Is Netflix’s Cluster 290 the future of fandom?

We spend so much mental energy dividing ourselves into fan groups like “Star Trek fan” or “Star Wars fan.” We separate into subreddits and Facebook groups around a single story.

These labels are incredibly important to the most devoted fans, but your average viewer is much more fluid.

What if there was another way?

Instead of single fandoms, Netflix divides its 125 million global viewers into “taste clusters” or “taste communities.” The streaming giant hasn’t revealed much about the content of these nearly 2,000 microcommunities.

As far as I can tell, the only taste community that Netflix has more or less revealed to the press is “Cluster 290,” — identified in this great New York Magazine article as one of Netflix’s “major taste communities.”

According to the story, Cluster 290 includes people who love these three stories: Black Mirror, Lost & Groundhog Day.

Here’s a screenshot of more TV and movies algorithmically connected to Lost on Netflix. While the company hasn’t revealed much about Cluster 290, I would imagine many of these stories are part of the same taste community at Netflix...

Netflix’s originals product launch strategy team member Olivia De Carlo described what connects all the community members in Cluster 290 in that New York Magazine article:

“On the surface, if you thought about Groundhog Day with Black Mirror, you might not find an obvious similarity … Lost and Black Mirror is also a stretch. But when you look at these in aggregate, you can see this through-line of supernatural or extreme worlds, and somehow that clustering tends to make more sense.”

I’m definitely a member of Cluster 290, even though I didn’t know it. And I love the fluidity of this community.

If all the “Cluster 290” members could hang out on the same digital message board, for instance, we could share thoughts about all sorts of TV and movies — discovering new ideas and stories every single day.

Or imagine a Cluster 290 convention! I could meet Black Mirror and Lost fans from all over the world, unbounded by the single property focus of gatherings like Star Trek conventions.

This wouldn’t replace traditional, single story focused fandom. But it could be an alternative. With a little bit of community building and connection, cluster-based fans could connect people who love the similar story-worlds and kinds of stories, rather that huddling behind the walls of a single fandom.

So just to see what would happen, I started a Cluster 290 subreddit. Because why not have a community unbounded by single fandom labels?

I hope Netflix reveals more about Cluster 290 and all the other major taste communities that unite its viewers. They could help fans connect around patterns we can’t see by ourselves. Everybody would discover new stories and cross-pollinate conversations across genre boundaries.

Instead of rallying around single stories, we could connect around the kinds of worlds and the kinds of stories we love.

Journalist, author & west coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly. Author of THE DEEP END:

Journalist, author & west coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly. Author of THE DEEP END: