I've been reading back in the old Gossamer X-Files fanfic archive this afternoon, trying to locate a story (no dice, but I'm not done yet) and it's kind of fascinating. X-Files was my first proper fandom, and I keep seeing the names of people I knew, my old circle of friends, and noticing -- as you can't really when you're in the middle of it -- the lines of connection and influence everyone had on each other.
What's especially fascinating is that I was in the company of what at the time were the closest things we had to BNFs, not that we had the term back then, or at least not in X-Files fandom. It was an absolute massive advantage for me, and I don't know quite how I wrangled it, but I managed to put myself into a place where I learned a veritable fuckton about writing and story crafting from those people. I hadn't really noticed that until now, though I've always credited fandom mentors with getting me to a place where I could start stretching my skills rather than just obtaining them.
It's interesting too to see the tropes that are common now that were absent then, and the way that writers in general influenced a smaller group of fans than is now commonly the case. There are spaces in fandom now for certain kinds of stories that I don't think would have existed back then, too, and it shows in the reactions I remember on the rare occasions those kinds of stories (particularly kink, and to a lesser extent slash) were posted. Spoiler warnings were more or less a courtesy; actual warnings didn't exist, except in certain cases -- I think the first "warning" I ever encountered was for a story written about the Oklahoma City bombing.
Introduction formats were different, and because blogging as such didn't exist then, they were a lot more sociable; fanfic was a way to talk with people, and it's amazing how much personal information you can read in the headers. Not to mention people tended to use whatever email address they had handy, because email cost money back then, so people posted using their professional email addresses, their university addresses, their AOL and Netscape accounts. Google didn't exist, or if it did nobody had heard of it. Yahoo was the premiere search engine (AltaVista a close second) but it was more of a yellow pages, and didn't list individuals' websites or posts. Schools didn't have directories online and most, like most businesses, didn't even have websites. Unless you knew where to look, there were pretty good odds you'd never find someone, so there was no real harm in posting from your professional address.
As far as I'm aware, the Gossamer archive was one of the first fandom archives, and it wasn't somewhere you went to submit a story; you posted a story on the newsgroup or to a mailing list and it was bumped over to the archive by an admin. I was in infant awe of Vincent Juodovalkis, who ran Gossamer in its infancy; the amount of work he must have put into that thing was staggering to me.
Funnily enough, I just googled to make sure I had his name spelled right, and found his LinkedIn; I never knew what he looked like until today, because it took major amounts of hardware and bandwith to transmit images back then. Also he has a Twitter, which is somehow seriously fucking with my worldview.
Oh hey I also just hit 1996 in the archive -- hands up if you remember Agent Pendrell. GOOD TIMES GUYS.
There are a lot of things in fandom now that I think are better, though it took me a long time to get to that conclusion. We're more decentralized, but there's a much larger diversity of writers and so many more ways to communicate. There's more everything. More badfic too, perhaps, but in the grand cost/benefit analysis of the internet I think it's well worth it. It was a very, very chance encounter that got me into internet fandom; I like the idea that kids who are now like I was then have an easier time finding home than I did.
Occasionally I count backwards and add up how long I've been in fandom, and it's now seventeen years. Some of the up and coming writers weren't alive when I started. Kids, don't make the same mistakes I did: get yourself a beta reader who knows how quotation marks work.
Christ, now I feel old.