For web designers and developers who are fascinated with particular topics, fan sites are the reason they make websites. I am one such designer, who learned how to design and code websites so that I could make a place to talk about one of my favorite TV shows (and nine years later, here I am! :D).
But what does it take to make a GOOD fansite? Anybody can collect together a few pictures and a few pages of content copied from other sites, but how do you make a fansite that others enjoy, too?
#1: Content, Content, Content
If you want to run a fansite, be it about seahorses or the Harry Potter series, you need to make sure you have a good bit of accurate content about the subject.
For instance, if you’re running a fansite about seahorses, you’d want to have information about where they live, what varieties there are, how they live and breed, what they eat, etc. You’d also want high-quality pictures of seahorses in their natural environments, and maybe some charts and diagrams of various life cycle information. Remember, other seahorse fans would be coming to visit, so you want to provide them with as wide a swath of info as possible.
If you’re making a site about the Harry Potter book series, on the other hand, you’d likely want to have synopses of all 7 books, info about all 8 movies, and lists and descriptions of all the characters. Screencaptures from the various movies, scans of the book covers, and even some samples of music from the series would also be big draws for fans coming to see your site.
As I know from the various fansites I’ve run throughout the years, gathering content can be a challenge, but it’s worth it if you make your site a true repository of information. Then fans know to come to you when they want news, which is admittedly an ego boost as well as a raison d’etre.
#2: Make Sure It Stays Updated
But having a lot of accurate content is not the only challenge to making a fansite; you also have to make sure it stays current. What good is a Harry Potter fansite that stops updating with The Prisoner of Azkaban? Not very, to most current fans. When you make a site, make certain your information is not only accurate, but that it stays accurate with the passage of time.
To stay updated, you need to stay immersed in the culture surrounding the subject. Stay on forums and check official subject-matter sites often; as soon as you find out new information, reference it on your own page so others can know what’s going on.
On my City of Heroes fansite, for instance, I have to make sure my help articles stay updated with all the new game features and developments. And if I can’t keep it updated myself, I’ve got to make sure I link to official sites who are keeping things updated, so my readers can find the info they want quickly and easily. Remember, as a fansite owner, you’re not only making a place for you, but for others, too–you have a responsibility to your users to make information easy to obtain and understand!
#3: Have Original Content Not Found Anywhere Else
Too often, I’ve seen fansites that could be photocopies of each other on the Internet–the same exact page structure, the same exact content. With subject-matter fansites, it’s easy to fall into the “cookie-cutter trap” when you’re trying to make sure you have a lot of information and it’s all accurate. You want to make sure your site is “complete” with lots of info, but if your info could be found just as easily on another page, who’s going to bother visiting yours?
To combat this, I often include personally-written essays on the subject matter, like my Creative Gaming Advice column on my gaming site. Either that, or I’ll include graphics I’ve made representing the subject matter, or even devise a few humorous lyric parodies a la Weird Al to round out my content. No matter what kind of fansite I’m running, I NEED ways to make my content original, ways to share my unique perspective on various issues. I have to find my “niche,” in other words.
Whenever you’re making a fansite, you’ve GOT to include something that no one else on the Internet is going to have–that special something that will define your “niche” for you. If you don’t, your site is going to fade into the background of sameness…and no webmaster wants that.
#4: Link to Official Sites and Affiliate with Other Fansites
A fansite is, in my opinion, simply never complete without a link list to official sites and other fansites. It’s also not complete without some affiliations between fansites, just to help drive traffic. Even though your sites may be about the same thing, it doesn’t mean that you’re in competition with other people–form an alliance, and you may likely have an Internet buddy for life. On all of my fansites, past and present, I have always enjoyed providing the most comprehensive link list I can put together, for my own reference as well as the greater knowledge of others.
Providing links to official sites helps your users greatly while they search for information, and similarly giving links to other great fansites you know of can make everyone in your network happy. You’re all working toward the same purpose–disseminating info to other fans–and you all have a deep interest in the same topic. Why not join forces and help each other get Internet traffic? Who knows, you might just end up being a big enough network that the official site recognizes you all!
Fansites are fun ways to exercise one’s web creativity, and when done well, they can establish thriving online communities and great conversation. Try building your own fansite, about whatever you love–you might just find yourself at the head of a new wave of interest in the topic!