Anonymous AO3 Collections

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The Archive of Our Own allows users to create and maintain "collections" within the archive, often but not always for moderating challenges. The collections feature includes an Anonymous setting, which hides the creators' names on every member work. This setting may have been intended for a few types of challenges (anon memes and exchanges like Yuletide that have an anonymous period before authors are revealed), but users started setting up permanent "Anonymous" collections for reasons of their own.

Use in challenges

Many gift exchanges have an anonymous period after gifts are revealed and before creators are revealed. Anonymity was built into AO3's collections functionality from the beginning[1], with Yuletide, a massive gift exchange with a one-week anonymous period, as the first test case going live in 2009.[2] Yuletide is the oldest collection on the archive, created on December 17, 2009.[3]

In July 2011, prompt memes were added as a new collection type.[4] Both prompts and fills could be posted anonymously, depending on what settings the collection maintainer chose.

The first "Anonymous" collection

The first permanent anonymous collection not associated with a challenge was called simply Anonymous, and it was created on November 14, 2010 by a user called "nonnie". Any AO3 user may use the collection to dissassociate a work from their username. If a work is added to the collection, the author field will just display "Anonymous" to readers. However, the original author will maintain full control over the work, including receiving kudos and comments and being able to edit the work.

"Anonymous" is a popular collection, with 57,340 works in 4539 fandoms as of 2022.[5]

More anonymous collections

The "Anonymous" collection was followed by several other similar collections, though none became as popular as the first. Some of the larger ones:

Privacy issues

Adding one's work to an anonymous collection doesn't grant complete anonymity. The collection owner can see the creators' identities. The collection owner is also publicly displayed on the collection profile, so users can't create anonymous collections for their own works to avoid revealing themselves to a third party unless they create a separate throwaway account for it. Finally, the collection owner can easily de-anonymize the entire collection by unchecking a box at any time.

In November 2019 AO3 coders fixed a bug that had previously allowed collection owners to add works to their own collections that were in anonymous collections.[6][7] Before the bug fix, a user could reveal the identity of the creator of an anonymous work by exploiting this bug. It appears that the bug was discovered and exploited the previous month by people on fail_fandomanon who were successful in uncovering the identity of the author of an unrequested racekink fic in the Darkest Night exchange.[1][2]

In 2021 shinelikethunder commented on the dangerous level of trust people had placed in anon collections:

anonymity-by-collection is not designed for identity protection, it’s designed for… like… secret santa exchanges. it has been subject to all kinds of weird glitches and pitfalls. and even when it isn’t – you are always, always, always at the mercy of the collection mod. AND anyone who has access to their account.[8]

Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. ^ See the September 8, 2008 comment listing core collection requirements: AO3-218: Collections: core functionality, Archived version. Accessed 11 August 2022.
  2. ^ AO3 News: What we did on our holidays: the AO3 and Yuletide, Archived version, 28 December 2022.
  3. ^ Yuletide, Archived version. Accessed 11 August 2022.
  4. ^ Release notes for release 0.8.7.4, Archived version, 11 July 2011.
  5. ^ Anonymous, Archived version (Accessed 8 August 2022.)
  6. ^ Prevent mods from adding others' anonymous works to their collections, Resolved November 6, 2019.
  7. ^ AO3 news: Releases 0.9.257 - 0.9.265: Change Log, Archived version, 21 December 2019.
  8. ^ untitled tumblr post by shinelikethunder, Archived version, 16 Oct 2021. As of 11 August 2022 this tumblr post has 464 notes.