Forums are dead… long live Twitter? – Music artists in a new age of connectivity
If there’s one element of the Web 1.0 era that seems to have survived the age of social networking of today, it must be forums. But for how long? In the world of music, professional musicians seem to have been hesitant of participating on forums due to the lack of user standards. The abundance of swearing, low level of profession, spamming and stalking on music boards scared off a lot of users who purely wanted to participate in adult, professional conversations on a sufficient technological level. So, the gap between fan and artist seems to be bridged now by the booming emergence of microblogging. In this era, the artist chooses who participates in his or her message that is being spread. It brings down a level of communication which is much more selective and specific, and the artists might not get annoyed over the less communicative users of a forum who look for a brawl. But isn’t this an important part of communication to sometimes listen to the people who aren’t just giving the artist credit and boost their ego’s? So in a way, the most popular microblogging medium in town, Twitter, might be too selective in favor of the musicians who can’t handle what they see as bad or too much feedback and people who aren’t responding up to their level of standards.
The magic (and bridges) of Twitter
Of course, Twitter and forums are in essence two completely different things. Although they both are two means of communication through the internet, forums center a lot of users on a specific ‘board’ where they can post anything they want and anyone can reply to these posts, as long as they’re registered with the board. And if one acts out of place, by posting indecent content or by acting rude or offensive, most forums have one or more administrators who can ‘ban’ a user after discontent from other users has been reported to them. But what is microblogging exactly? According to Steve Hargadon, microblogging is the posting of short messages similar to text or instant messaging, but they’re published on the web instead of being sent to a phone like SMS. People who join Twitter can follow one Twitterer and keep posted of whatever they sent around to their ‘followers’. Angelo Fernando adds to this that it gives the potential to reach a niche audience because the numbers of followers can be limited. This ‘following’ of users is basically any ‘Twitterer’ subscribing to someone’s Twitter feed and receiving messages. Of course ‘followers’ can give the original Twitterer feedback and receive comments upon that (which is basically how a forum works) but the Twitterer stays in charge and can decide quickly by himself which followers will stay or which have to be banned from his feed. This basically narrows the platform for discussing which is at the root of forums, making microblogging more a tool of promotion and broadcasting for the musician. This is also one of the criticisms regarding Twitter; it is more a one-way communication system which leaves no room for discussing or conversing if it isn’t appreciated by the Twitterer.
This could limit the musician in the end by their fan base since it determines a level of openness which twittering fans expect from an artist. Moreover, as Kristina M. DeVoe argues, beginning Twitterers who have a true need for a solid base of followers are dependent on the level of success from their microblogging. For internet musicians this is all part of promoting their online presence, and interactivity is in this stage a necessity for making sure fans will keep on following. In this light, an emerging artist who wants to establish him or her is actually obliged to participate in forum activity as they have no reputation yet to show. Once these artists are established and have gained a solid fan base, it could be argued that they managed to reach a professional level and therefore don’t need to be around a forum anymore with people who are in their eyes no more up to their standards. Their fans are convinced of their work and as a rule fans follow artists, if not around on a forum to feel their presence then on Twitter. However, a danger could lurk that Twitter just distances a fan again from an artist, one of the reasons why forums were invented in the early days of the internet; to bring people together and let them talk and discuss with anyone contributing in a sensible way.
The artist decides which followers (who give them feedback) can keep up following, but one comment from a fan, even something subtle like ‘I love your work but your latest album was just very poor and unimaginative.’, can easily give the artist the option to ban this follower without having to reply ‘Why?’ and end up in a discussion the artist is not remotely interested in. Consequently, the fan might feel offended and depreciate the artist’s sensitivity to critique. Although the artist might not have time to discuss with a fan who gives negative (but not necessarily unconstructive) feedback, the fact remains that Twitter doesn’t share these happenings with all the users. There is no discussion being opened where everyone can participate in talking over a statement by a follower if he or she is instantly banned by the artist. Also, the instance and immediacy of Twitter gives it a bit more instant, recent appeal. What has been twittered fades away and is being overshadowed by a new stream of messages, where in forums every discussion that has been opened from the start is still on the board, and more importantly, can be carried on and put on the top of the list again if a user feels like it.
Artists and forums
On the other hand it can be said that established artists have never been that active on forums in the first place because, like said earlier, the amount of feedback (both positive and negative) is too large to respond to in a timely and professional manner. Maybe a more of a one-way communication is in this case desirable and should not by all means have to be an arrogant thing. More so, artists actually can be more connected to their fan base if they had been avoiding forum usage in the first place and use microblogging. Although it might not be the way fans would have liked to be close to an artist, a fan is submissive (consciously or not) to the artist so the artist decides in a hierarchal manner how to communicate with a fan base. At a certain point when an artist reaches a certain degree of success, conversing with fans using forums can turn into a day time job which could be better spend composing and performing. In this case, the signpost character of Twitter with eventual option to interact might be the best option. However, I was arguing before that artists can’t stand not necessarily the conversing and discussing on forums, but the negativity and disrespect that certain users express towards an artist. Those who are not bothered by giving tips and advice and answering streams of endless questions (of which most the artist maybe already answered a few times) still can’t stand the attitude by people on forums who are mostly no fans in the first place and just talk irresponsibly for whatever their reason might be. Mostly these people don’t know the artist in the first place, are jealous or want to see what happens when trying to get under their skin. After all, it’s still only the internet (a lot of these people tend to assume). So is giving up forums and moving to Twitter (if the artist hadn’t already done so) a hierarchal decision because in the end the artist decides how to communicate and not the fan?
In the end, it is up to the fan to appreciate a certain attitude from an artist towards interacting over the net or not. The reason a musician can express a certain attitude is because of the establishment he or she reached; the bigger the fan base the less could be worried over fans who are not receiving feedback, or getting banned because an artist got annoyed by it. It also must be said though, that certain statements that are being twittered can bring misfortune to an artist so this is read by all the followers instantly and therefore is more in the face than when a forum user just stumbles upon a thread where he has to read through all the conversation first. Microblogging is still instant messaging to anyone following, and one misstep can mean a huge loss of fans. It seems to be more in the open, and it takes just one Twitter account instead of multiple registrations on forums to be onboard. But as we see with politicians twittering unsound slip of the tongues to their followers and damaging their career, anyone twittering must please their followers and be more responsible with what they twitter as the amount of followers grows. Maybe that’s even a reason for artists to still participate in forums, which gives more intimacy and freedom of expression in favor of their reputation. It becomes clear that forums still play a vital role in internet communication for simple the reasons of discussion and plain conversation for people ascribed to a certain board. It is this intimacy that Twitter lacks, and maybe in this light is more of use for the established artist than one who is still building a reputation.
DeVoe, Kristina M. ‘Bursts of Information: Microblogging‘, The Reference Librarian, 50: 2, 212 – 214 (2009)
Fernando, Angelo. ‘You’re no one if you’re not on Twitter.’ School Library Journal, 26:2, 10-12 (2009)
Hargadon, Steve. ‘Cool Tools – Microblogging. It’s just not Twitter.’ School Library Journal, 26:2, 15 (2009)