Fans and producers of the hit TV show <i>Lost</i> are taking to the Internet, building a wiki, alternate reality games, communities, and a virtual island in Second Life to explore the world of the ABC show.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

April 23, 2008

8 Min Read

Fans of the TV showLost don't need to limit their thrills to TV. They can turn to the Internet to hang out with fellow fans, solve puzzles, and speculate about the mysteries of the show.

Campetin Hoorenbeek is one of the leaders of SL-Lost, a reproduction of the Lost Island in Second Life.

Lostpedia is a fan-built encyclopedia where fans create detailed episode guides, biographies of the major and minor characters, articles speculating about where the series is going, and more.

Fans in Second Life can join SL-Lost to hang out with other fans, chew over previous episodes, play games based on the show, and explore a recreation of the Lost island in the virtual world.

And ABC, the network that airs the show, is getting into the act, too, posting tongue-in-cheek Web sites for the fictional airline Oceanic Air, the enigmatic Hanso Foundation behind many of the shows mysteries, and more.

Finding Answers On Lostpedia

Kevin Croy, a programmer consultant in San Jose, Calif., got hooked on Lost through his girlfriend. He went to the Internet to learn more about the show, thinking that there had to be a wiki that would provide information for fans looking to learn more. Croy was startled to find there was no Lost wiki. So he made one.

"Within 20 minutes, I installed MediaWiki, registered the domain, and we were running," he said. MediaWiki is the software platform underlying Wikipedia; he chose that software because he's "amazed and fascinated" with both Wikipedia and the software underlying it, he said. He wanted to learn more about building wikis, and thought Lostpedia was a good place to start.

The site took off quickly, which Croy attributes in part to his hands-off management style. "I try to let the community figure out answers to their own questions," Croy said. "Some of the users like to give my opinion on content more weight than the average user." He added, "Lostpedia has grown the most when I'm sitting on my hands."

A recent example was the use of a vulgar slang term -- starts with "mind" and rhymes with "fire truck" -- to describe the misdirection used on the show. Some thought the word was inappropriate to use on Lostpedia, others thought that changing the word would be censorship. Croy let the community find its own answer, and they eventually settled on redirecting searches using the vulgar term to a page for plot twists.

The Lostpedia statistics page shows that the site has grown to nearly 33,000 pages. The site has received 141 million page views. It has 26,000 registered users, of whom 10 have sysop rights, for increased authority to edit and manage the site.

Croy said the site has brought him professional benefit in that it's connected him with many interesting people. The Palo Alto Research Center (formerly Xerox PARC) contacted him about two years ago to study Lostpedia. "Basically, they wanted to study the way that a group of users collects intelligence, brings it back to a central place, and processes that intelligence, categorizes it and analyzes it and decides what's good and bad." PARC looks at each new episode as a big new batch of intelligence dumped on the Lostpedia community. "They want to see how they can apply that to the national defense projects they're working on," Croy said.

You wouldn't want to live on the Lost island, what with all the bugs and humidity and crazy people running around. But now you can visit the island from the comfort of your desk chair, due to the efforts of a group of fans in Second Life. They're building a reproduction of the island in-world, holding regular meetings to discuss details of the episodes, and have started a couple of games based on the show. They have trivia quizzes on Sundays, and send players out on mini-missions during the week -- for example, during one mission, players had to guess the combination of a locked door, using numbers which figured in episodes of Lost.

Interviewing Campetin and Samantha in the sitting area of the Swan in SL-Lost.

I met with the club leaders of SL-Lost twice: First, in the sitting area of their reproduction of the Swan, the underground research station where much of the action of the second season of Lost takes place. They sat on the sprung-out couch next to the bookshelves and we talked over text chat. We were constantly interrupted by incoming visitors, testimony to the popularity of the new area.

The second time we met on a small platform, high above the island, where we'd have more privacy.

In addition to the Swan, the SL-Lost group has created a reproduction of the survivors' camp on the beach, the menacing jungle, Jacob's cabin, and more. In the Swan, an alarm goes off regularly and users have to press the button on the computer every 108 minutes to re-set a panel of numbers, just like on the show.

Unai Rodriguez, 19, whose Second Life name is Campetin Hoorenbeek, is one of the leaders of SL-Lost. He's a high school student who lives in the Basque region between Spain and France. The other leader is Karen Fuller (SL: Samantha Kuncoro), 34, of Syracuse, N.Y., a mother of three, homemaker, and part-time provider of respite care for families of children with developmental disabilities. They met through Second Life.

The story of SL-Lost is a mystery fitting the show itself. The founder of the group is a mysterious benefactor who went by the name Yisas Morigi. Rodriguez and Fuller say they don't know who he is -- or was -- in real life, and have no way of getting in touch with him. After founding SL-Lost, he began spending less time in-world, going long periods without logging in, and eventually, in October, he disappeared.

"One day he came, closed the island for everyone, and then the island and his avatar disappeared. He said he was very busy in RL [real life]," Rodriguez said in text chat.

Morigi's disappearance set off a panic in the Second Life group. "I was on the island at 11 a.m. and one hour later it was gone," Rodriguez said. Rodriguez tried to e-mail Morigi, but didn't get a response. (He says he's since lost Morigi's address -- he didn't bother hanging onto it because Morigi didn't respond.)

After a month asking Linden Lab to reopen the island so SL-Lost could retrieve its digital creations, the company opened it for 24 hours. Club members copied as many buildings and other elements of the landscape as they could, before the island shut down again, for good.

Later last year, the SL-Lost group, now headed up by Rodriguez and Fuller, built a new meeting room and, later still, they started to rebuild the island. The area is growing. SL-Lost is financially supported by Rodriguez, Fuller, and club members out of their own pockets.

ABC doesn't leave Internet activity to the fans. The company has built several sites of its own to fuel interest in Lost.

An SL-Lost meeting. Clips from the show are watched and discussed.

The company built a Web site for Oceanic Air, the fictitious airline company featured in the show. looks like the Web site for a small airline, complete with a form for reserving tickets.

Another ABC-sponsored Lost site,, purports to be a project by an Oceanic IT manager trying to find his girlfriend, supposedly a flight attendant on the doomed plane. And provides information about the mysterious organization featured in the show.

All the sites contain clues and easter eggs designed to help users figure out background and direction for Lost.

The ABC Lost sites are examples of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), a genre that blends real life activities and the Internet. Players follow trails of clues, usually starting with a single Web site or newspaper ad, and uncover a complicated story line. Along the way, they look for more ads and Web sites, get phone calls in the middle of the night from game characters, and more.

The ARGs started before the show aired, with ABC putting messages in corked bottles and leaving them on beaches for people to find, said Michael Benson, co-executive VP of marketing for ABC Entertainment, who heads up the Lost ARG efforts.

Benson said he and his team, which includes Hoodlum, an interactive entertainment company out of Brisbane, Australia, works with the creators of Lost to develop ARGs. They meet over the summer and plan out the next year's Internet activities.

Benson says he only knows what's going on one season at a time, and doesn't know how the show will conclude. "By having enough information, but not too much, it helps us have a better strategy," he said. "As I'm asking questions, I kind of feel like I can take the place of a viewer and create things that will lead to something bigger."

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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