The Myth of Fanboys

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Misc - Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

The Internet is ripe with accusations of “fanboy”, sometimes spelled “fanboi”. Really, the term fanboy is a handy name to call anyone who doesn’t like the same thing as you do; it’s used as an insult and an epithet. And usually directed at the supporters of the second-to-least popular product. Intel users fling it at AMD users, Photoshop users fling it at Gimp users, Windows users fling it at Mac and Linux users, and so on.

In fact, the fanatical devotion to products is found in the user base of the MOST popular product, and furthermore, it is not a “religious” issue of zealotry but a very practical way to act for very logical reasons!

It’s the top dog, not the underdog, that feverishly defends their position. Anybody with a large group of pets can attest to the same herd politics: Cats and dogs have a pecking order based on who was the first pet. Latecomers will meekly accept their place in line, whereas the first pet will vigorously defend their food dish, their favorite place to sleep, and their turn for master’s attention.

The user base of the market leader defends their choice the most vigorously, simply because they have the most to lose. And the logic works like this:

  • X is on top, and as long as we stay loyal to X, X will stay on top. Obviously, Solaris isn’t threatened by AIX, nor is Mac much of a concern to BSD. But the biggest market share on Earth (indeed, in history) is Windows, and so Windows users defend their platform against all comers. Unlike the other platforms, they have nowhere to go but down!
  • The more I support X, the better its stock will perform in my 401(K). Never underestimate the conviction of a stock-holder. When you own stock in a company, their success is your success. The mere owning of a piece of paper giving you a share of a company will make you want that company to do well. Of course you will have nothing but good things to say about it!
  • I’ve built my career on X, so if X dies off – I’m screwed! Is the person you’re speaking to singing the praises of the Adobe creative suite? Could that have a little something to do with the fact that Adobe is all they learned in college while getting their arts degree, is the only thing they’ve worked on in the ten years of their career, and so their job depends on it?
  • Any competition is a threat to X. Obviously, only one cat in that pecking order cares about abolishing competition: the top one! When you’re the second-seller, you’ll preach the values of a level playing field, a free market, competition giving good value to the consumer.And while you’re at it, you can’t also look down on number three, four, etc. for trying to do the same thing you’re doing! So you never see flame wars between number two and number three.
  • More people support X, so I’m more likely to win anyway. This is nothing more than simple safety in numbers. As long as you are supporting number one, you can get away with making the most outrageous grandstands and justify them all with “more people support my product for a reason.”

So, please, the next time you see a computer-related tech argument fall to calling each other fanboys, remind them how much that term has been corrupted. And also, you might point out that everybody is an outrageous fan of something, whether it be to the point of painting your body in the colors of your favorite soccer team, tattooing the maker of your favorite brand of motorcycle on your body, or pasting that picture of Calvin peeing on the Chevy logo in the back of your Ford truck.

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