Community Spotlight — Fractal Forums
Fractal Forums is the type of weirdly creative, intimidatingly specific, and uncommonly friendly community that could only flourish online.
The community uses a simple web-forum software called SMF to congregate, brainstorm, and share artwork digitally. This creative and educational explosion is based entirely on those gorgeous geometric shapes that bring us coastlines, mountains, and the romanesco vegetable— fractals.
Shortly after Christian Kleinhuis took over in 2008, the site’s traffic jumped from an already impressive 70,000 impressions a month to an astonishing 700,000 impressions a month. Much of this success came from a 2007 thread, where Daniel White asked forum members how to implement a 3d Mandelbrot formula. This new creation, a “3D Mandelbulb,” got picked up by numerous major european newspapers and magazines, including spiegel.de.
The oldest member of the forum (recently registered) is 70 years old, and the youngest is about 14 years old.
Handshake sent some electronic mail to Mr. Kleinhuis. Here’s what he had to say about the site:
What is Fractal Forums?
Fractal forums is a site for fractal fanatics, art producers, programmers and chaos researchers in general. I am personally viewing it from a programming point of view, but it has developed to an art producing community who is developing new formulas and implement them directly in various self-written programs, some of them feature really high quality. It is a site dedicated to fractal fans around the world, since it is in the English language, and the visitors are coming from all over the world.
What kind of users do you attract?
The forum itself is used for many various things, I would say we have :
Researchers: who have a strong theoretical and mathematical background, and they discuss about various theoretical questions,
concerning fractal geometry or formulas (fractal classification, distance estimating, rendering functions, new formulas)
Programmers: who program software to render different fractal types, some do plain 2D rendering of the classical mandelbrot, some do advanced and highly complicated global illumination fractal rendering software, and some others try to implement the rendering algorithms for realtime rendering on nowadays gpu hardware.
Art producers: people who do not really understand the math behind the fractal image creation technique, but have a strong artistic background, they can “use” the programms to achieve something the wanted to … and they discuss about ther productions although it is mostly “positive” response, also constructive criticism makes it rounds sometimes …
Absolute beginners: we have a section where we collect links to introductionary themes and youtube videos, e.g. explaining of the mandelbrot set. Those people come to us just because they are interested, they post their computer systems and hardware configuration and get mentored in what software they could use, and how to start of producing fractal images
Why should someone join your community?
The benefit from joining our community is to stand in direct contact with people who develop fractal software — this way questions get answered directly. for beginners we have a section to state questions, either about fractal/chaos theory, or special algorithms and techniques in general.
The community has held an annual fractal spring art contest three years in a row [and which is currently in need of sponseors, if we have any corporate fractal fans out there — ed.]
What’s your own role with the site?
My role — as a fractal fan and a former fractal software developer — is to provide a space that I for myself would like to have. Since the site was founded in 2006 I thought: “damn why didnt i have the idea for such a forum?” and then I took the opportunity to run the site after the founder had no fun in continuing maintaining the site
My personal role is more or less only to be the admin and to comment on various sections that i am interested in, right now the content is spreading so much that I can not track every post every day. I have a small admin team helping me administering the site *big thanks to users: nahee, sockratease, lycium, bib, david makin* This team is sorting threads into the right sections if posted wrongly, and the registering of new users, because of massive spam attacks every user has to be cleared in by hand, this is done by the administrator team.
Why do you enjoy managing the site?
Because i think that fractal science facts are underrepresented in academic research or in public opinion, and it is my opportunity to do something small which can lead to something bigger. Although I am not actively researching/developing anything, I am writing my bachelor’s thesis about the “Math of the Mandelbulb” which is mostly referring articles/posts on the forums. So, i am something like a patron for fractal research, or fractal art evolving . . .
And the best thing is that since the site has grown so popular it is earning as much as i am paying for it, so I have no bad feelings about maintaining the site because costs are bottled. For the future i want to achieve some kind of merchandising like a calendar, or an art fair that would make use of the created art on the site.
How has the site become so popular?
The site for sure has become real popular in fall 2009 when various paper magazines reported about newly developed mandelbulb, a 3d variant of the famous mandelbrot fractal. The site was featured on many magazines like science magazine, several french magazines I cant remember, and German magazines like spiegel.de, spektrum der wissenschaft, and the FAZ newspaper printed a whole page on 23th of december last year.
It was all about a thread that started in 2007 where Daniel White asked about how to implement a 3d Mandelbrot formula, which led to the now famous “Mandelbulb.”
After that event, site grew exorbitantly, and many quality users joined the forum and enriched it with new ideas, and art postings. Two active users are developing their software “Mandelbulb 3d” and “Mandelbulber” for rendering the new fractal types, which also attracts many people to the site.
All this talk is meaningless, however, without seeing exactly what we’re talking about. We’re not kidding when we say that forum members create some seriously gorgeous art work. Just take a look at small sample recently posted in the forum’s image gallery:
“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it” by Madman
the mountain guard by Jesse
pass Nostromo horizon by Fiery
Dark spiral tree by bib
Many thanks to Christian for his great responses and for the Fractal Forum community members for doing what they do.
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