Online platform gives ‘fangirls’ a place to grow

February 20, 2015


Glee, one of Fox’s most popular series of all time, will air its final episode March 20 after six seasons of groundbreaking relationships, heartbreak, drama and chart-topping music. While the show’s ending will have a significant impact on its regular audience, its extensive online fandom that spans hundreds of thousands of dedicated followers may face the biggest upset.

Fandoms like Glee’s are a subculture that comes together to share its feelings and passions about a common interest — usually on online platforms. From television shows like Glee, to popular books-turned-movies such as 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, fandoms exist in nearly every sector of pop culture.

Members of fandoms take to sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest to create an online presence where they can share their thoughts, express their emotions toward specific characters, connect and make friends and even write and promote spinoff stories written about their favorite characters through FanFiction.

At the root of many popular fandoms is the “fangirl.” A fangirl is defined as a girl or woman who is an extremely enthusiastic fan of someone or something, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary

While fangirls are known for their passion and dedication to their favorite areas of entertainment, they are sometimes criticized on public forums and in the media as being overly obsessive and menacing, according to Highbrow Magazine.

That is why Raine Giorgio, a University of Denver student and self-proclaimed fangirl, created NerdNest, a platform where fangirls can express themselves in a safe environment sans judgment.

NerdNest, which launched as a website in January and is in the process of being created into an app, is an ultimate fandom content aggregator that allows users to create micro blogs or “nests” for organized fandom content.

Within the nests, users can share, add or upload photos, gifs, videos and written content, or “eggs” for other fangirls to blog or “hatch” into their own nests — which means if a user likes another fan’s post, she can click a button that shares the content on her personal feed for her followers to see. From the social media site, users can like others’ posts, share them on platforms such as Facebook and Tumblr and scroll through nests based on show or character categories.

Though the term is popular on other sites, such as Tumblr, NerdNest users can “ship” two characters – also known as pairing up two characters who they think should be a couple — by using its OTP, or “One True Pairing,” function.

Giorgio says the site has garnered attention from fangirls who span a gamut of shows, movies and books, including X-Men, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock and Marvel’s cinematic universe.

Despite having launched recently, Giorgio said NerdNest is gaining popularity because it allows fangirls to grow, deepen the concentration of which they consume content, explore new areas and share it in a more efficient way to augment their passion.

“It is a great time to be a fangirl — there is the best content that has been out in years and there is a growing female presence in that content,” Giorgio says. “Even in the superhero genre, we are seeing more intelligent women getting involved with the media than ever before and we are seeing a huge trend of smart, intelligent, capable women who need a hobby, and fandom is so perfectly suited to that.”

While some self-proclaimed fangirls are open to and aware of their subculture, Giorgio said others might not recognize it. She says some women watch various shows and fangirl over them, but have no knowledge of the fangirl community. And that’s often because the community is widely spread across the Internet, making it hard to find.

Through NerdNest, Giorgio hopes to bridge that gap by bringing the women who haven’t found their niche into the fold.

University of Denver student Faith Lierheimer says she considered herself a fangirl from a young age, but didn’t explore the online world of fandoms until a few years ago.

Lierheimer’s parents exposed her to Star Trek at a young age, which was her first introduction to cult television, but what she calls her “gateway drug” into the online community was through the British series Doctor Who. Now she is a fangirl of a long list of television shows, movies and book series, including Supernatural, Shakespeare, Hannibal and Marvel Comics.

Lierheimer uses sites such as Tumblr and Twitter to stay up to date, but has also branched out into NerdNest. She was a part of Giorgio’s focus group that helped develop the site.

NerdNest’s organization and sense of community are refreshing features as opposed to Tumblr, where Lierheimer says blogs and posts tend to get cluttered and spiral out of control.

“We have a lot of platforms to share nerdy things, but what is unique about NerdNest is the way that it markets itself to just fangirls as the prescription for your fandom addiction,” Lierheimer says. “That’s what fandom is all about — building those bridges.”

These bridges — as well as the negative stereotypes of fangirls — are what Giorgio hopes to change through her website, Giorgio said.

She compared the judgment fangirls face to sports fans. Society rarely takes a second glance at a sports-obsessed person who spends their rent money on season tickets before paying his rent, Giorgio says. Yet as soon as someone freaks out about fandoms, people are quick to judge, she says.

Giorgio said this is a result of the marginalization of geek culture, especially among women. Many male self-described geeks have been reluctant to accept and welcome women in this arena, she said.

“There is a small contingency who will ruin things for everyone else by not wanting to admit there is a legitimacy in what fangirls do just because it is different,” Giorgio says. “We are fan women, fan warriors and it should not have this connotation of someone being petulant sitting in their basement writing creepy stories about people, because that is not what it is about.”