The Babylon 5 article they posted over at Tor Online, which ran under the title All Alone in the Night: When Babylon 5 Invented 21st Century Fandom is excellent, and reminded me yet again what an amazing series it was. J. Michael Straczynski created the entire story arch and wrote the majority of the episodes himself, with maybe 20 episodes written by others and few of them key. He also knew how to work the internet to directly work with the fans, as anyone who lived through those times online knows, and anyone who digs into the JMS Message Archives site will soon learn when they go back far enough. He used a lot of pre-Web tools, such as Usenet and IRC, even though the first episode of Babylon 5 did not air until 1994, by which time the first graphical Web browsers, Mosaic and its successor Netscape were already in widespread use. And he used them as a creator directly reaching out to the fan base, which had never been done before.

I still tend to disagree that he invented modern internet fandom, although he did make some major contributions on how these tools were used, because back all through the 1980s USENET and IRC were being used for fans to talk, and the first file repositories were being assembled for those who knew how to use Telnet and FTP to share text, audio, and images. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database started out being called The Internet Science Fiction Fiction Database, which was a USENET newsgroup with the name structure rec.arts.sf.written which began in 1984. If you want to dig back to the beginning and read your way to the present for a complete understanding of its evolution over the decades, check out The Linköping Science Fiction & Fantasy Archive, and yes, lots of the best early SF sites were out of Finland and Sweden. And that is just a single instance; there were many more in those days, listing them out could take me the next year.

Here is a single earlier example from my own experience. One of the prizes of my personal text file collection is a moderated chat held on Q-Link back in 1985 (Quantum Link, at the time just a Commodore computer online gateway service, later rebranded as something called AOL and opened up to all computer types) with Gene Roddenberry as the guest. It was a long distance call to Vienna Virginia from where I lived at the time, and a state of the art 300 baud telco connection (I had to solder the parts together for the hardware myself from $7 worth of Radio Shack components, you could not buy a Commodore modem) meant it took me 15 minutes to read the first 4 paragraphs of the conversation, showing up on my screen one painful letter at a time. So I typed in my question, uploaded it, waited the several minutes it took to type out the confirmation the service had received the question, and went offline. Three days later I received the information that the full text of the event had been compressed and posted, so I downloaded it. What a treat to discover that the moderator had passed on my question, and he actually gave it a considered answer!

That being said, even if J. Michael Straczynski didn’t invent modern fandom like the article author claimed (I suspect Ryan is just too young to know about the earlier stuff), he did set up a lot of the principles that modern content creators use to connect with their audiences. And he also created some of my favorite content, which besides Babylon 5 includes 1990’s Jeremiah, last years Thor, and next year’s Living Dead: The Musical.