Distributed Mentoring in Fanfiction Communities

The internet has opened up unprecedented opportunities for people of all ages to discover and connect with others who share their interests. Among the most popular interest-based communities are those that bring together fans of various media texts, including movies, TV shows, music bands, novels, and video games. Whether formed around classics like Star Trek, Doctor Who, or Blade Runner, or newer media texts such as Breaking Bad, the Twilight series, or World of Warcraft, these online fan communities make it easier than ever before for people to meet other fans and engage in discussions and creative endeavors around their mutual interests.

This ongoing research project studies informal learning and distributed mentoring in online fanfiction communities, the roles that identity, motivation, and emotion play in young people’s informal learning online; and the novice to expert trajectories made available in different online fan communities. This research group will shed light on each of these areas of inquiry through an ethnographic investigation of online fan communities currently popular among U.S. teens. We have published a CSCW 2016 paper on our research (PDF), an intro for the general public in the School Library Journal (link), have a CSCW 2017 paper in press (PDF), and are in the process of submitting others.

We hypothesize that the novel concept of distributed mentoring plays a positive role in fanfiction authors’ development as writers, and we are working to quantify this effect. We are in the process of scraping stories, reviews, and associated metadata from fanfiction sites and apply quantitative techniques (machine learning, statistical analysis, data visualization) to investigate the relationship between distributed mentoring and writing quality (e.g., grammar, reading level).


Cecilia Aragon, University of Washington, Human Centered Design & Engineering, Professor

Katie Davis, University of Washington, Information School, Assistant Professor

Julie Campbell, University of Washington, Human Centered Design & Engineering, MS Graduate

Abigail Evans, University of Washington, Information School, PhD Student

Sarah Evans, University of Washington, School of Education, PhD Student

David Randall, University of Washington, Information School, PhD Student

Kodlee Yin, University of Washington, Information School, Undergraduate Student


Evans, S., Davis, K., Evans, A., Campbell, J., Randall, D., Yin, K., and Aragon, C. (2017). More Than Peer Production: Fanfiction Communities as Sites of Distributed Mentoring. Proceedings of the 20th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. PDF.

Campbell, J., Aragon, C., Davis, K., Evans, S., Evans, A., Randall, D. Thousands of positive reviews: Distributed mentoring in online fan communities. In Proceedings of the 2016 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, ACM Press (2016). PDF.

Sarah Evans, David Randall, Julie Campbell, Katie Davis, Cecilia Aragon, and Abigail Evans. How Fanfiction Mentors Can Change Lives. In School Library Journal (13 May 2016).

Open Learning in Fanfiction Communities Webinar. http://connectedlearning.tv/open-learning-fan-fiction-communities  (4 May 2015).