The Changing Face of Coaster Fandom
I’ve been thinking a ton lately about how different the “face” of coaster fandom looks nowadays than when I first got into the hobby. Actually it parallels the overall evolution of the internet itself. Let me walk you through exactly what I see!
The Old Days
My coaster fandom started all the way back in 2007 or 2008. I’m not 100% sure what started me down the path, probably some combination of finally getting over my fear of coasters (and riding TTD for the first time) and moving to Ohio where I was between two of the best parks in the country: Cedar Point and Kings Island. Back in those days, the media landscape looked hugely different than it did now: I had just gotten my first Facebook and it was still where you and your friends hung out online, not really a news source per se and Twitter wasn’t heavily used yet. There were still some vestigaes of MySpace but its heyday had come and gone. We got most of our coaster news from forums, newsletters and podcasts.
This is what I think of as the golden age of theme park fansites. It seemed like we had a well built, well designed, information filled fansite for every major park. Each one had their own forum and community that organically grew around the content. These sites took a lot of work to run and maintain so naturally they attracted a specific type of enthusiast: the tech savvy one.
And those tech savvy enthusiasts were the face of coaster enthusiast-dom for a while: Jeff Putz, Clint Novak, Robb Alvey and a handful of others. All of these guys were either tech professionals (Jeff Putz worked at Microsoft for a while) or tech early adopters (Clint Novak started the ITL podcast in 2004 - way before the current trend - and I consider Robb Alvey to be the most social media savvy enthusiast of all time). After all, they had to be, the tools for building sites and podcasts were primitive.
When I lost touch with the enthusiast community in 2012, not a ton had changed. A little bit more social media but a lot of the information was disseminated through the community through forums and podcasts. Some of my favorite sites had shut down or been reduced to a shell of their former self (looking at you, Great Adventure Online) but everything was more or less the same.
How it is Today
I got back into the hobby in late 2017 or so and found that I had come into a hugely different community. Instead of forums being the center of the community, it seems like the community instead wholeheartedly moved onto social media, with heavy communities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and most significantly Youtube. Most of the fansites that I used to visit are either dead or much slower than they used to be.
Youtube has become one of, if not the, most important place for the community and the home to the newest faces of coaster fandom. Channels like Coaster Studios, Theme Park Worldwide, and Tim Tracker count hundreds of thousands of people as subscribers and if you say the name of Taylor Bybee, Shawn Sanbrooke or Tim Tracker to most enthusiasts, you’ll get a strong reaction one way or another. These people are the new faces of coaster fandom as the OG enthusiasts have either faded into the background or lost their edge. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing since it seems like these communities are a little more friendly and accepting than the original ones.
That’s How the Internet Goes
This finding was interesting to me because it seems to parallel the democritization of the internet itself. Originally (and this was before my time a little) there were no tools, you had to make websites by hand with HTML, then there was WYSIWYG tools like Adobe Dreamweaver and it was a little easier, then there was Wordpress which only required some configuration to get a site looking good, then there became tools like Squarespace, Weebly and Wix which made creating amazing looking sites easily and finally there was social media where you could have a profile that required no customization.
And this same progression happened in every subtopic of the internet (video: host it yourself -> Youtube, livestreaming: impossible -> UStream -> Periscope -> Built into FB or YT) and it opened up the internet to a whole new class of people: people that were passionate but had no technical knowledge. And that’s where the latest generation of coaster enthusiasts come in. Overwhelmingly, they don’t seem to have the deep technical knowledge of the OG enthusiasts but in many ways, the content they put out is better because they don’t have to handle the technical details.
Now what’s my opinion on the whole thing? I’m hoping its possible to get back to more of a happy medium. I miss those amazing fansites and communities from the late 2000s but I also don’t want to head back to the environment where every task required deep technical knowledge. For that reason, I’m starting development on a next generation of forum software that I’m hopeful will power the next great coaster sites. Keep your eyes out for that since I’m hoping to release some details about it on this very blog!