Archive of Our Own

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Archive
Name: Archive of Our Own
Date(s): 2008 – present
Archivist: Organization for Transformative Works
Founder: Organization for Transformative Works
Type: Fanworks archive, currently mainly fanfic
Fandom: Multifandom
URL: http://archiveofourown.org/, AO3_Status, ao3org
Archive of Our Own Logo
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Archive of Our Own, a.k.a. AO3, is a multi-fandom archive website owned and operated by the Organization for Transformative Works, which largely hosts fanfiction. According to the site's main page, it is "A fan-created, fan-run, nonprofit, noncommercial archive for transformative fanworks, like fanfiction, fanart, fan videos, and podfic."

Archive of Our Own is a "fan-created, fan-run," site which was first proposed in the post An Archive Of One's Own by Astolat in 2007. The post discussed instances in the past when websites and corporations attempted to profit from fandom, fans, and fanworks on their online platforms, while not respecting or protecting fandom. This issue was especially important because transformative fandom has been repeatedly targeted due to the debated legality of fanworks, which involves issues of copyright, intellectual property, and fair use. On the internet, this has led to websites mass-deleting fan accounts, fanfiction, etc. for various content and reasons. Astolat's post and subsequent discussions led to the conclusion that there needed to be a reliable non-profit fanwork-hosting site that was run by people who were themselves fans, and would therefore know what fans wanted and work in the interest of fandom.

AO3 is currently designed to host text-based fanfiction as well as fandom nonfiction and allows embedding (but not yet hosting) for vids, fanart and podfic. Fanworks are protected under fair use. AO3 permits Underage sex, RPF, and other controversial content, as it is intended to be an archive for any and all types of fanworks. The archive's interface is planned to be translated into languages other than English in order to make it more accessible to an international userbase.[1] It requires that DMCA takedown notices be signed in order to be acted upon[2] and says that the OTW "will remove the content upon satisfactory review of the merits of the infringement claim."

Its Beginnings

AO3 was first proposed in May 2007 by Astolat. Her post, An Archive Of One's Own, was one of many in LiveJournal fandom reacting to the commercial startup FanLib, which had tried to recruit some fanfic writers for its new fic archive. LiveJournal fandom was unimpressed by the company's desire to profit off of the popularity of fanfic, not to mention a sales pitch to get buy-in from copyright holders saying things like "All the FANLIB action takes place in a highly customized environment that YOU control" (see File:FanLib info.pdf). Astolat's post An Archive Of One's Own set out some guidelines for a fan-controlled archive in opposition to the dystopian future she saw in FanLib: no ads, no restrictions on content, and a commitment to fic as fair use. To realize this vision, the Organization for Transformative Works was created.

Fans had other (often long-standing) reasons for wanting to help build a new multifandom archive. Strikethrough happened a few weeks after astolat's initial post, driving home the point that it was not safe to rely on commercial entities to preserve fan culture. Around the same time, the Snarry archive Detention vanished literally overnight because of an argument between the owner and one of the mods. This raised awareness that a long-term archive would need to be run by an organization not subject to a single person's whims. See Beginnings of OTW: 2007-08 Comments for more comments regarding AO3 and OTW's creation.

Timeline

front page in September 2013
  • First proposed by Astolat on 17 May 2007 in the post An Archive Of One's Own.
  • A Livejournal community fanarchive was created on 20 May 2007 to coordinate discussion and planning for the creation of the archive.[3][4]
  • The archiveofourown.org domain name was registered 30 May 2007 by Rebecca Tushnet.[5]
  • Call for Ruby on Rails tutorial writers on 1 November 2007.[6]
  • Call for Ruby on Rails Coders on 8 January 2008.[7]
  • Archive opened for closed beta, in which members of the public were welcome to view and comment, but account creation was limited to Organization for Transformative Works staff and testers on 3 October 2008.[8]
  • Archive entered open beta on 14 November 2009. Users are able to get accounts either via a first-come, first-served invitation queue, or via invitation codes distributed to those who helped with closed beta testing. The speed of new account creation depends on the servers' ability to handle increased load.[9]
  • Yuletide 2009 opened on the AO3 on 18 December 2009. All Yuletide participants were given an invitation.[10][11] On 24 December 2009, the AO3 had 4648 fandoms, 33,810 works and 4127 users.
  • Kudos added circa December 2010.
  • New servers added in February 2011.[12]
  • Subscriptions to authors added in March 2011.
  • Database performance issues recurred in September 2011, with administrators blaming them on greatly increased use.[13] As of 5 October 2011, the archive had 7385 fandoms, 228,489 works and 22,974 users.
  • As of 31 December 2011, the archive had approximately 8100 fandoms, 275,000 works and 31,000 users.[14]
  • Database performance issues recurred in May 2012[15] when the site reached 1.4 million unique visitors a month,[16] coinciding with Fanfiction.net's 2012 M-rated Purge.[17][18] The archive began to cache works and stats pages as an immediate measure to decrease server load,[19][20] and then temporarily suspended tag filtering for the same reason,[21] reinstating them with improvements in November.[22]
  • As of 15 July 2012, the archive had 56,203 registered users.[23] As of October 2012, there were 459,655 works and approximately 23,000 fandoms.[24]
  • As of 16 July 2013, the Archive had 763,326 works in 12,448 "canonical" fandoms, and over 183,000 registered users.[25]
  • The one millionth work was posted on 15 February 2014.[26]
  • The archive reached two million fanworks as of 20 December 2015.[27]
  • It was announced on 31 October 2016 that AO3 had 1 million registered users, 2,615,000 works spread across 22,970 fandoms.[28]
  • The archive reached three million fanworks as of 28 April 2017.[29]
  • The archive reached four million fanworks as of 20 July 2018.[30]
  • The archive reached five million fanworks in July 2019. [31]
  • The archive won a Hugo Award for "Best Related Work" on August 18, 2019.

Behind-the-Scenes Organization

AO3 is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works. Many OTW committees are responsible for aspects of the project:

  • Accessibility, Design & Technology (AD&T) and their three subcommittees of Design, Coders, and Testers train AD&T volunteers, design and develop software features, and write and test the code for new features and bug fixes.
  • Systems maintains the servers and infrastructure AO3 runs on.
  • Support answers user help requests, bug reports and feedback submitted via the form on AO3 and forwards abuse reports to the Policy & Abuse Committee.
  • Tag Wrangling organises and maintains the AO3 user-created tags for Fandoms, Characters, Relationships and Additional (freeform) categories.
  • Content Policy is responsible for site content policy and TOS updates in conjunction with Legal.
  • Translation works to translate news posts and work on the new site translations feature in conjunction with ADT.
  • Internationalization and Outreach works to improve support and visibility for international and underrepresented fandoms on the archive.
  • Open Doors helps maintainers of other archives to import their content to AO3.
  • Vidding works on integrating vids into AO3.
  • Communications coordinates newsletters and blog posts on the OTW site and mirrors.
  • Volunteers & Recruiting (VolCom) recruits and looks after volunteers and manages the internal wiki and access to various tools.
  • Development and Membership and Finance fundraise and pay for AO3 hosting and servers.
  • The Board of Directors oversees the Committees.[32]

Notable Features

  • The tag system and tag wrangler team. (even inspired fanfic, see also Wrangulator)
  • Built-in bookmarking, with the ability to add reader tags, label a bookmark as a rec, and no limit on the number of bookmarks or recs.
  • The ability to lock a fanwork to registered Archive users only, instead of posting it publicly, known as "archive-locking."
  • Options to view either chapter-by-chapter or the whole work at once.
  • Separate fanworks can be linked as a series.
  • An easy way for creators to orphan works (disassociate their name from a work), providing a reader-friendly alternative to completely deleting fanworks.
  • A clear, minimal and enforceable warning policy, which includes the ability to add additional warnings as searchable tags.
  • One-click download of stories in a variety of formats: PDF, HTML, ePub, and Mobi.
  • The "Kudos" button, a fast, simple, possibly threshold-lowering way for readers to express appreciation for a work.

Collections and Challenges System

The collections and challenges system is the set of features that make collections of fanworks (including importing for Open Doors), gift exchanges, prompt memes, and other challenges possible on AO3. Collections and challenges were initially implemented for the Yuletide exchange, as the founder of Yuletide is Astolat, but usage of the features has spread out greatly since it was first implemented for Yuletide 2009, including usage by the AO3/Dreamwidth-based exchange fandom. Other large exchanges include Trick or Treat and Chocolate Box.

Collections have the following features available to all users:

  • Creating a new collection.
  • Adding new maintainers (moderators or owners) to the collection
  • Adding their own works to a collection they maintain
  • Bookmarking works to a collection they maintain
  • Setting the collection to moderated, so that works be approved by a maintainer before it will show up in the collection)
  • Setting the collection to closed, so that only maintainers can add new works or bookmarks)
  • Setting the collection to unrevealed, so that most of the details about works in the collection are hidden.
  • Setting the collection to anonymous, so that the authors of works in the collection are hidden. There is a specific Anonymous Collection that authors may put their works in to completely anonymize the work while retaining control over it.
  • Marking the collection as a prompt meme or gift exchange
  • Adding a banner, icon, and other information
  • Making the collection a sub-collection of another collection the user owns, making it a "subcollection"

Collections that are also gift exchanges or prompt memes get additional features, such as the ability to run matching or posts prompts.

Tags

The Archive has an innovative system for managing fandoms and other tags that allows uploaders to enter all manner of freeform tags while "tag wranglers" organize and link them so that readers can browse or search. zvi wrote a noteworthy post explaining it.[33]

The AO3 tagging system (and the related search and filtering problems) have not been all joy for all users. See AO3 Tagging Policy Debate for more information on criticism and discussion of AO3's tagging system.

Fanworks have been written about tags and tag wranglers. The fandom tag for tags is AO3 Tags; wrangler RPF is folded into the OTW RPF tag. See AO3 Tag Wrangling for more details.

Filtering

This article or section needs expansion.

see: Filtering Tools

Fanwork Statistics

In August 2013, the percentage of fanworks by relationship category on the AO3 was: 50% M/M, 26% Gen, 22% F/M, 5% F/F, 4% Multi, 2% Other.[34] See more AO3 statistics from destinationtoast[35] and centrumlumina.

In October 2014, the overwhelming majority of works posted on AO3 was fanfiction, with the percentages for other work types being: 0.25% fanvids, 0.71% fanart, 0.17% meta (meta nonfiction and fanfiction), and 0.55% podfic.

Fans doing statistical analysis of fanworks frequently use AO3 data.

Inclusion of Meta on the Archive

The Archive of Our Own TOS FAQ states[36]

You can post any noncommercial, non-ephemeral fanwork.

- What kinds of fanworks can I post?, Content

All three of these points must be true of a work to be allowed under the Terms of Service. Later on it also specifies that the fanwork should be "transformative".

The publication of meta essays on AO3 was not officially permitted until 2013, when the OTW Board of Directors announced that they had voted to allow meta on AO3 "after a long period of discussion".[37] Prior to this decision, meta and fannish non-fiction existed in a somewhat dubious grey area: it was occasionally posted to the site and did not appear to be explicitly forbidden by AO3's Terms of Service,[38] but would often attract flames, angry comments and reports.[39] At one point, AO3 appeared to be taking a stance explicitly prohibiting meta, but the decision was almost as quickly reversed.[40]

In their announcement officially permitting meta, the Board of Directors wrote that,

We considered a range of issues while making this decision, including how this move would fit into the overall mission of the OTW, the technical and financial resources required, and demand from users of the Archive and members of the OTW. We determined that there is already a demand for meta on the Archive, and that this use of our resources is consonant with our purview and mission.

We're aware that this decision has taken some time, and we sincerely apologize for the delay. We had hoped to reach a decision sooner, but the complexity of the discussion meant we needed to think carefully about the issues. As the term of some OTW Board members ended while the discussion was ongoing, we also needed time for the new Board members to get up-to-speed with all the issues involved.[37]

The announcement emphasised that officially permitting meta hosting on AO3 was "just the first step in this journey", adding that the Board and relevant committees would now begin working together to "define exactly how meta will be handled" and "agree on some definitions and policies". The Board also invited feedback on the decision via comments on the news post.

Works which may be classified under the umbrella of "fannish nonfiction", including meta, are now allowed provided they fulfill the other stated requirements (noncommerical, nonephemeral, and fannish) of hosted works.

Fannish nonfiction can be discussions of fannish tropes, essays designed to entice other people into a fandom, commentary on fandoms, hypothetical casting for alternate versions of works, documentaries, podcasts about fandom, explanations of the creative process behind a fanwork or works, tutorials for creating fanworks, guides for fan-created gaming campaigns, or many other things.

Fannish vs Nonfannish

The Archive is dedicated to fanworks in particular, and is not intended to be a repository of all creative works. However, there are a number of varieties of works produced by fans that do not fit comfortably into a narrow definition of fanfiction, fanart, vids, or other types of fanworks. Original works that are not based on a specific media source (canon) may also count as fanworks so long as they are fannish in nature. As such the line between fannish and nonfannish is recognized to be ambiguous. With the addition of meta to the realm of accepted works on the archive the ambiguity is expanded.

In particular, original fiction that is part of an Open Doors project is allowed, as are types of original fiction and quasi-original fiction produced within a fandom context. Examples include such things as anthropomorfic, original fiction that is produced as part of a fandom challenge, exchange, or charity event, and genres such as Original Slash, Original BL, and Regency romances produced in Jane Austen fandom.


Disallowed nonfannish fiction includes:

  • Episode transcripts and other non-transformative fandom material;
  • Primarily autobiographical or non-fandom-related essays (e.g., essays on bike lanes, even if they contain a single reference to a fannish source);
  • General complaints about behavior towards a particular creator (e.g., a post stating that a work was deleted due to lack of feedback);
  • Suggestions that other fans contact the creator through email or other social networks;
  • A single word or pairing name repeated hundreds of times;
  • Offers and giveaways.


Discussions of specific fandom-related events such as conventions or debates over particular incidents, may be more appropriate for Fanlore than for the Archive.

Ephemeral vs Non-ephemeral

Ephemeral content is generally meant to be read at a particular time and is not allowed on the Archive. Content disallowed under this requirement include works that are:

  • A single short sentence
  • A single unedited image, short unedited sound clip, or short unedited video clip
  • A .gif with or without a short caption
  • Messages about a particular challenge
  • A reaction meant to be read while or just after a particular episode airs.
  • Message-board, social media or forum-like requests, such as
    • Notifying of an upcoming work's release or upcoming challenge
    • A request for recommendations for particular kinds of fanworks
    • A list of recommended works on a particular topic
    • Providing or requesting recommendations or help locating a work
    • A description of a challenge for other creators
  • Live-blogged episode reactions, which more appropriately belong on a journaling service


Allowed Content With the addition of fannish nonfiction, such as meta, currently allowed types of works include:

  • An audio performance of a fannish essay about vampire biology across sources, or the same essay in text form.
  • Photographs of a knitted character.
  • Short clips of footage from existing sources, edited over a song to make an argument or tell a story.
  • A comic telling the romantic adventures of the protagonist of a video game.
  • Photographs of a knitted character.
  • An alternative version of a Jane Austen novel in which there's a zombie apocalypse.
  • The supporting text for an original adventure for a tabletop roleplaying game.

No Direct Advertising

Advertising on "Archive of Our Own" is not allowed. This includes mentions by fans of writing commissions and Patreon work.

As stated in the TOS[41]

D. What you can't do:

You agree not to use the Service (as well as the e-mail addresses and URLs of OTW sites):

4. to make available any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising (defined as solicitations for direct or indirect commercial advantage), junk mail, spam, chain letters, pyramid schemes, or any other form of solicitation;

As stated in various parts of the TOS FAQ[42]

In addition, we will enforce the noncommercialization policy strictly, including a ban on works posted to promote the sale of the author's other works, even if those are not hosted on the site.

- Can I archive original fiction?, Spam and Commercial Promotion

That means that [the Archive] isn't the right place for offering merchandise, even fan-related merchandise. Linking to your personal page (not, for example, an Amazon author page) is fine, even if the personal page includes some items for sale, but the Archive is not advertising space.

- How strict is the "no commerce" rule?, Spam and Commercial Promotion

The Archive will host fanworks of any origin, including fanworks created in response to charity drives or other challenges. A link to a charity drive to explain the origin of a fanwork is appropriate. Solicitation itself, however, should take place outside the Archive. We concluded that this policy was the easiest to apply fairly to everyone, given the wide range of possible solicitation activities.

- What about charity drives?, Spam and Commercial Promotion

From a 2016 Discussion

psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3

Hi guys! So I know we all don’t actually read the terms and conditions of things and just hit agree assuming there’s nothing important in there (I do it too oops) but if you take writing commissions or anything involving money, then there’s actually something in the AO3 terms and conditions to be aware of.

Linking to a personal website or blog/social network where you are taking donations, posting commissions or mentioning published works is permitted, but advertising it directly on the Archive is not, nor is using language which one might interpret as requesting financial contributions. For example, you can say something to the effect of “check out my Tumblr if you want to know more about me and my writing” and include the link to the site, but you cannot specifically state anything about donations, commissions or sales on the Archive.

Today someone reported one of my fics as violating this condition - presumably because I’d mentioned my patreon in the author’s note (I wasn’t actively requesting donations either… I’d literally just mentioned that it existed, and that the fic in question was written as a thank-you for hitting one of my goals).

I’ve written to AO3 to check whether just saying ‘thank you to those who support me on patreon’ is fine and I’ll let you guys know when they get back to me, but if it’s still going too far in terms of being a ‘commercial promotion’ then I’ll just avoid mentioning this in the future! :’)

As I said, someone did actually report my fic for this - so there are people out there who are noticing/reporting these situations. Please be aware of this if you take fic commissions, or use patreon or ko-fi, because your account could end up suspended, which of course no one wants!

<3 <3 [43]

That’s a fucking bullshit rule, I’m sorry. They shouldn’t deny you the opportunity to advertise your own work.[44]

archive of our own is run by the organization for transformative works. ao3 and the other services that otw offers - including legal services for fan creators who get in legal trouble - are nonprofit organizations.

this isn’t just a self-determined descriptor; that’s a legal definition that requires adherence to specific rules and laws regarding income, profit, and donations.

this isn’t a “bullshit rule” just meant to prevent creators from advertising. in op’s post, the contact from ao3 offers a roundabout way to advertise. this rule ensures that ao3 and the organization for transformative works to stay a non-profit organization - this “bullshit rule” is essentially a way so that ao3 and the other services that the organization for transformative works can stay online.[45]

it’s not just about maintaining nonprofit status. (i question if that’s even applicable here, since the profits in question don’t go to the organisation, but i know very little about nonprofit law. just a gut feeling.)

the actual point is, they run a legal services organisation for fans who get into legal trouble. they literally exist for the purpose of helping you not get into legal trouble. profiting from fan fiction very much opens you up to the possibility of getting into legal trouble. they’re not going to let people do things on their website that they know will land them in exactly that trouble.

and to be clear, just because everyone who slaps a patreon button on their tumblr isn’t getting sued, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing something for which they could be sued.

let me say it again: profiting from fan fiction very much opens you up to the possibility of getting into legal trouble. here’s why.

[snipped] [46]

People also forget the reason why disclamers on fics became so prevalent.

Please understand that profiting off fanfiction, fanart and all forms of fan-content is direct violation of copyrighted material.

Your commissions to draw popular characters? Direct violation of Copyright. AO3 works hard to maintain fandom expression protected. You hurt their cause by not adhering to their term of use.

They’re there so you won’t get sued.[47]

The OTW has done so much in getting non-profit transformative works to be legalized, especially getting copyright exceptions for vidding. Let’s not screw this up now, guys.[48]

The discussion of copyright could be refined a little here…but let’s be blunt, to some extent, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of the law, AO3 was established with a deliberately noncommercial ethos–in fact, in specific response to contemporary attempts to commercialize fandom. The rule exists in service of that ethos. Don’t like that “bullshit?” Well, then, I guess you should just go read and publish fic on that other free platform that doesn’t exist to turn you and your personal data into a product to sell off to capitalism’s highest bidders. What’s that? You say that doesn’t exist? Hmmmm, I wonder if that’s a coincidence. [49]

I am old and have an instant squick reaction to the current trend for profiting off of fan fiction because I saw how many sites came down and how many C&Ds I saw happen to friends. Not only that… I can just imagine some politician noticing people soliciting $$ for art or fanfic and going, how can I tax that and how can I get back taxes for all the previous? [50]

I donate to avoid ads. The whole point is to have somewhere with no ads. Why would I want some rando to use my nice ad-free space I have paid for as their personal marketing platform? [51]

2019 Hugo Award Win

In August 2019, Archive of Our Own was awarded The Hugo Award for Best Related Work. It was the first time a fanfic archive or the Organization for Transformative Works had ever won a Hugo, the most prestigious award in Science Fiction Fandom. To date, no fanfiction has ever won a Hugo, despite the existence of a Fan Writer category. It was seen as an advancement from fanfiction's poor reputation in SF fandom, as well as in mainstream society.

Many AO3 users had joked about being Hugo Award nominees/winners, leading some to explain that the award was for the site itself and not for the fanworks on the site. Some people questioned whether an entire project could be eligible for a Hugo Award, resulting in the WSFS stating that AO3 was eligible for the award based on “aspects other than the fictional text.”[52]

On September 13, the OTW posted Hugo Award – What it Means, Archived version, stating that the World Science Fiction Society (who give the awards) had asked them to publicly clarify "that the Hugo was awarded to the AO3, and not to any particular work(s) hosted on it".

Discussion ensued in comments to the post as well as on File 770 and elsewhere over why the WSFS had needed to clarify the joke and whether or not SF fandom was still anti-fanfic.

Reactions

This article or section needs expansion.

Initial Criticisms Of

Initial complaints by some fans:

  • it was too powerful
  • fans disliked the tagging system: see AO3 Tagging Policy Debate and AO3 Tag Wrangling
  • the archive put too many eggs in one basket
  • it allowed "problematic content"
  • fans didn't like various features
  • fans didn't like archives [53]
  • it lacked a way to rate fanworks [54]
  • it was too Western-media centric
  • fans didn't like the people who created it, nor the way it was created

Initial Praise Of

Initial praise by some fans:

  • it was owned by fans
  • it had a tagging system
  • it was non-profit and had no ads
  • it did not sponsor content
  • it was one-stop shopping
  • there was no censorship or policing of content

History: Some 2007/2008 Fan Comments

For much more, see Beginnings of OTW: 2007-08 Comments.

Below are some anecdotal comments from An Archive Of One's Own (post by astolat) which show challenges, enthusiasm, and eventual growing pains of getting this project off the ground. See An Archive Of One's Own (post by astolat)/Comments for many, many more.

  • "... I would say that much of the reason that fanfic.net is a badfic haven is because the interfaces and design are bad and not satisfying for the picky readers that most of us are, once we get through the first rush of "omg my fandom!" I know that when ff.net was first launched, I wasn't inherently avoiding it; I avoided it because it was just terrible to use. I *do* think that in order to be successful, an archive has to be someplace where you yourself want to live—it has to be a place where you want to read, or else you are not going to bother posting there, and that if you make a site that the most demanding readers are satisfied with, that is kind of the key. For instance, I feel that LJ has beaten out the fandom-specific central archives because it has MAJOR advantages for anyone who is multifannish or social, despite the lack of searching capabilities. I don't want to try and duplicate the effort of LJ, but I think something like the "post here AND to LJ at once" tool would be a great way to keep people posting to the archive because it would have zero cost (possibly negative cost if you also add in automatic lj community posting) for someone posting a story to LJ." from astolat, May 17, 2007
  • "[Live Journal] is also lousy for finding fics and authors in a new fandom. Yes, there are communities, but they don't always have names that would enable someone to find them on their own, and I for one have never managed to get into a new fandom that included authors I already knew from a previous one, which means having no one to point those communities out. In general, the loss of archives (and mailing lists, for that matter) in favor of LJ has made my fannish life more difficult. A quality panfandom archive would be a big help." from few, May 17, 2007
  • "Yes, I think locking is a very good option to allow (and also google-blocking) on an individual user basis, so the archive lets different people manage their own comfort level. The problem with adding vids (other than vids as links -- which I think would be brilliant) -- is the massive bandwidth cost, and the bigger questions of legality. from astolat, May 17, 2007
  • "In my mind, this doesn't sound like reiterating LiveJournal. I'm one of the folks who almost never posts outside of LiveJournal anymore but could definitely go for something like this--it's combining all the best features of archiving and LJ at once. It wouldn't just be the search feature that would make things more user-friendly; it would be the tiers of organization that would appeal to me. As a panfandom reader using LiveJournal is just a pain in my ass, but I do it because there isn't really another option. More than that, if there was an option for site-wide tag searches, that would integrate a lot of the best features of del.icio.us. I'm having a hard time seeing any downsides to it other than the 'getting off the ground' phase where people ask themselves 'Ugh, do I really want to go back and re-post all my fanfiction here?' Because that would the major hump to get over, I think, in regards to converting some folks to this new system. Or maybe I should say to converting me. *g*"—tracendenza, May 18, 2007
  • "My feeling is the gatekeeping needed to keep out badfic costs more than it is worth. I think if you provide filtering mechanisms that let people find manageable lists of stories they are really interested in (narrowing down by fandom, pairing, category, particular features), and sort them by (admittedly imperfect) criteria like #comments/recs/hits, while ALSO providing mechanisms to give exposure and encouragement to new writers so those imperfect measures don't bury new people, that really, any quantity of badfic can be managed. Also, frankly, I suspect that the presence of higher quality fanfic as examples within the archive would all on its own help badfic/newbie writers improve rapidly. The problem with ff.net is there are no real mechanisms for winnowing out badfic."—astolat, May 17, 2007

History: Some 2016 Fan Comments

A conversation about content, policies, and history:

In 2016, a fan commented, "See i didn't realise ao3 was started in response to lj deleting account relating to pedophilia and they explicitly support the posting of such works yikes for this discussion."

This post was deleted, and then reposted after it had gotten a long response. The original poster then wrote a much longer post with this excerpt: "The post was me starting to think about whether I want to post my own work on a website which also allows pedophiles to be present on it. That could lead to me being associated with them, or some way indirectly supporting such a community (by supporting the archive). Some moderator said, ‘If you want to kick certain kinds of content off of AO3, you do not belong on AO3 in the first place,’ so this was me thinking maybe I do not belong on AO3. And maybe I think other people should consider this also. But really I lack the personal investment or moral integrity to stop posting there, because I like getting weekly kudos emails." [55]

The long response:

it wasn’t, like, we luv pedophilia, it was way more complicated than that!

although it’s true AO3 does allow all fannish content provided it’s properly warned for, there’s a long history there - of spaces being used by fans until the host decided whatever we were doing was too weird and distasteful and either kicking us off, banning certain content, or changing the nature of the site until it was no longer viable as a host.

you’re referring to the LJ Strikethrough of 2007, which, being an ancient crone, I lived through, and since I was hanging out in the last vestiges of SGA and in bandom, I saw some of the fallout. this was before LJ was sold to the Russians (which is a whole ‘nother story), when it was still owned by Six Apart; in an effort to clean up LJ’s act, Six Apart decided to delete all accounts using tags like underage, incest, rape, etc.

this was supposed to get rid of actual child porn on the site, and I hope it did, but it also targeted fan communities. this was a problem for a couple reasons; for one thing, not every story tagged with these words is in favor of them; for another, these things happen to real people and these personal posts were also potentially in danger of being attacked; for the last one, look, I ain’t into this kind of fic but people write about what people write about, and if it’s fictional and not explicitly banned in the TOS (correct me if I’m wrong; I don’t think written content about this stuff was banned?) then it’s not cool for a content host to just start deleting communities without warning.

but that’s what happened! these deletions were also primarily targeting slash communities, which smacked of some serious homophobia since things were deleted that had nothing to do with any of this kind of content.

eventually someone found out it was this super conservative religious group who’d sent a list of journal names to Six Apart, and who if I remember correctly targeted slash fic on purpose, even after it became clear that the fic was, well, totally fictional. after a while, Six Apart admitted they’d made a mistake and started to reinstate journals, but all of fandom was pretty shaken up.

THEN Boldthrough happened, which was essentially the same debacle several months later, at which point fandom began its long slow migration from LJ to GJ, IJ, and eventually AO3, Twitter, and tumblr.

AO3 was opened in 2008 in response to several incidents, of which Strikethrough was a really intense one. remember, also, that back in 2008 the stigma surrounding fandom was significantly greater and more shameful than it is today, so finding hosts willing to archive fic was difficult unless someone had the dough to pay for server space - often not an option. this was also back when fanfic.net’s HTML restrictions were so great that users couldn’t use any special characters or bold or italicize anything, and it didn’t allow R-rated content, so it was clearly not ideal. in addition, although cease & desist letters were much less common than they were in the early 2000s and before, DMCA takedowns were still a phantom on the horizon.

LONG STORY SHORT, even though pedophilia is reprehensible and I personally cannot stomach fanfic that involves that kind of content, AO3 was founded specially as a safe space for fandom communities that could not find homes elsewhere. it requires warnings precisely for that reason, and if you find a story that is not properly warned, you can alert the admins and get the story labeled appropriately.

IDK, maybe it’s just because I am, again, ancient, but I was in and around fandom before homosexuality was legal in all 50 states. so were most of the people who started AO3. for most of my formative life, being gay was associated with pedophilia, and so was writing about gay characters. just - it’s a lot more complicated than you might expect, and there’s a reason many older fans who have been involved in several generations of fandom were so grateful to have AO3 as an option.[56]

Also see AO3 Content Discussion (2016).

Racism and the AO3

Numerous discussions have arisen over the years, particularly as AO3's size, notoriety and clout has grown, about the handling of racist content, abuse and behaviour on the site. AO3 & Censorship is one meta essay published in 2018 that deals with the subject of racist trolls harassing AO3 users and how the site's content policy could be adapted to address this more effectively.

In 2020, the OTW and AO3 Racism Discussion (2020) was instigated by the global protests in the wake of George Floyd's death and the subsequent debates ignited about racism in all parts of life, including fandom. It gave rise to the Open Letter to the OTW on Racism in Fandom, which led to a statement being published by the OTW Board, Chairs and Leads about steps that the OTW would be taking to address issues of racism both internally and within its projects. Many of these proposed steps concerned the AO3, such as tools to facilitate investigations by the Policy & Abuse team, and features to give readers and creators more control and protection, such as comment freezing and potential blocking and muting functionality.[57]

The blog post What's up with the AO3 and racism? was also published during this period, and summarises the main issues under discussion.

Other relevant essays/articles:

Proposed Action

Removal of Racist Fanworks

Many fans have called for the outright removal of racist fanworks on AO3, or questioned why AO3 continues to allow these works to exist/be published on the site.

Can we talk about how the AO3 doesn't actually have any real policies for how to handle racist fanworks OR racism from fans creating or consuming work on the platform and won't remove racist works (and rarely racist comments that DON'T have slurs in them) but then does this ish?[58]

This has engendered pushback from other fans arguing that this would undermine AO3's stance of maximum content inclusivity (with some advocating for new required warnings, or features to help readers curate their experience, as an alternative), leading to debates about whether advocating for anti-racist action is being misclassified as a push for "censorship".

The issue as I understand it is one in a conflict of core values. The OTW was set up partly as a reaction to censorship of fanworks on other platforms and therefore freedom of speech is one of its core values. My understanding is that you strongly value “not giving racist people a platform to spread their content” and given your position I understand that. However, others may wish to ensure that other minorities that they find reprehensible do not have a platform. And so I am in the position of defending the publication of content including some that is to you offensive.[59]

Thread, and the other comments are why I'm going to censorship.

Look, you are certainly within your rights to not want to hang out with people who have a race kink, I completely agree with you on that. But there's not a real way to censor anything on AO3 without creating even more potential problems.

If they would implement blocking, you could block people who post race kink and go on your merry way, you'd never have to see them again[60]

Yeah - ultimately if you want an archive, it's going to have to be an archive. I've seen the anti-harassment stuff they're putting in place and I think it'll help curate fandom experiences, which is really the best way to handle a lot of this imo[61]

There is a number of measures that can help, like slavery warning, block lists, better bookmark search... but none of it will solve the issue ... [of] (structural racism in fandom), because it’s beyond AO3 capacity unless you give up the strong free speech stance of anything legal can stay.

Anti racism is being framed as "pro-censorship" in fandom (as well as anti fandom in and of itself) so for the AO3 to do something about racism on its platform specifically - including get an unrelated professional to figure out how to protect fans of color - would be censorship.[62]

[...]


This isn't just "some people have preferences and those preferences can be a bit messed up". They're openly going "AO3* can either be anti racist or it can be anti censorship... and we want it to be anti censorship"

(* a stand-in for fandom @ large actually)[63]

The question of how works on the Archive would be identified as "racist" has also been the subject of considerable debate, as well as the issue of works by fans of colour that deal with racism and its effects being potentially caught in the crossfire.

The difficulty, is when you decide a particular category of fanfiction cannot be in the archive, then it is too easy to use that category to hunt down fanfiction someone doesn’t approve of.

If someone is moved to write a story against racism or pedophilia, do you want that fic to be banned? The precedent for just that exists.

[...]

Until there is Racism warning (which will need some guidelines or it will become meaningless), promoting tags that would give some reader control might be one step.[64]

I guarantee you that if AO3 banned racist fic or fic with racist themes, the absolute first thing that would happen is that you would have a wave of racists attacking fic by and about Black people. Oh, this fic talks about Character X dealing with the racism of the white people around them? That fic has racist themes and should be banned! Why do I know this? Because every time in history (real life or fannish) that I am aware of, whenever a group tries to enforce moral rules (however well-meaning) for the benefit of a vulnerable minority, that vulnerable minority bear the brunt of the problem and receive very little of the help the rule was designed to give.

The solution to this is twofold. First, lessen the harm that will be done when–not if–the rules are abused. If fics are removed, the author has been silenced. And while I don’t care about racism being silenced (I think that would be awesome) I am not willing to do that knowing that the innocent will certainly be targeted and silenced, as well. If the fic is given a warning label, the author has not been silenced–their content is still freely available.

Second, put some real thought into how you’re going to prevent abuse. How do you separate out the overzealous self-righteous white folks? How do you separate out the reports from racists who are sure that they’re not racist, they’re just telling it like it is, and are offended by having their racism pointed out and thus flag their attackers? How do you make the distinction between “this fic is racist and promotes racist themes” and “this fic is anti-racist and confronts racist themes” and “this fic is just including racist themes because it’s in canon”? They can be harder to tell in practice than you might think.[65]

Additional Warnings

Communities

Interviews

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Further Reading/Meta

General

2007

2009

2011

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

AO3 Metafandom

This article or section needs expansion.

AO3 Tag Appreciation

AO3 Authors Appreciation

AO3 Commenter Appreciation

Some Old Links

References

  1. ^ "2013 Roadmap". Archived from the original on 2022-05-29.
  2. ^ "DMCA Policy". Archived from the original on 2022-07-04. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  3. ^ "otw_news Community Profile". Archived from the original on 2009-06-28. Retrieved 20 October 2008.
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  5. ^ whois look up 20 October 2008
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  7. ^ Volunteer Search: Volunteer Ruby Coder, accessed 20 October 2008
  8. ^ "A first look at the Archive Of Our Own!". Archived from the original on 2012-11-02. Retrieved 20 October 2008.
  9. ^ "Announcing Open Beta!". Archived from the original on 2022-06-13. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  10. ^ "Release Notes for Release 0.7.2". Archived from the original on 2021-04-19. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
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  31. ^ Newsletter 137
  32. ^ "OTW list of Committees". Archived from the original on 2021-10-06.
  33. ^ "Tags (Wuzzles) explained". Archived from the original on 2021-02-11. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
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  38. ^ As evidenced by this discussion on Livejournal, where la_mariane states, "Besides, I've seen meta at AO3 before and I'm pretty sure it's allowed by the TOS." and Hells' Half Acre agrees, "They have a tag for it! And I read their FAQ page and it didn't say anything about disallowing certain kinds of content...so, yeah, people are strange."
  39. ^ My first anon hate! by Hell's Half Acre via Livejournal. Published June 22, 2012 (Accessed January 4, 2021).
  40. ^ Hell's Half Acre's post Meta on AO3: Get it while you can. describes how AO3's team requested that they remove a piece of meta that had been reported by an upset fan. Hell's Half Acre later updated the post to say that "Five minutes after I deleted the meta, I got an email from AO3 apologizing for telling me to delete the meta and saying that I could keep it up until they make a final decision on the status of meta as a fanwork and whether it should be allowed on the site."
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  42. ^ [[5]]
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  44. ^ comment by sinningsleepingandshitposting at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
  45. ^ comment by softpunkbucky at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
  46. ^ comment by ratherembarrassing at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
  47. ^ comment by jeremy rennerd at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
  48. ^ comment by sophia helix at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
  49. ^ comment by harriet spy at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
  50. ^ comment by leafquake23 at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3, Archived version (2016)
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  52. ^ 2019 Hugo Results
  53. ^ "... trolling archives for fic is about the last way I want to find reading material. I'd much rather read from recs or delicious or my flist. -- comment by kyuuketsukirui at My two cents on Fanlib as a fanfic reader, Archived version in response to the FanLib proposal, May 21, 2007
  54. ^ "The main problem with such mass run sites is that there is no way to determine what is good writing and what isn't. A search on the site isn't going to help me figure that out and their rating system isn't either. Rating systems have been around nearly as long as their have been archives." -- My two cents on Fanlib as a fanfic reader, Archived version, post by midnightbex, May 21, 2007
  55. ^ see the full exchange here: "joestrummin.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2016-11-10..
  56. ^ high concept / low skill, Archived version, August 11, 2016
  57. ^ Statement from the OTW Board of Directors, Chairs, & Leads, June 24, 2020. (Accessed February 10, 2022).
  58. ^ Thread by @stitchomancery, archived October 17, 2019.
  59. ^ nkjemisin: diversehighfantasy:..., Archived version
  60. ^ Re: Twitter and Tumblr, fail-fandomanon, July 28, 2020. (Accessed February 8, 2022).
  61. ^ Re: AO3 - racism and AO3
  62. ^ Tweet by @stitchmediamix, October 25, 2021 (Accessed February 8, 2022.
  63. ^ Tweet by @stitchmediamix, October 25, 2021. (Accessed February 8, 2022).
  64. ^ [6], Archived version
  65. ^ [7], Archived version
  66. ^ [8], Archived version