talk:Theory_policy/Archived_Talk#Just_me_venting.2C_but_a_radical_idea...) recognized that theorizing was unusual for most other wikis modeled after Wikipedia, but also that such analysis is crucial for the nature of Lost's narrative mode.

[2.16] In many ways, the creation of the theory tab served to further enshrine the site's authorial-endorsed factual content. As one anonymous editor wrote in endorsing the theory tab, "Not only do I feel it will keep things organized, and give more room for elaborated canon-based justifications of each theory, but also think the explicit separation of Theories from the facts articles, will be of a great effect on debunking any claims of Lostpedia being a fiction-based project." The ironic contortions of attempting to deny the fictional roots of a Lost encyclopedia aside, such comments highlight how the site's architecture is designed to allow spaces for noncanonical fan production as a means of prioritizing canonical authorized content. These spaces are a marked-out, separate sphere of unofficial knowledge that helps make canon seem more official by comparison. The site's policy also stipulates that canon trumps theory—when a theory is disproved, by either producer denials or conclusive storyworld evidence, it is deleted from the theory tab. While the policy allows discredited theories to be archived on a page's discussion tab, it is clear that the goal of theories is to arrive at fact, not to serve as an ongoing realm of fan creativity, speculation, and noncanonical imagination of different narrative possibilities.

[2.17] The discussion over the place of theories cuts to the very heart of the definition of Lostpedia and wikis in general. PandoraX, an active female editor and former sysop who initially proposed theory tabs, highlighted the concern that theories might muddy the waters of the site's goals: "Wiki editors, IMHO, should seek to be recorders, rather than editorialists, otherwise we risk biasing others with our opinions. I've noticed many newer editors don't edit anything *but* theories nowadays" (emphasis in original). Other users take a more pluralist approach to including theorizing within the purview of Lostpedia, highlighting how much post-episode traffic is devoted to editing theories rather than adding canonical information, and that not all users consult the site as they might an encyclopedia. Even show runner Damon Lindelof highlights this coexistence of theory and canon in a 2009 interview conducted on Lostpedia (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/The_Lostpedia_Interview:Carlton_Cuse_&_Damon_Lindelof); after explaining the official show bible, maintained by story editor Gregg Nations, Lindelof suggests that

[2.18] what differentiates Gregg from what Lostpedia does, is that Lostpedia is speculative. That is to say, it has to assume something, because it's not run by us. So, you know, I think there is sometimes a perception out there that Lostpedia is kind of branded by the show, as opposed to a separate fan community, and we find ourselves having to differentiate those two things. That being said, when we've visited the site we are incredibly impressed with sort of the level of detail. There are occasions where we basically say "What was Juliet's husband's first name?" and if Gregg is not sitting in his office we will log into Lostpedia to get that answer.

[2.19] Thus for Lost's production staff, as for many of its fans, Lostpedia's primary function is as a repository of canonical fact, supplemented—and made questionably valid—by the associated speculation and theories.

[2.20] In many ways, the tensions between Lostpedia's canonical and noncanonical information stem from the slippage between the software platform of wikis and its most well-known iteration in Wikipedia—there is no inherent reason why wikis should be suited more for recording than for editorializing, and many wikis have been used as sites of collaborative creativity, collective brainstorming, and other activities that go beyond gathering and organizing facts (Dena, Douglass, and Marino 2005; Mason and Thomas 2008). But for most people, the word wiki evokes Wikipedia and its assumed objective model of writing—for instance, in a comment on Toton's Flow article (http://flowtv.org/?p=1060), a Battlestar Wiki user named Spencerian offers the following dubious claim as fact: "A wiki, by definition, is an encyclopedia." This pervasive connection between wikis and encyclopedias is further emphasized by Lostpedia's name evoking the objective -pedia rather than the collaborative wiki- aspect of Wikipedia's portmanteau name; although its name and platform do imply an encyclopedic factualism, Lostpedia's practices include a broader array of creative production than most Wikipedia-style wikis.

[2.21] As we well know, fan production goes far beyond collecting and recording narrative information, and Lostpedia does have ample space for fanonical modes of contribution. Initially, the site allowed for parody, allowing editors to create pages that tweaked many of the conventions of both Lost and Lostpedia. One of my favorite such pages was Box, a parodic theory positing that a cardboard box made by the company owned by Hurley and employing Locke was the essential powerful force that caused all of the island's enigmas—the page documented every instance of a box appearing in the show, and included enigmatic clues like "Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have described a new lead character in Season 3 as 'cubical, hollow, brown, and corrugated.'" This fanonical page faced a bit of a crisis of faith in season 3, when Ben Linus referred to a "magic box" (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_box) that allowed him to transport Locke's father to the island—editors had to clarify the links to Box to separate the canonical (although probably metaphoric) magic box from the parodic Lostpedia box, while some editors felt that Ben's reference to the box was a shout-out to Lostpedia from the producers, a theory that remains unsubstantiated.

[2.22] In the summer of 2007, Lostpedia had a collective change of heart about parodies (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Lostpedia:Parody). As numerous parodic pages emerged to less-than-enthusiastic reactions, the community debated (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Lostpedia_talk:Parody) how to deal with bad parodies, and whether embracing parodies creates a slippery slope. As XSG wrote:

[2.23] If we accept parodic articles, how do we feel about slash? I could argue, and possibly successfully, that the only difference between slash and parody is the intended audience. Opening the door to one would therefore open the door to the other, and… I don't think slash belongs in Lostpedia. I'm questioning whether fanon does, either, and now I wonder about parody. Thoughts?

[2.24] The consensus was that neither parody nor slash belonged in Lostpedia, or at least that neither should originate there. Parody and fanon became markers used to point to fan-produced content that resided outside of Lostpedia, such as fan vids, fanfic, parodies, and fan Web sites, but Lostpedia removed all pages consisting of original fan content, including Box (which lives on only via the Internet Archive [http://web.archive.org/web/20070225014550/www.lostpedia.com/wiki/Box]).

[2.25] But we shouldn't take this decision to ban original content creation as a disavowal of the wiki architecture's potential to enable collaborative creativity. One fanonical page that remains is Jackface (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Jackface), a gallery of images of Matthew Fox, the actor who portrays Jack Shepard, making exaggerated facial expressions. Jackface works as a site of wikified creativity because the community shares the basic parameters of what constitutes a Jackface and an appreciation for the form—the collective intelligence of Jackfacers makes the page a definitive resource for sharing a parodic wink about one of the show's lead actors, while feeling like we are contributing to a project that is a bit more creative than merely documenting canon.

[2.26] Jackface also points to a facet of fan productivity that can lead to differences among contributors: fair use. As a U.S.-based Web site, Lostpedia strives to adhere to American copyright law, avoiding reproducing copyrighted material except to illustrate an example or concept via brief quotations or screen-captured images under the banner of fair use (see Tushnet 2007). However, Lostpedians have not articulated a collective interpretation of fair use as it applies on the site, relying instead on a single user's outline of policies (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Lostpedia:Fair_Use) adapted from Wikipedia, which has undergone little discussion or significant editing. ABC and other copyright holders have not requested that material be removed from Lostpedia, at least not in a publicly identifiable way. But despite this, and even though producers explicitly acknowledge referencing the site, some editors act in an overly constrained manner for fear of legal action, mirroring the "chilling effects" of a "permission culture" that presumes infringing guilt over fair use innocence (Lessig, 2004).

[2.27] Occasionally, individual users will take down material out of concern for legal reprisal—the Jackface gallery was removed from the site in March 2008 for this reason. Another user overturned the removal, reinstating the gallery without discussion, three months later. It has ping-ponged on and off the site in this way several times, as users differently interpret its legal status and edit accordingly. While the wiki architecture would allow deliberation and debate with the goal of articulating a clear fair use policy, it also allows "first come, first served" policy, with decisions enacted unilaterally but without binding force. Sysops can also exert their power to assert an opinion by locking down an article—after a series of Jackface edits, a sysop locked the page in a state without the controversial gallery, despite other users (including myself) objecting to what may be a misreading of fair use policy. As of this writing, the discussion has stalled because a lack of interest in the debate, not because of any clear consensus position. Deliberative policy making requires users to focus their efforts on articulating shared goals, which has happened around questions of canon much more than copyright.

[2.28] Lostpedia also allows a mode of writing that we might think of as creative nonfiction, with the caveat that this "nonfictional" gaze is aimed at the fictional storyworld of Lost. Pages on topics categorized as literary devices (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Literary_techniques), such as Archetype, Plot Twist, and Symbolism, all offer original analysis and research, synthesizing elements of the show to demonstrate its use of particular storytelling devices and representational strategies. Such original research is strictly forbidden on Wikipedia, marking a key difference between the two and showing how Lostpedia can work in ways belied by its encyclopedia-like label.

[2.29] One interesting example of this mode of collaborative research is the Economics page (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Economics). Originally drafted in June 2006 by user Scunning, a doctoral student in economics, the page initially read like a term paper, exploring how the allocation of resources on the island mirrored various economic models. Dozens of editors dived in, expanding, deepening, and rethinking the original article, until it was named "featured article of the week" in late 2006, the first time such an analytical page was highlighted on the site's front page. While academics are prone to thinking of analysis as a solitary extension of a single mind, Scunning embraced the collaborative output of the community (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Talk:Economics):

[2.30] Wow. When I started working on this entry around 8 months ago, I never dreamed the community of viewers would transform it into this. This entry is really spectacular as a result of what everyone has contributed. The weakest parts of it, I now see, are the original sections I wrote! Seriously, this is phenomenal.

[2.31] The Economics page, like other analytical pages on Lostpedia (http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Analysis), are not tagged as Fanon or otherwise marked as noncanonical. This distinction was noted in July 2007 by Silence, a male user who was an active Wikipedia administrator but had just joined Lostpedia:

[2.32] In what sense is analysis, in the sense you're using it, not fanon? "Analysis" like Economics is non-canonical (I don't think the word "socialism" has ever even been used in the show), fan-created, and is based on, but not a part of, actual canon. Something doesn't need to be far-fetched or outlandish to be fanon, after all.

[2.33] Two years have passed with no reply, suggesting that distinguishing analysis from canon is a far less pressing concern among Lostpedians than demarcating or eliminating more explicitly creative modes like parody and fanfic. While the wiki architecture allows for multiple modes of collaborative creativity, the Lostpedia community seems to have embraced a different hierarchy of perceived value than has Wikipedia. It allows original research, analysis, and theories, but still embraces core distinctions in fan culture that privilege canonical content and extensions of canon over more explicitly noncanonical modes of creativity, distinctions that certainly align with the gendered differences noted by Toton and many fan scholars.

[2.34] Lostpedia's dual function as a catalog of canon and a site of original creativity found an interesting point of synergy surrounding The Lost Experience in the summer of 2006. This alternate reality game (ARG) extended the show's narrative universe beyond the confines of the television screen and into the real lives of viewers. Fans could attend events and receive complimentary Apollo Bars (a candy featured in season 2), watch a representative of the mysterious (and fictional) Hanso Foundation appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to denounce the misinformation spread by Lost, and witness a live event at Comic Con in which the ARG's main character, Rachel Blake, accused Lost producers of having "blood on [their] hands." Clearly the blurring of the boundary between real life and the fictional universe was part of the game's appeal, a slippage that extended into Lostpedia.

[2.35] A key part of The Lost Experience was a hunt for 70 pieces of a larger code that could be entered into a Web site to reveal a hidden video offering key information about both the ARG and the in-show DHARMA Initiative. These codes were primarily linked to graphic glyphs that were embedded in a variety of Web sites or posted in real-life locations. In August, the "puppet masters" of the ARG contacted a number of fan sites to ask them to embed glyphs, including Lostpedia. Kevin Croy, Lostpedia's head administrator, received such a request and contacted me, in my role as the designated Lost Experience sysop. The two of us devised a puzzle using wiki protocols that was designed to reward dedicated Lostpedians through their knowledge of the site by giving them their own glyph. While it took a few days for users to discover the trail of links, some Lostpedians found a new user account in the name of Rachel Blake posting on Lostpedia, beginning the search for the hidden glyph within the wiki. Once the glyph was found, one Lostpedian commented on Blake's page, "Awww. This is so exciting! I feel like Lostpedia is getting a little reward! :)." However, the way the material was placed on Lostpedia probably violated the community's policies on posting original content and properly labeling noncanonical contributions, policies that both players and the administrators happily overlooked. The puzzle placed me in an interesting loop, since I participated as researcher, game player, community member, and momentary puppet master, and it also highlights how the encyclopedic thrust of Lostpedia can be punctured to create spaces of ludic engagement and fictional role-play, even as it still functions as an authoritative and reliable source of Lost information.

[2.36] I want to conclude by highlighting the potential of the wiki architecture to overcome and blur boundaries and hierarchies between fiction and truth, canon and fanon. Even though Lostpedia's structure privileges canon and the authority of Lost's creators, it also offers many spaces for unauthorized content, creative experimentation, and the blurring of boundaries between categories. Except for an occasional rant by an aggressive user, the site hosts impressively collegial discourse across different realms of fandom: shippers and cataloguers, theorists and vidders. The open platform of the wiki allows constant remaking of the site's parameters and policies, and Lostpedians use other platforms to include content not appropriate to the main wiki—in the hiatus after season 3, the site sponsored a fan fiction contest, hosted on the Lostpedia discussion forum, to map out the arc of the following season. While the site's hierarchies and attitudes matter, they are fluid and ever-changing, reshaping themselves as the community develops. Although hierarchies of modes of practice, engagement, and identity persist within various spheres of fandom, I hope that the structural possibilities of wikis like Lostpedia will allow fans to find spaces where differences within a fandom can be ironed out, one edit at a time.

3. Note

1. Because of the fluid nature of wikis, the text of Lostpedia is likely to change over time. Whenever appropriate, quotations will cite a date that the page did include the material; if not noted, the quotations were part of Lostpedia on March 20, 2009.

4. Works Cited

"25 Essential Fansites." 2007. Entertainment Weekly 971–72 (December 28). http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20167049,00.html.

Dena, Christy, Jeremy Douglass, and Mark Marino. 2005. Benchmark fiction: A framework for comparative new media studies. Paper presented at the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, Bergen, Norway. In Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, 89–98, http://jeremydouglass.com/cv/benchmark.pdf (accessed August 13, 2009).

Gray, Jonathan, and Jason Mittell. 2007. Speculation on spoilers: Lost fandom, narrative consumption, and rethinking textuality. Particip@tions 4, no. 1. http://www.participations.org/Volume%204/Issue%201/4_01_graymittell.htm.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006a. Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006b. "Do you enjoy making the rest of us feel stupid?": alt.tv.twinpeaks, the trickster author, and viewer mastery. In Fans, bloggers, and gamers: Exploring participatory culture, 115–33. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Jones, Steven E. 2008. The meaning of video games: Gaming and textual strategies. New York: Routledge.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2004. Free culture: How big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. New York: Penguin.

Mason, Bruce, and Sue Thomas. 2008. A million penguins research report. Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, April 24.

Mittell, Jason. 2009. Lost in a great story: Evaluation in narrative television (and television studies). In Reading "Lost": Perspectives on a hit television show, ed. Roberta Pearson, 119–38. London: I. B. Tauris.

Toton, Sarah. 2008. Cataloging knowledge: Gender, generative fandom, and the Battlestar Wiki. Flow 7, no. 14, http://flowtv.org/?p=1060.

Tushnet, Rebecca. 2007. Copyright law, fan practices, and the rights of the author. In Fandom: Identities and communities in a mediated world, ed. Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, 60–71. New York: New York Univ. Press.



Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Contact the Editor with questions.