Archives and not wanting to say "but"

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Title: Archives and not wanting to say "but"
Creator: sheenaghpugh and commenters
Date(s): May 23, 2007
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic: archives, AO3
External Links: Archives and not wanting to say "but"; Archive
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Archives and not wanting to say "but" is a post by sheenaghpugh at Fanthropology.

Some Topics Discussed

The Post

I can see why the proposed new pan-fandom archive fanarchive is not, quite, the one that already exists, ie ff.net. It would, presumably, allow genres ff.net doesn't (eg RPS?) and it would, please god, be better organised and easier to post and edit in - it could hardly fail to be.

But unless I've missed something, and there's been so much on this subject since the whole FanLib kerfuffle started that I might well have, it will be like ff.net in one important respect, and that's where the problem comes in. FF.net is where just about every journalist "researching" the next article on fan fiction writers, aka "who are these weird people?", starts his or her enquiries. Unfortunately, because of the limited time they have for said research, it is also often as far as they get. Which is a shame, because though there is excellent stuff on that site you have to wade through an enormous amount of dross to find it. Many journalists, I fear, give up before getting anywhere near the good stuff. (Some, indeed, quote not only the worst of ff.net but also those sites set up deliberately to mock the worst examples of fan fiction.) If I've been reading right, the idea is that this new archive will no more be edited for quality than ff.net is. Indeed, how could it be? And by whom - committees acting for each fandom? This does happen on some individual archives, like Henneth Annun, but IIRC, it has not always easy there to find people willing not only to devote the time but to take the flak from those who will inevitably disagree with their judgement. The whole idea of editing fanfic sites for quality is controversial, because it potentially conflicts with fanfic's essentially democratic ethos: if everyone has the right to be an author, who's to say: post here, but post not there? I know there are several ideas behind this archive, and it's not just about presenting an image to the world, but that is part of it. We would surely all like to to improve the woefully low quality of most journalists' articles on fan fiction, and I don't see it doing that unless it can somehow point them at better examples of the genre. But that, somewhere along the line, means someone making lists based on value judgements.

I don't think there's an easy answer to that one. I sympathise with the spirit of fairestcat's exhortation 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" But the little voice saying "but" in my head goes "if it is no more edited than ff.net, what is it for that ff.net doesn't do?, and if it is different in that respect, how do we make that happen" Because I can't see a way, offhand, not for the whole of fandom.

Excerpts from Comments

tiferet:
I don't see why it needs to be edited. There are a lot of very good writers in fandom who don't post in edited archives because they have their own betas. So there will be some scriptfic posted by 13 year olds who think they're high because they're up at 4AM after drinking 5 cokes. So what? That doesn't mean the whole archive will be like that. Perhaps there will be a ratings system where people who have read a fic can rate it. I seriously doubt that the top rated fics will be the bad ones. However, some of them may be chan; some of them may be very dark; some of them may be extremely sexy or violent or in some other way objectionable to an uninitiated outsider. Either we are okay with that, or we create another FFN.net, and by another FFN.net I don't mean a situation where there's a lot of crap, I mean a situation where there's a lot more of what you can post than there is of what you can, and who wants that?
becastereyes:
I'd be tempted to disagree here, at least partially, mainly because I suspect that a fic could get a neutral rating both by being of mediocre quality, or by being on an unpopular subject. For example, if I were to post two fics of roughly equal quality to the same fandom, and one was for a very popular pairing and the other was for a rare pairing, and I came back in a month, the popular-pairing fic would probably be much higher in the ratings than the unpopular-pairing fic. Which would select against the less popular subjects in fandom even more than one would expect from the numbers, and despite quality of the fiction.
rez lo:
I think there's a lot of things the contemplated archive could do to help an honest journalist understand the breadth and quality of the fic universe, don't you? But in my view, editing (or other forms of gatekeeping) definitely isn't one of them. And as both a writer and a reader of fanfic I would not participate in an archive--any archive--that had the right to edit my work... Beyond that, it's up to the journalist, or whomever. Part of what goes on currently with the misrepresentation of fandom has to do with bad-faith journalistic practices and the ongoing squeeze by corporate media (the same ones, in many cases, dealing in other divisions with fans like us) of news-gathering resources. But we can't do all of the journalists' work for them. We can't make them report what's there. We can report it ourselves, of course, but that's another story. *g*
sheenaghpugh:
But if enough of it is like [what very young fans write], and there's no way of getting straight through to other stuff, journos will go away with an idea that everything is like that. I'm not saying I can think of an answer - though I do think even the most jealously authorial author should be prepared to accept spelling edits. I don't know about you, but no story on ff.net or anywhere else can keep me reading more than half a page if it's semi-literate, and I once gave up on a whole fandom because there was just too much of that. It's an easy target for critics of fandom, too.
rez lo:
One of the points of the contemplated archive, as I read it, is to design and architect it such that people can find what they want. And yes, I agree, focusing on whether or not journalists and critics of fandom get a good impression is really not the point. In fact, speaking only for myself, I'd like the archive to reflect fandom as a whole and not just the parts I already know I approve of.
monanotlisa:
While I would never want a system that can edit or change my story, I definitely, fervently wish for a system that requires approval until it's proven that a certain quality baseline is met -- not content-wise, clearly, because that one's too subjective and full of slippery slopes, but proper spelling, grammar, and formatting is what I'd be striving for if I had the energy to involve myself in the project.
rez lo:
My hope would be that the interfaces, filtering, and search functionality would be flexible and efficient enough to allow the writer to post and classify her stories as she sees fit, and the reader to find, filter, and build her library as she prefers, without the kind of pain people experience looking for good stories on FFN. You should only see what you want to, in other words, regardless of how much content is included that might not interest you. The key to that, imo, is in the design, not the gatekeeping, if that makes sense.
monanotlisa:
Well, everything's better than ff.net, so I'm not sure that alone would be a sufficient incentive to make me put everything of mine into the Archive Of Our Own (which, let's face it, wouldn't faze most people; I'm no BNF and won't ever be). That said, I do like your Archive elements & the idea of full searchability, I just don't think it goes far enough if there is no quality control at all.
rez lo:
but what if I just want my daily Sheppard/McKay R+ fix? I guess I'm seeing the "specific prompt" you mention above as part of the overall problem, at least for me as both a reader and a writer. For one thing, it's not really that specific, in terms of what you're actually looking for: it lacks any indicator that is relevant to your preferences with respect to quality. And for another, it runs a decent chance of excluding stories that might get you the fix you're hoping for. At least, speaking for myself, I've never had any luck at all finding consistently good -- meaning Zone-of-Squee(tm)-qualified -- stories anywhere, in any archive or newsletter or list, based on the standard fannish taxonomies. And the more conditions and terms get piled on, the less my searches yield. I run a much better chance of finding stories that fall within my Zone of Squee when I rely on the overtly subjective (rather than spuriously objective) things that actually do a better job of grouping our tastes, it seems to me. When I stop trying to deal with commodity fanfiction and start zeroing in on who likes the same things I do... I guess, underlying all of this, the truth is that I'm as frustrated with the near-uselessness of the classifications currently expected/required as you are by the visibility of fic that falls below your quality threshold. The proposed archive seems like a chance to improve on that pretty radically without excluding any particular group of fanwriters/artists.
monanotlisa:
At least, speaking for myself, I've never had any luck at all finding consistently good -- meaning Zone-of-Squee(tm)-qualified -- stories anywhere, in any archive or newsletter or list, based on the standard fannish taxonomies. Fair enough -- Zone-of-Squee is pretty much right up there, though, and due to its subjective nature cannot be reached by any archive but one of YOUR own (and not OUR own). That said, objective quality? Can absolutely be done; think The Glass Onion, for example. Multifandom archive, but I've never seen a BAD story on there even if they don't always make me squee.
lydiabell:
I kind of doubt that there will be enough people with time to certify that stories meet grammar and spelling standards, but if there were: what if getting your story certified was optional, and certification was one option for readers to filter on? Then people would still be free to upload whatever they want, but they'd have an incentive to get their stories checked. I suspect a *lot* of people would probably use that filter, so authors who didn't get checked would have a smaller potential audience.
fides:
I must confess that my thoughts for the future have not so much been about a large, multifandom archive as finding a way of being able to link across the many archives and webpages that exist while allowing those website to state how they want the information to be handled. Part of this is the not putting your eggs all in one basket...The question is not how we store the stories themselves it is how we store and share the information about those stories, the metadata the describes the story. An archive is merely a presentation of that metadata with a link to the data being described. If the metadata is shared across sites the any search system looking for that metadata becomes the functional equivalent of an archive. There are obviously important questions about the creation and sharing of that metadata but a well designed system would take this into account and allow a negitiation between the system asking for the information and that providing it. But combining the metadata from peoples rec lists and the archives you would not only be able to search across archives but you would be able to do really interesting and useful things with the results. That that is before you start looking at whether the community structures can be used to support an anonymous but sustained ID system for those people who wish to restrict access to the work they have created.
lyore:
Metatagging and information sharing/management is a fascinating idea for fandom, (and one I'm wrestling with in real life). I'd love to see it developed further in fandom, it has a lot of potential.
partly bouncy:
But the little voice saying "but" in my head goes "if it is no more edited than ff.net, what is it for that ff.net doesn't do?, and if it is different in that respect, how do we make that happen" I think the better question is, why is this proposed archive needed? What is better being defined as? What features would it offer that makes it different from existing archives? I've yet to see the people involved with the project, the people talking about how they want to see it, do such a break down. I have yet to see a real discussion of how FanFiction.Net, FicWad, FanWorks.Org, FanDomination.Net, RockFic, Freedom of Speech archive, AdultFanFiction.Net, efanfiction.Net, FanLib, Soup Fiction, MediaMiner.Org don't work, what does actually work there and how those lessons can be applied to their current project. When I see that, then I think your question will be fair. Until then, the people are still putting the cart before the horse.
stefanie bean:
I have an online novel posted on ff.net, and I cringe whenever I hear someone say, "I won't bother reading anything on ff.net because it's all crap," or some version thereof. While my Phantom of the Opera novel might not please everyone, I personally don't think it's "crap," or that ff.net is a "pit of voles" or other searing terms that get applied. I could submit it to a juried archive - if there was one in my fandom that didn't have more than a handful of readers, and that I thought would be there for awhile. I'm sure it would "get in" re: quality, but would I get the traffic? As it is, I went with ff.net for several reasons - the first, stability. I wanted to post on a site that I was reasonably certain would be there over at least five years. The other consideration was visibility. The traffic volume is large, and while there are a lot of stories in my fandom, I think I've "labelled" my story such that those who would like it can find it. More traffic means more potential readers. This doesn't mean I wouldn't post it anywhere else. I plan to look at the sites you yourself mentioned, and want to thank you for that. I don't understand either how any "new and improved" ventures are supposedly going to "solve the problems" of unedited, unmoderated archives. I thought one of the points of writing fanfiction was that the writer was free to do whatever she wanted in her work - that she was free to "be unpublishable" if she wanted. People who want to form their own moderated groups are always free to do so - it's been that way as long as people have had access to the web.
angelofsnow:
I want to agree with you that FF.net is not the terrible place many LJers make it out to be. Yes, there is more badfic than on LJ, but there's also more goodfic too. There's just more fans on FF.net than LJ. I'm a big supporter of FF.net despite its faults. It's the front door of fandom today and I believe LJ fandom has to maintain a working relationship with FF.net fans. However partly_bouncy raises a good point as always and it's one I've been considering myself. What makes this new archive any different than the ones currently in existence?... But the point you made in why you choose to use both LJ and FF.net is a valid one. It's the biggest problem the new archive has to overcome. Archives other than FF.net get much smaller traffic flow. Less fans read and post fic. A new archive actually has to lure fans into using from FF.net, LJ, etc. Every fan who posts fic to the new archive helps but it still could take years for it to grow in popularity. A new archive has to offer service that's distinctly different to lure fans away from existing places to post. I don't post to every smaller archive out there for the very problem you mention. The traffic on these archives is small in comparison to FF.net. I have 30,000 hits on a fic posted to FF.net and only 20 on the same fic posted to Fanworks.org It almost seems pointless to take the time and effort to post there.
anarchicq:
...this particular archive has the 'luck'?...of being a brainchild out of fandom's disgust for FanLib. It's buzzed about everywhere, in connection with the Fanlib wank. This archive was born of meta.
partly bouncy:
Unless the archive is created quickly, the interest will fade and die and any percieved buzz will die. And while born of meta, it is going to alienate a lot of people who have idealogical differences with it. Is it going to attract the CSI fans who like FanLib? No. It is going to attract the people who use FanFiction.Net? Probably not. Will it get Quizilla users and MySpace users? No. (And they don't seem to have issue with FanLib either.) Will RockFic users use it? Probably not. Is the buzz for this archive all good? No. I've seen enough of that already and their argument is far more compelling in my opinion. Is the meta behind the archive sound and a good basis for founding an archive? I haven't seen any indication of that. Will this archive be better than other archives? I doubt it because the people involved haven't defined better. This archive is doomed to failure. When I see the people who run FicWad, FanWorks.Org, the Freedom of Speech Fan Fiction Archive, FanWorks.Org, RockFic get behind it, then I think it might have a shot.
partly bouncy:
Most of the larger archives can't afford to be supported by donations. The smaller ones who have costs of operating at $30 a month may be able to function that way but Fic Wad, FanDomination.Net, RockFic, FanFiction.Net, AdultFanFiction.Net have all learned that is a failing model. And if this archive wants to have a shot, they better be damned well open with their books and have a trust worthy person in charge of them. They will need to list how much their server costs a month, why they chose that particular option, how much each person donated, the costs they need to meet, etc. If they don't, the people involved need to be ready to do battle to defend it and they need to be prepared to eat the costs themselves. And if those costs are $1,000+ a month, they damned well better be prepared. The people involved also better be prepared for people donating to make demands of them. FanDomination.Net, FanFiction.Net both had people doing that: I donated money so I OWN YOU was that attitude of some people. And there is no easy way to deal with that. Before they open, they better clearly have set a policy for how to deal with that.
partly bouncy:
Random considerations: How will the site prevent scraping by other sites? Are they not concerned that allowing spidering and indexing might have a negative impact on their load speed as it will deal with the bandwidth there? [1] How do the people involved plan to deal with the fall out of people claiming that they do NOT represent them? When the site gets hit with criciticism like that which FanLib is getting, how do they plan on handling it? (And that it will get such criticism is a given. Fandom works that way.)
antennapedia:
I'm a bit alarmed by the trends I see in the fanarchive comm at the moment. Why are they analyzing existing CMS packages? Who's their technical lead? Shouldn't that person be doing any needed analysis? How can you analyze existing packages to see if they suit your needs if you don't have a feature list and performance goals to compare against? Is there a design document? Where's the statement of project goals, social and technical? In other words, cart before horse. However, I understand the social pressures producing that work. You have volunteers burning to help in any way they can, running around doing *something*. Downside is that these people might be burnt out, distracted, or bored by the time you do have something for them to do. Project management is hard.
partly bouncy:
To my knowledge, they STILL have not contacted AdultFanFiction.Net, RockFic, FanWorks.Org, FicWad, MediaMiner.Org or the other major archives to get their assistance. (I seriously doubt they'll contact me. We don't exactly agree idealogy wise in fandom. :/ And there are too many people I've had run ins with that were less than positive experience for both sides for me to be able to function with that group. I understand that. It doesn't bother me. Just a reality. I'd like to see them succeed and I think there are plenty of archivists out there who can help them do that, who have some what similar experiences that can help them.). The burnout thing happened with Fandomination.Net. We had the volunteers but we didn't utilize them... They have not endowed me with confidence in regards to what they are doing.
partly bouncy:
It is fannish entitlement. And parts of the LiveJournal media fandom are... well, their vocal entitlement issues are at times troublesome to other people in fandom.
angelofsnow:
Nothing could represent all of fandom. Ever. I can’t speak for anyone else involved with this project. I know that my hope is for the archive to show a reasonable, respectable idea of what fandom is all about. I certainly don’t want to see Fanlib, with their public advertising campaign, come to “represent” fandom in the eyes of the general public. That’s what I meant by “represent” fandom. I hoped that the archive would be the place where non-fen would point to when they mentioned fandom. I’d rather see non-fen think of this archive (or Fanfiction.net, LJ, Ficwad, any other archive) than think of Fanlib.
partly bouncy:
Idealism is great. Been there, done that. I wouldn't plan on or count on any of those features. First, the project needs a project manager. Then it needs programmers. The features lead me to believe that using efiction or storyline programs won't be acceptable to the masses. The site will need to totally be custom coded. The programmers will ultimately be able to tell the people involved as to the feasibility... and I guarentee you that there are some things that are being proposed that are NOT feasible. I've talked to four different archivists about this in LiveJournal land and on AIM who have experience either writing their own coding or modding code. They looked at the proposal and just about killed themselves laughing. If the project is going to be anything beyond a pipedream, that reality needs to be addressed and fast. And until those realities are discussed, until a draft of the database design has been built, until the project has a project manager and some programmers, any claims of it being better are totally unfounded. (And possibly extremely ridiculous. Especially given personal experience and what other archivists have told me.)
par avion:
I misspoke above. I know large archives can’t run solely by donations... The fact that certain archives have had financial trouble is one thing. It does not mean that no archive can be run solely by donations, and in fact animemusicvideos.org (which hosts thousands of very large file-size amvs) and farscapefantasy.com are both supported by users, to the tune of thousands of dollars.
angelofsnow:
Hmm, I didn't know that. In your opinion, would it be possible for 'the archive of our own' to be funded solely by donations?
unlikely2:
Rather than a single monolithic central archive, I'm not sure that, right now, what need isn't a really good central directory with links, site descriptions and caveats where applicable. Whilst I'm no expert, it seems to me that this would fit well with the ethos of the fanfiction community (communities?), could be set up fairly quickly and would provide a more flexible and democratic approach to access. That said, personally, I think it might be useful if the site were to host a small number of fics, these being chosen for excellence and accessibility, suggested and voted for in the usual manner. It is, of course, quite possible that this could develop organically into the sort of archive many fans would like to see, in which case the directory format would prove an effective intermediate measure.
fantasyenabler:
Unfortunately, I've run a links site before, so I know how much of a headache it is to keep the links current. Site owners and archive runners tend to drop off the face of the earth with little or no warning, leaving you with dead links all over the place. It's a job I eventually had to abandon, since grad school was also eating my life at the time.
unlikely2:
I was about to suggest a wiki approach of user generated input. And then I remembered that this is fandom. Re-insert universe and reboot? And yet the wiki approach does work for wikipedia. ~ ponders ~

References

  1. ironic comment: see data scraping at Fan History Wiki -- bots were utilized less than a year later at Fan History Wiki, partly bouncy's site. This practice was something that was later highly criticized.