The Limits of Discussion Growth

In one of his latest videos, Digibro talks about anime research culture and how it’s been growing, pointing to the tragic aspect of the conversation how regular fans are unable to keep up with it. He wishes for researchers and content creators to organize better so that fans could have an easier time engaging it. While I generally want to see that happen as well, over the years I’ve heard the core of this sentiment expressed so many times I have a hard time taking it seriously. It’s one of those lofty ideas that people romanticize about, but in reality it’s near impossible to implement, because regular anime fans are far more interested in the robe Digibro is wearing than the creators or researchers he name-drops in his videos.

Others have already commented, like @Owningmatt93 who wants to see an outlet that would aggregate well-researched content and make it more accessible to regular fans. In my reply to him I alluded to the following points:

1. Content creators reject gatekeepers

We have four amazing anime databases, namely ANN Encyclopedia, AniDB, MAL, and AniList, yet none of these have any expansive trivia sections for their entries. Leaving out the more superficial reasons for why that is, quite simply it’s because fans have not been campaigning for them. Not a whole lot of researchers, who have devoted excessive hours to developing their expertise, are interested in their work becoming a mere footnote. They want to be regarded as experts respective of subject matter, that’s why almost everybody is posting their expertise on their personal blogs, Twitter, Ask.fm, or Patreon. Even if you don’t agree with the notion of personal brands, that’s where the game is at. The only way to offset this problem is through bypassing researchers and their ambitions altogether.

2. We’d basically need a search engine of sorts dedicated to anime research

How about creating a content aggregator, a Google for anime, that automatically searches and aggregates anime knowledge based on either anime titles or other taxonomies for more structured browsing? I have some experience building information retrieval and extraction systems like that, needless to say any such venture would require a hefty time investment. That being said, it can be done. Finding information, extracting content from different media, enriching it with metadata, then organizing it based on this metadata. That’s what we’re looking for.

One fine approach to organizing it in a way that’s fair and user-independent is Google’s PageRank algorithm. Its most basic implementation works by ranking websites based on their notoriety. For any given search phrase, websites that have the most links pointed to them by other websites for that same topic get listed at the top. PageRank thus enables content aggregators to reward content that has seemingly contributed the most to the conversation.

I’m doing all sorts of anime-related information projects, so this kind of proposal feels like a natural extension to my work. While it is tempting …

3. Building yet another anime database is too much work, wiki sites do a good enough job already

I remember seeing a couple of wikis with amazing communities, such as the Puella Magi Wiki where people went ham on translating related Japanese articles from creators, critics, and industry insiders. It’s amazing what crowdsourcing can achieve if experts who love the subject matter engage with content head on. But Madoka is only one title, one of the more popular ones at that, which brings me to my last point …

4. Fans don’t love anime enough

At least not as much as some of us would like to see. This isn’t a No true Scotsman. Maintaining a critical and informed community of any scope is tough. It only takes one generation of fans to phase itself out and discourage the diehards who had invested time in teaching them the ropes. When one generation moves on to greener pastures and a new one rolls in, the standard of discourse gets deleveled. If you’ve ever been involved in community building, you’ll know that maintaining that standard is an endless struggle.

The only constant in this story are the diehards, which is why I’m fine with personal brand building. They are support structures like any other. If regular fans are able to at the very least point to authorities in the field, then that’s fine. Whether those authorities know shit is a different conversation, but in practice this model does a good enough starter job for the people who are interested in learning more about the hobby.

In the end, it’s not just a matter of delivery or accessibility. Regular fans will need to change as well if we want the conversation to be of higher volume, and of higher quality. The recent sentiments coming out of Japan about the death of “otaku” are not very encouraging. The propensity for engaging complex conversations is likely generational, so based on that signalling I think it’s okay to be a little pessimistic and assume the worst has yet to arrive.

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3 thoughts on “The Limits of Discussion Growth

  1. I’m not very knowledgeable in the anime community, but I think I agree with you. There’s no way for a site like that to form. Series-centric wikis are one thing, but there’s nothing that’s going to make the diehard fans (or any type of fans) from every part of anime want to work together under the same conventions and format. Indeed, people want to keep their content close to themselves.

    Also, the goal can’t be to make the majority or anything near it educated: most people aren’t interesting in learning more. It’s about getting enough invested hands to generate a resource that some portion of people will find useful.

    An idea I have is doing the above with just reviews in a way that has minimal possible standards imposed and minimal overhead. This would be having a website that lists good reviews/posts/ask.fm answers with links for each series (maybe a pastebin mirror or internet archive link if the original page is lost). Each page would have a list of reviews, each with a 1-2 line summary and optional reason for recommendation blurb. Users could add review entries to the list on pages, after registering and logging in.

    The site would display a list of all the anime series included so far, and for each how many reviews they have. This would help make the site useful to people even in its infancy.

    1. Curated link lists are things that some people are doing already, for example karice’s White Box. It’s not a bad approach, but word still needs to get out.

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