Archive of Our Own
|Name:||Archive of Our Own|
|Archivist:||Organization for Transformative Works|
|Founder:||Organization for Transformative Works|
|Type:||Fanworks archive, currently only fanfic|
|URL:||http://archiveofourown.org/, AO3_Status, ao3org|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
The Archive of Our Own, a.k.a. AO3, is a multi-fandom archive owned and operated by the Organization for Transformative Works. It 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. It permits chan, RPF, and other controversial content. 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. It requires that DMCA takedown notices be signed in order to be acted upon and says that the OTW "will remove the content upon satisfactory review of the merits of the infringement claim."
The AO3 was first proposed in May 2007 by Astolat. Her post 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.
- First proposed by Astolat on 17 May 2007.
- A Livejournal community fanarchive was created on 20 May 2007 to coordinate discussion and planning for the creation of the archive.
- archiveofourown.org domain name registered 30 May 2007 by Rebecca Tushnet.
- Call for Ruby on Rails tutorial writers on 1 November 2007.
- Call for Ruby on Rails Coders on 8 January 2008.
- 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.
- 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.
- Yuletide 2009 opened on the AO3 on 18 December 2009. All Yuletide participants were given an invitation. 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.
- Subscriptions to authors added in March 2011.
- Database performance issues recurred in September 2011, with administrators blaming them on greatly increased use. As of 5 October 2011, the archive has 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.
- Database performance issues recurred in May 2012 when the site reached 1.4 million unique visitors a month, coinciding with Fanfiction.net's 2012 M-rated Purge. The archive began to cache works and stats pages as an immediate measure to decrease server load, and then temporarily suspended tag filtering for the same reason, reinstating them with improvements in November.
- As of 15 July 2012, the archive had 56,203 registered users. As of October 2012, there were 459,655 works and approximately 23,000 fandoms.
- As of 16 July 2013, the Archive had 763,326 works in 12,448 "canonical" fandoms, and over 183,000 registered users.
- The one millionth work was posted on 15 February 2014.
- The archive reached two million fanworks as of 20 December 2015.
- It was announced on 31 October 2016 that AO3 had 1 million registered users, 2,615,000 works spread across 22,970 fandoms.
- The archive reached three million fanworks as of 28 April 2017.
- The archive reached four million fanworks as of 20 July 2018.
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.
- Collections and subcollections can be stored on the Archive - Yuletide is there, as well as several other big challenges, and more are gradually moving as new features are introduced.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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. See more AO3 statistics from destinationtoast 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.
No Direct Advertising
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 
That’s a fucking bullshit rule, I’m sorry. They shouldn’t deny you the opportunity to advertise your own work.
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.
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] 
People also forget the reason why disclamers on fics became so prevalent.
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.
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. 
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? 
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? 
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 
- it lacked a way to rate fanworks 
- 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." 
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.
Also see AO3 Content Discussion (2016).
- List of Content Banned by Archives
- Archives and not wanting to say "but"; Archive (May 23, 2007)
- AO3 Fun Facts by elz
- on browsing & reading on AO3 by xparrot
- cyborganize: IV/3/. Archive Wars: FanLib vs. OTW, Archived version, November 27, 2009
- Beginnings of OTW: 2007-08 Comments
- Timeline of Organization for Transformative Works
- A look at the Archive servers, then and now, Archived version (April 2015)
- How Archive of Our Own Revolutionized Fandom – FAN/FIC Magazine, Archived version, Farasha Silver (November 2015)
- Beginnings of OTW: 2007-08 Comments (many, many links to meta and comments)
- PSA: DON'T MENTION COMMISSIONS/PATREON ON AO3 (2016)
- AO3 Content Discussion (2016)
- An Archive of Their Own: A Case Study of Feminist HCI and Values in Design by Casey Fiesler, Shannon Morrison, and Amy S. Bruckman (2016)
- 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 (2016)
- Concerning Archive of Our Own (2017)
- Feedback culture is dead, long live feedback culture! (A meta post and project about feedback on fanfiction, primarily focused on AO3 and suggesting improvements for the site) (2017–present)
- A “quick” & “simple” guide to finding old fic off of AO3 (2018)
- 2013 Roadmap under Version 0.10 section
- DMCA Policy accessed 9 June 2016
- An Archive Of One's Own, livejournal post.
- otw_news Community Profile accessed 20 October 2008
- First call for volunteers, Livejournal Post, accessed 20 October 2008
- whois look up 20 October 2008
- Volunteer Search: Tutorial Makers , accessed 20 October 2008
- Volunteer Search: Volunteer Ruby Coder, accessed 20 October 2008
- A first look at the Archive Of Our Own!, Naomi Novik, blog post, accessed 20 October 2008
- Announcing Open Beta!, blog post, accessed 13 November 2009
- Release Notes for Release 0.7.2, AO3 news post, accessed 24 December 2009
- Yuletide treasure on the AO3!, blog post, accessed 24 December 2009
- Impending Archive downtime: new server installation, AO3 news post, accessed 5 February 2011
- AO3 news: Site performance issues (AO3, why the sad face?) (29 September 2011) (accessed 5 October 2011)
- 2011 Year in Review! (31 December 2011) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- AO3 performance issues (01 June 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- My, how we've grown! A few AO3 stats (16 July 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- Update on AO3 performance issues (11 June 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- From FF.net to AO3 - some frequently asked questions (21 June 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- Release Notes 0.8.17 (9 June 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- AO3 performance and growth: some details (15 July 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- Disabling filters: information and search tips (12 June 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- Release 0.9.2: The Return of the Filters (8 November 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- AO3 accounts and invitations (15 July 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- Count ALL the tags! (17 October 2012) (accessed 28 November 2012)
- taken from front page (accessed 16 July 2013)
- AO3 Reaches 1 Million Fanworks (15 February 2014)
- Thanks a million...actually, make that two!, Archived version, posted to AO3_News 20 December 2015.
- Archive of Our Own accessed 3 November 2016
- Archive of Our Own accessed 24th May 2017
- Organization for Transformative Works accessed 28th July 2018
- OTW list of Committees
- Tags (Wuzzles) explained, AO3 news post, accessed 24 December 2009
- centrumlumina. Stage 7: Panfandom Overview, posted to Tumblr on 17 August 2013. (Accessed 11 May 2014)
- PSA: DON'T MENTION COMMISSIONS/PATREON ON AO3, tumblr post by whalehuntingboyfriends, 25 September 2016. (Accessed 26 June 2017.)
- comment by sinningsleepingandshitposting at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- comment by softpunkbucky at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- comment by ratherembarrassing at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- comment by jeremy rennerd at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- comment by sophia helix at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- comment by harriet spy at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- comment by leafquake23 at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
- "... 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; Archive in response to the FanLib proposal, May 21, 2007
- "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; Archive, post by midnightbex, May 21, 2007
- see the full exchange here: joestrummin.tumblr; archive link.
- high concept / low skill, Archived version, August 11, 2016