There have always been fans. But the way fan communities are currently structured owe much to the fanzines which preceded before the internet–here is a great story from the Atlanta Constitution about a man who worked on them for 50 years:
“Fanzines really did anticipate the Internet in that … there were no boundaries,” Weisskopf said. “You could talk intelligently about [science fiction] no matter how old you were, if you were a girl, or housebound. I’d like to say there were fewer flame wars, but there weren’t. It was just slower. It was, though, more likely to nurture longer, more thoughtful pieces, not [limited by] how many characters in a tweet. You can post a note on Facebook now, but it won’t be beautifully illustrated with gorgeous typesetting.”
The artistry involved here is hard to reproduce online; but the freedom to contribute to community safely is definitely present.
“There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.”–William P. Merrill