We are all aware of or maybe even be members ourselves of online communities dedicated to specific interests. I used to be a member of a railway modeling site for example. While that is a niche enough interest it stands aside when one delves into some of the communities on the internet catering for niche interests. Online communities have always fascinated me and I’ve recently been reading about the website VampireFreaks.com that allows people with an interest in all elements of the gothic communicate and collaborate.
The VampireFreaks.com website was started in 1999 by Jet Berelson, who remains active on the site under the username “jet”. The explanation given for the naming of the site is pretty simple, as Jet writes: “The term “VampireFreaks” actually dates back to my years in high school in Brooklyn. When I was about 15, I was just getting into the industrial scene, and I would draw random drawings and graffiti in my notebooks during class, just something to do when I was bored. One of the prevalent things I would write would be “Vampire Freaks”, which I thought would be a cool name for a band or something, as I was also really interested in vampire stories at the time. And around the same time I also would draw a version of the VF logo, but with jagged teeth in it. So when I decided to make my own website, luckily “vampirefreaks.com” was not taken.”
He originally used the website purely for himself as he wanted something to work on to improve his computer coding skills in C++ and Java. He began to write reviews of gothic industrial music and created a messageboard that soon garnered some traction. In 2004 he completely revamped the vampirefreaks website, and made it a new interactive profile website, programmed in php. This new format allowed anybody to join and post their pictures whereas with the previous format he had to review everyone’s picture submissions and only choose a select few. Other new features included a rating system, where users could rate each other, and see who has made it to the top. An interactive messaging system for communicating with the other members was also created. The site traffic quickly skyrocketed after this, and in the space of a few months it was already getting more traffic than any other gothic/industrial website in the world. VampireFreaks was soon affiliated with the merchandise site “FuckTheMainstream.com” to create the VampireFreaks Store. Over the next few years extras such as “Cults”, “Band Profiles” and “Premium Membership” were added. As of 2011, which was the last time VampireFreaks membership numbers were updated “VampireFreaks has 1.5 Million active members (inactive users are deleted), and runs on over 30 dedicated servers in our Chicago server facility.
I asked one member of VampireFreaks a series of questions relating to how he used the site and he provided some good insight into what it’s like being an active member of the community. When asked if the website has shaped his personal relationships he told us that he had met friends from the community in real life and even started an online relationship with a girl who was a member of the community too. He explained that when making friends online he has often been blocked with no explanation given but that he’s used to it by now and that that’s a common thing in the community.
Q1. How has VF impacted or shaped your personal relationships, if in any way?
“Well quite badly to be honest ha! I have met a few friends and girlfriends off here, and they don’t want to be friends for long and they wait for the next person then leave you without any further explanation. They block you at the click of a button and there’s no other way to contact them so it can be frustrating and misleading.”
Q2. Has being part of this community affected your everyday life?
“Yeah! I check my phone lots everyday, I like talking to new people and find out about them. It gives me something to do in the evenings.”
Q3. Have any opportunities come from being part of this community?
“No, not really.”
Q4. What opportunities may come out from being part of this community?
“Nothing for me but maybe meeting people away from the site, starting relationships, and going from there really”
Q5. What does having access to the information shared in this community add to your social life?
“It stays random for the most part so you can talk to anyone, just about anything. It just gives you more knowledge on Gothic stuff so you are always up to date on the latest music, films and whatever. Those are always good topics of conversations when you are trying to talk to a girls who are also into the gothic stuff.”
Q6. Does having access to the information shared on VF empower you?
“No not really. I mean certain people do Hold some more knowledge than others, which can be a form of power. I am not into the cults or anything, which other members probably feel empower them.”
Q7. Can you think of any situation that your participation on here could possibly cause problems for you? What would the consequences be and Why would you take that risk?
“No, this is the internet you should be more than ready to face any obstacles in your way or avoid them entirely. We all know there are creeps and fakes on here waiting for their next victim. I would never even consider going to any of the events because everyone knows they are drug fests and giant orgies, disguised as ‘Gigs’. I am pretty aware of that so I don’t see me being on here as a risk. I am on here to meet new friends.”