On the AO3 all these years later












The tenth anniversary of the OTW and all the AO3 discussion going around this week inspired me to go look at astolat’s original post about creating an An Archive Of Our Own, and found my comment on it:

“I think this is needed and long past needed.

There are of course huge fanfic archives out there like ff.net, but the bigger and more public the site, the more restrictive it is, the more stuff around the edges gets cut off. I don’t WANT the public face of fanfic to be only the most easily palatable stuff, with the smut and the kink and the controversial subjects marginalized and hidden under the table.

And I particularly don’t want to see us all sitting around feeling frustrated while this fabulous community is commodified out from underneath us.

I’m not fit to be a project manager, but I’m great with details and general organizational work. If someone takes this and runs with it, I’d love to help.“

Eleven years and rather a lot of volunteer-hours later, I stand by every single word.

And then I found my original post on the idea that became the OTW/AO3, which says in part:

“However, as I was reading the comments over there, I noticed a frustrating, but not surprising number of comments along the lines of “well, it’s a good idea, but it’s way too ambitious”

I’m not talking about the really useful and practical comments bringing up pitfalls and difficulties to be aware of from the get go with something this massive and complex, I’m talking about all the comments that go something like this:

Amen. I want a site like that. I’d pay money for an archive like that, and I’d invest time and effort to make sure it’s as great as it can be. […] But then I hit the realism switch in my brain and it goes ‘splodey. Because sadly it’s not a very realistic concept.

And this:

In a perfect world it could be an amazing thing and a great way to “rally the troops” so to speak and provide a sort-of one-stop shop for fan-fiction readers and writers. I see a couple potential problems, though.

Or this:

Oh god.

I like what you’re saying, I really do, but I think it’s actually impossible to achieve.

and all the various comments that start with

“It sounds like a cool idea…but”

or words to that effect.

Taken separately, these comments don’t seem like much, but every time a new one showed up I couldn’t help but be reminded of

this post by commodorified, and her oh so brilliant and beautiful rant therein:


And here are some notes:

Yes, you. Yes, everything. Yes, even that.

All of it. Because it’s true. We’re mostly raised to live on table scraps, to wait and see what’s going when everyone else has been served and then choose from what’s left. And that’s crap, and it’ll get you crap.

Forget the limited menu of things that you automatically assume is all that’s available given your (gender, looks, social class, education, financial position, reputation, family, damage level, etc etc etc), and start reading the whole menu instead.

Then figure out what you want. Then check what you’ve got and figure out how to get it. And then go after it baldheaded till either you make it happen or you decide that its real cost is more than it’s worth to you.”

And THAT is what Astolat’s post is about. It’s about saying “THIS is what we want, let’s make it happen.” It’s about aiming for the ideal, not for some artificially imposed, more “realistic” option.

And I think that’s fabulous. And I think we CAN do this, we CAN make this amazing, complicated idea happen. But in order to do so we’re going to have to be careful about those little voices inside our heads saying “well, it’s a nice idea, but” and “there’s no point in trying for that impossible thing, let’s aim for this ‘more realistic’ goal instead.”

Because, damn it, why shouldn’t we ask for every damn thing we want. And why shouldn’t we go out there and get it?”

I am so pleased to have been proved correct. 

(And also, in the category of “women need to ask for every damn thing they want”? I took those words to heart, which is one of many reasons Marna/commodorified and I have been married for going on eight years.)

ETA: I know some of the links are broken, they copied over from my original post and I didn’t have the energy to either delete them or track them down elsewhere.

Asking for it and doing it!!!

So inspiring. And yes – at the time this seemed such a pipedream, but look at it now!

Yup. I remember saying I’d support it regardless, but it would only really be useful to me as a poster if it allowed every kind of content. Heh.

God this brings it back.  People saying we couldn’t do it, that we would never be able to do it, etc. And then there was the sort of six months later moment where people were like, but where is it? (!)  Dudes, we had to found a nonprofit company first! so we could be legal and raise money and pay taxes and have a bank account and enter contracts – and moreover, the archive was written from scratch: from a single blinking cursor on the screen, custom-designed from the ground up.  I remember that I had the job of tracking wireframes in the early days as the real designers figured out how the flow of pages in the archive were going to go. Amazing.

Anyway,  I want to say that the group that came together around the OTW /AO3 in those first years had a track record like WHOA: so many of those people had been archivists, web-admins, fannish fest-runners, newsletter compilers, community moderators, listmoms (kiddies, you won’t know what this is) or had other fannish roles that gave them enormous experience in working collaboratively in fandom and keeping something great going year after year. And  OTW continues to attract great people–and so also, while I’m blathering, let me say that volunteering for the OTW also provides great, real world experience that you can put on your resume, because AO3 is one of the top sites in the world and TWC has been publishing on time for ten years and Fanlore is cited in books and journalism all the time and Open Doors has relationships with many meatspace university libraries and archives etc. so if you think you have something to bring to the table, please do think about volunteering somewhere. It’s work, believe me, but it’s also pretty g-d awesome.

I tell you what, if it weren’t for Ao3, 2013 would’ve been the last year I ever wrote anything for anyone other than myself. I was so disgusted and demoralized.

The first chapter of “This, You Protect” wasn’t a desperation move, exactly. It was the first time I’d had fun writing anything in months.

Putting it up, and those first few encouraging comments: that was the first time I’d had fun publishing in years.

And man, the people I have met through that place. I am eternally grateful.

So definitely 100% all of this, but I also have a question. And maybe it’s one of those stupid ones, but it’s something I’m honestly curious about. It has to do with this bit:

 "I want to say that the group that came together around the OTW /AO3 in those first years had a track record like WHOA: so many of those people had been archivists, web-admins, fannish fest-runners, newsletter compilers, community moderators, listmoms (kiddies, you won’t know what this is) or had other fannish roles that gave them enormous experience in working collaboratively in fandom and keeping something great going year after year.“ 

 My question is: how do you get there NOW?

 And I don’t mean that like “how do you become astolat or esporanza”-
because let’s face it, we only get one of them since they are, in fact, themselves, and I’d much rather people try to be themselves than somebody else- but I mean it as in how do you rack up that record now? Because so many of those roles have vanished or gotten diluted in fandom, like, I genuinely don’t know how you’d position yourself into this, and I kinda want to know if only so that I can see the next wave of such fans coming.

I was going to be like, I don’t know! except then I was like, wait, yes, I do know! IMO, the answer is a Mr. Rogers-type secret, which is that the way to do this is to help.  Be a helper! Help other fans, boost other fans voices/art somehow.  Run a fest or a challenge, do a recs page, reblog stuff, wave your arms in the air, encourage people to make things, offer to beta, make art, do podfics, offer to collaborate – and I’m sure the future will (for better and for worse) provide us new opportunities to help or think about helping each other. But one that comes to mind: help a fan navigate a new platform!  Confused about Tumblr/Twitter/Youtube/Pillowfort – can someone help? Will you hold their hand, tell them they’re wanted, get them to come with us to the new land?  (I HAVE EXPLAINED TUMBLR TO SO MANY PEOPLE).  I remember when I got into fandom, I was posting my stories to a mailing list and I didn’t have a website (because who did?) and MerryLynne came to me and said, like, I like your stories, can I help you host them?  I was SO GRATEFUL. Resonant made me a cheat sheet for html which is how I learned. The initial archives had what were called Archive Elves, people who behind the scenes had to format and upload every story by hand.  So, to me, true fandom is always encouraging of others, it’s COME WRITE FOR MY SHOW, make the thing, try the thing, do the thing, I will help you do the thing!

Aww. Yes, this!

I don’t think those kinds of roles are gone though, just changed. Maybe we don’t have so many people doing extensive Delicious-style bookmarking now, but plenty of fans run tumblrs with meticulous tagging that curate a great feed of a particular fandom or ship. [Thing] Weeks happen all the time. Someone’s organizing each one of those. People on tumblr have started and run fan conventions, most of which did not feature a deflating ball pit. There are zine presses started up through Tumblr!

As with a lot of fannish things, people start by loving something specific. They make their friends through a particular fandom. Pan-fandom meta, history, preservation, etc. are things people usually get into after they’ve been around a while and switched fandoms a few times or seen their single fandom change radically as people and platforms come and go.

If I had to guess, I’d say the next big organized fannish projects will come from circles of friends on Tumblr who started out shipping the same thing and have since moved on to being in different fandoms but still share the same taste in cons or in infrastructure or tools.

Yes to the above, but I will say that social media sites these days DO make community-building harder and less intuitive. 

Partly because of recirculating content (eg on Tumblr, you don’t actually have to follow people for their good stuff, because it gets reblogged, and reblogging actually discourages following too many people in a single fandom because you’ll see the same thing 20 times). And partly because they push unhelpful values on us (making the # of public likes feel more important than a private personal connection, because more #s means more advertising money for them). 

It’s the same underlying problem that made us start the AO3. Just like fanlib and 6A in the days of Strikethrough, the people who own and run these sites don’t give a shit about any of us, they don’t make these sites to use them personally. They’re making them to make giant sacks of money, not to build a community center. 

So they don’t really want us to talk to each other in private-ish nooks in the way that’s necessary to build personal connection. If you post your thoughts on a public reblog, they can use it as an ad vehicle for everyone following you. If you post them to one pal in private, they are paying server costs to host the same amount of content but as an ad vehicle it is much worse. A lot of terrible usability and human choices that social media sites make are based on very sensible financial decisions the owners are making for their personal benefit. 

So you have to deliberately go against what the site encourages you to do, if you want to build community. You can’t just sit there and read your dash and ticky the hearts and squash your own thoughts into tags. You have to make your own content, you have to send messages and chat, have conversations in comments, go to chatrooms, go to cons and meetups, build personal connections. 

If you want to build a thing, the public post where you start the thing is the first bit of the iceberg that pokes up above the water. If you don’t have a whole lot of iceberg underneath, it won’t stay up.