By Light Unseen

The Online Vampire Community Takes Off

Until the early 1990s, computer networks were not available to the general public. Technical professionals could access networks through their jobs, and college students and staff had some connectivity via large university systems. Email, "bulletin board" discussion groups and Usenet existed, but all were limited and clubbish communities. Even those people who had home computers and access to networks generally had to dial in with modems that by modern standards, operated at a crawl. A very few bulletin boards and Usenet groups for vampire fans were created, but they were devoted to vampire fiction or media.

As the 1990s began, the protocols that established the true Internet, and allowed the creation of websites and browsers to read them were established. The "World Wide Web" of interconnected hyperlinked content was founded around 1993. Mass-market services like Prodigy, GEnie and America Online opened up cyberspace to millions of people, including Vampire-Identified People.

The Online Vampire Community, or OVC, was born in these early venues. Some of the very first vampire-related websites were up and running as early as 1994. AOL had some members-only chatrooms for real vampires by 1995. The Usenet newsgroup alt.vampyres attracted so many Vampire-Identified People that a major schism erupted between them and the more skeptical users, spawning a new newsgroup, alt.culture.vampyres for "real vampires." (See the academic paper, "Negotiating the Vampire: Conflict Resolution in a Usenet Newsgroup" by Gerry Gold.) The "guestbooks" of several vampire websites turned into the prototypes for the public messageboard services that would shortly be made available on a large scale. Prominent among these was the guestbook on Liriel McMahon's Vampirism Research Institute (VRI) website.

As Sanguinarius describes in her essay, "From the Beginning to October, 1998," the year 1997 saw a sudden explosion of serious, sympathetic "real vampire" sites and information onto the Internet. My Fireheart article, Sanguinarius' website, my website (under the title, The Real Vampires Home Page), and others popped into being within the space of a few months. Very rapidly, Sanguinarius and several other people began creating online forums for direct interaction among readers of these websites, including Sanguinarius' messageboard, AngelBitMe's V.E.I.N. messageboard, Namadie's Hall of Memories messageboard, and a number of email groups.

The venues available in 1997 left much to be desired. Free email group hosting had only just begun to be offered by a few companies, and the groups tended to be buggy, unreliable and prone to security lapses. Many of the "real vampire" messageboards were initially set up on, which operated on a complete laissez-faire principle and provided no way to control or block problem posts. Some of the same individuals who were active in these fora also posted to the Usenet newsgroup alt.vampires, which was more of a fannish/scholarly venue, and alt.culture.vampires for "real vampires." The guestbook-cum-discussion-board on Liriel McMahon's VRI website continued to be active. IRC chat channels also became important centers of activity for those Vampire Identified People who could access them, and some have been in use consistently since the early 90s.

The first reference to this loosely linked online subculture as a "community" appeared in the Statements of Purpose on Sanguinarius' Vampire Support Page (as it was then named) website in the summer of 1997. At that time, the reference was all-inclusive, with "vampire community" indicating everyone who could be considered or who called themselves any type of "vampire," whether they were connected with the online fora or not. In this sense, the term was used in the same general way that "community" has been applied to a number of subgroups that have in common a special interest or experience--for example, the Pagan community, the LGBT community, the leather community, even "the victim community" of survivors of violent crimes.

Sanguinarius suggested that self-defined "vampires" represented a "community" through broad common interest. Her Statements of Purpose asserted that her objectives included greater understanding and networking among community members, outreach to isolated individuals, public education efforts about blood-drinking and vampirism, and support for Vampire-Identified People suffering from persecution. This is similar to the basic goals of many founders of various "communities."

One point, however, was more assumed than articulated: by "vampire" Sanguinarius meant blood drinker.

As websites, e-groups, messageboards and chat channels continued to proliferate during the winter and early spring of 1998, a core membership of regular participants evolved. These members did not restrict themselves to just one online venue but circulated among almost all of them (although most had a favorite "home"). This meant that discussions, interpersonal issues, hot debate topics and so forth did not stay in one isolated place but spread throughout the network of Internet fora. Strong personalities emerged, and inevitably, so did strong disagreements. There were even one or two community scapegoats. Some community members became highly distressed at the occasional lack of civility in discussions and complained or announced their departure (usually temporarily). However, an objective look into all the online turmoil reveals some interesting changes going on underneath the surface.