OTW Server Naming Contest

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Event: OTW Server Naming Festival
aka Server Naming Contest
Participants: Organization for Transformative Works
Date(s): 2011 January-April
Fandom: multifandom (or rather, not multifandom)
Servers in search of a name
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In early 2011, the OTW acquired five new servers and held a Server Naming Contest, also called a Server Naming Festival, to name all seven.[1] Despite initial encouragement for the outcome to reflect the diversity of fandom, the votes which were cast yielded results which were not as diverse as many had hoped. After a heated and passionate debate among the OTW Board, in conversation with others within the org who had helped to run the contest, the decision was made to stick with the names which received the most votes, and all the servers were given Western fandom names. The results were announced to a mixed reaction.[2] The event has been referred to as Server Naming Fail,[3] and has been cited as an example of the OTW's problems with being inclusive, diverse, or outreaching to non-Western fandoms.[4]


Events and tensions that built up to the Server Naming Festival.

The Servers

Icon celebrating the servers, proclaiming "We own the goddamn servers."

The servers have been an important part of the OTW ideology and identity: when the organization was still very new, the idea was to own the servers so fandom couldn't be kicked out. "I want us to own the goddamned servers" became a rallying cry among supporters of the org.[5][6][7][8]

The quote originated in the post "Why I Support the OTW" by Cesperanza:

Because I want us to own the goddamned servers, ok? Because I want a place where we can't be TOSed and where no one can turn the lights off or try to dictate to us what kind of stories we can tell each other.[5]

Kristina Busse examined it:

Cesperanza’s battle cry “I want us to own the goddamn servers” reflected that need to not be not vulnerable to a commercial hosting company or to commercial exploitation.[6]

This dream came true September 2009; the official announcement post proclaimed "We own the goddamn servers!"[9] In 2011, the OTW purchased five new machines, in addition to the two it already had: a database server, two rails servers, a storage server, and a switch.[10][11] It was then that it held the Server Naming Festival. The festival was intended to help pass the time while the AO3 was down as the new servers were hooked up.[12]

OTW on Diversity and Inclusion

The OTW was founded by Western media fans; the org's mission includes both a mandate to "serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms" and to preserve and protect the history and practice of "transformative fanwork historically rooted in a primarily female culture."[13]

Perhaps in part because of these Western media fannish roots, the org has not been entirely successful in reaching out to / being inclusive of non-Western fandoms. Some fans argue that the server names issue is "part of a pattern of exclusion that's been going on as long as the OTW has been around."[4]

The OTW is (so far) predominantly made up of Western media fans. There was little (or no) outreach to other fandoms during early development stages, which created infrastructural problems for inclusion.[14] When the OTW was setting up the AO3 fanfiction archive, beta-testing was done nearly entirely by Western media fans, so interest grew almost exclusively in those fandoms. Once the archive entered the open beta stage, accounts were available through invites (each current member got one invite to share) and a waiting queue that anyone could sign up for [15]. Invites were mostly shared along existing networks and were unlikely to make the jump to outside fandoms, enlarging the difference in representation. The AO3 remains vastly dominated by Western media fans and fanfic.

The preceding 2010 Yuletide had been contentious, and many fans outside of Western media fandom felt ostracized. Although Yuletide was not "officially" a part of the AO3 where it was newly being hosted, the org became very involved -- so many fans felt that it might as well have been. (there were some good posts about this...)

In 2010, the International Outreach committee was founded as an internal lobby group to address issues of inclusiveness, emerging from the less-political focused Translation committee. [16]

internal issues: volunteers from diverse fandoms burning out faster, frustrations with Western-centric structure (e.g. tag wrangling), suggestions/complaints being unheard or silenced, etc.

Server Naming Festival

Aim for Diverse Results

There was a strong internal push for diverse options in the polls, with the intention of having diverse results. The servers were supposed to represent a diverse fandom. The shortlist was carefully constructed to have diverse options, and diversity was brought up several times officially. (quotes?)

The names included on the shortlist can be seen on Ira Gladkova's post-contest reflections on the OTW Server Naming Contest. Fandoms represented included Fullmetal Alchemist, Pippi Långstrump, Naruto, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Sailor Moon, Final Fantasy VII, Das doppelte Lottchen, Metroid, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Street Fighter, One Piece, Little My Mumintroll, and many others.

Ira Gladkova explains that creating the shortlist "was an intensive process, taking into account not only popularity (how many noms or top choices a name had) but also explicitly focused on diversity. And I think, overall, everyone involved in the shortlisting process did a great job in terms of putting together a diverse list of names." [17]


January 23rd - The Server Naming Festival was announced:

These servers belong to fandom, so it's only right that fandom should get to name them! During our downtime, we'll be running a server naming festival and soliciting suggestions for names for our servers (and their trusty switch). Meet the Machines to find out what they are like and start thinking about what they should be called! More information on the competition coming soon![10]

February 6th - Nominations for the server names began.[18][19]

February 12th - Nominations closed, and entered a shortlisting phase organized by several committees: International Outreach, Accessibility, Design & Technology, Organization for Transformative Works/Communications & Organization for Transformative Works/Development & Membership.

March 15th - Voting began, stating "Voting will be open until 22 March 2011, and we'll announce the winners shortly thereafter."[20] As the votes began to come in, it became clear internally that the results would all be from Western media fandoms. Private discussions began internally on what should be done, extending the time until the results were announced.

April 18th - Results announced.[21]

Board discussion and response

When it became clear that the winning names were predominantly from Western media fandoms, the 2011 Board spent several meetings discussing the results and their implications. Some Board members argued that if they kept those names many fans would be alienated, and it would effectively prove that the OTW didn't care about other parts of fandom.

Other Board members argued that it was necessary to respect and celebrate the names which had been chosen by the current membership; that they will always be adding more servers and could choose a different way to name the next servers; that having announced this as a simple election in which the names with the most votes would win, it would be unfair to change the rules after the fact (and would open the org up to accusations of vote-rigging, which could in turn impact the org negatively when the next election rolled around); and that some of the coders who worked to build the voting system would feel hurt if their labours were disregarded.

Ultimately the Board decided to stick with the names which had received the most votes:

The reason it's taken us so long to announce the winners is that once the voting was already underway, some folks within the OTW raised concerns that the results might not fully reflect the fannish diversity which we want to promote and celebrate. There was concern that the relatively narrow scope of the winners - plus the absence of beloved character names from any non-Western fandoms or genres like gaming - might make some fans feel alienated.
Our intention was always to celebrate fandoms that we love -- but never to make fans who don't share these fandoms feel unwelcome. Once that possibility was raised, we entered into a period of intense discussion.
Here's where we've arrived: first, we do want to celebrate these names and the fans who voted for them! And we also want to move forward with a continuing commitment to fannish diversity, and to make future choices in a way which will make all fans feel welcome taking advantage of org projects.
We've had some great conversations already about how to do more diversity work in the future. For instance, next time we run a poll for new server names (because someday we will need even more machines!) we might choose to design the poll in such a way that one machine gets a name drawn from anime fandoms, and another machine gets a name drawn from gaming fandoms, and so on. And/or: next time we have machines to name, we might draw from the pool of names which were runners-up in this election -- runners-up included Zelda, Dick Grayson, Sailors Uranus and Neptune, and Izumi Curtis.[22]

These Board conversations ultimately led to the post Brainstorming for a more inclusive OTW.


The names which won the most votes were all from Western fandoms, with half from Star Trek:[21]

Server Name
DB Ada Lovelace (a real person; the "World's First Computer Programmer")
Rails Sherlock Holmes & John Watson (from Sherlock Holmes)
Storage TARDIS (from Doctor Who)
O1 Spock (from Star Trek)
O2 James T. Kirk (from Star Trek)
Switch Nyota Uhura (from Star Trek)


The OTW was criticized for marginalizing and not representing fans who were already being marginalized and under-represented by the org. The outcome was seen as additional evidence that the OTW wasn't interested in anime/manga/game fans (or any fans outside of Western media fandom) on a structural level.

The OTW was also criticized for the lack of transparency surrounding the issue;[23] discussion was ongoing internally for weeks with no prompt for outside discussion or input, with no mention to users outside the org who would be influenced by the result, including the donating members who paid for these servers.

In the comments to the LJ post announcing the new server names, Kylara said:
You see, I foolishly thought the reason it was closed voting and not an open poll was because you were going to ensure the diversity of the results. I thought the exclusion of anime/manga/game fandom was a problem that was on your radar already and you'd be aware that the results would be slanted at their exclusion. Had I known otherwise, or that a discussion was ongoing, I would have raised concerns. But I'm really not interested in fighting with you guys for recognition, and I'm disappointed that once you were aware of the situation by persons less trusting than I that you still put off the solution until "next time". [24]
In another post, Cypher said:
I...really felt sort of gutpunched by the announcement, possibly because in the early rounds, when soliciting names, there had been emphasis on reflecting more diversity, so to discover that 3/7 of the list turned out to be from the SAME FANDOM, and there wasn't a single name on the list that had any relevance to my fannish history at all...yeah. I should have seen it coming, I guess, but I didn't really process the fact that they were going for a straight majority vote at the end that would wind up kicking that goal out the door. I think I was expecting some kind of weighting to the vote or consideration to the voting brackets in service to that goal.
Like you, I don't blame the userbase for this -- of course the people voting are going to vote for the fandoms they care about, the things that bring them happiness, just like I did. But also like you, I feel like this is just...yet another place where the org could have been welcoming to fans like me and it just wasn't on the radar prominently enough or soon enough.
I love the tools the AO3 makes available, and I love the potential of the space, at the same time that it's exhausting to have to keep saying "what about us? please include us too." [25]
I tried being positive and working rather than complaining and/or ignoring the org and the archive-- posted regularly at the AO3, volunteered for the OTW (which, disclaimer: I no longer do). So when I ask myself if I could do more, my answer is that I have done more, and it didn't work. Trying to carve a place for myself in a space that doesn't want me (especially after the Yuletide nomination fiasco, when people-- some of them closely tied to/often associated with the archive and the org, even if they were speaking personally and not for the organization-- were essentially saying everything from "if you don't like it, get your own space instead of using ours" to "anime fans are paranoid and need to get over it" to "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP") just isn't something I have the time or energy for anymore, especially when the majority of voices (or lack thereof) are either saying they don't value my fannish experience and history or remaining silent when others say that. [26]
I tried. I tried repeatedly and early on, to point out that the OTW needed to do outreach. And I was told again, and again, that people figured that knowledge of OTW's works would just "naturally" "percolate" through to anime/manga fandom, gaming fandom, book fandom (which is not Harry Potter), Kpop fandom and manhwa fandom which no one in the OTW admin even seems to realize exists...
Oh, yeah, it'll just magically happen, even if we don't do anything, and if it doesn't well that's natural selection for you, and we really don't care enough to make the effort. Because we're busy with other (more important) things like infrastructure. Right. As if the infrastructure wasn't part of the problem? As if infrastructure things like the character limit that tags started out with, which was far too short for most Asian character names, aren't exactly the problem?
I'm bitter about this. I'm angry about this. I'm pissed off that you can look once at the Fandoms page of the archive and see exactly who's going to win a "democratic" vote, and no one seems to have noticed this or thought it a problem. I've been on AO3 from the start of beta and I'm still using AO3, but every time I come face to face with yet another example of this BS it makes me angry and bitter all over again. I'm angry an bitter that, even when there is someone like you who knows all this and is working to make it better on the Board, it isn't getting better.
It isn't going to get better until the admins who're already comfy with their archive that's designed with Western media fandom in mind and addresses all the needs of that corner of fandom already admits there is a problem and it needs attention, and it isn't just going to turn up better some day by magical osmosis. [27]
* The OTW Server Poll and Fannish Diversity by Ira Gladkova (board member, unofficial post), posted 2011-04-28.

More posts?

OTW 2011 Board Election

The OTW server naming festival is one incident that was brought up to highlight problems within the OTW during the OTW 2011 Board Election. The candidate's "opinions on [the server name contest incident] are being used as a litmus test for the various candidates' level of awareness of the tensions regarding the diversity situation."[28]

A question specifically about the server naming contest was submitted to the candidates for the 2011 Second Board Candidate Chat Follow-Up Two, which the candidates answered 28 October 2011. The question was:
Earlier this year the servers were named in a problem-filled poll, and the way it was handled and the outcome upset many people. This situation brings up questions about the OTW's priorities, fandom diversity, and transparency. ... If you were involved in this discussion, what was your input and how did you encourage the board to vote? If you were not, what would have been your input and vote as a board member? What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again? (Please be specific in regards to fandom diversity and transparency.) Are you in favor of voting transparency, and therefore accountability, for the board?
Posts about the Server Naming outcome and the election:
  • OTW Candidates and Fannish Inclusion, Or: Why That Server Poll Was Not a Minor Issue by Gamera, 2011-11-03. Gamera analyzed and responded specifically to each of the candidates' answers.
  • OTW Elections - the ranty part since it is the theme of this week by Autumnus, 2011-11-04. "I am both amused and appalled by some of the opinions going around. Everything from how the org apparently doesn't have a volunteer burnout problem, to Ms. Novik's comment that she would like to fix the rift caused by the server fail by a project like making otw t-shirts, to likening of arguments within OTW to israeli-palestinian conflict, and to people deciding declaring they will vote against change in the org because things are working the way they are now."

See Also


  1. Archive of Our Own Server Naming Festival!, 06 February 2011. (Accessed 09 November 2011)
  2. Kylara in the comments to the otw_news post on LJ: Results of Server Naming Contest!, 18 April 2011. (Accessed 09 November 2011)
  3. OTW Elections - the ranty part since it is the theme of this week by autumnus, 04 November 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 OTW Candidates and Fannish Inclusion, Or: Why That Server Poll Was Not a Minor Issue by Gamera. Posted 2011-11-03. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Why I Support The OTW, by Speranza, aged mumble-mumble 2008-01-09
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Organization for Transformative Works: I Want Us to Own the Goddamned Servers by Kristina Busse. No date on document. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  7. OTW Annual Report 2007. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  8. This thread in which Cesperanza says: "it was here that I first yelled, four years ago, that we have to own the goddamned servers, and that was pretty much the rallying cry around which the OTW was founded..." posted 2011-10-29. Accessed 2011-11-10.
  9. Archive News #4 - Colocation and Open Beta 2009-09-17. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Archive of Our Own: We can has servers! (@ LJ) 2011-01-23
  11. AO3 servers: meet the machines! 2011-01-23
  12. Impending Archive downtime: new server installation (@LJ) 2011-02-03
  13. What we believe, accessed November 12, 2011
  14. Comments by branchandroot in Ira Gladkova's entry. Posted 2011-04-30.
  15. 17 Septebmer 2009. OTW blog. Archive News #4 - Colocation and Open Beta. Accessed 13 Nov 2011.
  16. * Spotlight on International Outreach (@ LJ) 2011-02-21.
    • More specifically, the May 2 2011 Behind the Scenes feature directly references the server naming controversy. Accessed 13 Nov 2011.
  17. The OTW Server Poll and Fannish Diversity (Accessed Nov. 9, 2011)
  18. Archive of Our Own Server Naming Festival! 2011-02-06
  19. AO3 Server naming festival: nominations post! 2011-02-06
  20. Voting now open! Name the AO3 servers! 2011-03-15.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Results of Server Naming Contest! (@LJ) 2011-04-18.
  22. Results of Server Naming Contest, accessed November 12, 2011
  23. comments on the LJ announcement post by Kylara
  24. Results of Server Naming Contest! (Accessed Nov. 9, 2011)
  25. The OTW Server Poll and Fannish Diversity (Accessed Nov. 9, 2011)
  26. http://ira-gladkova.dreamwidth.org/540.html?thread=4636#cmt4636 (Accessed Nov. 9, 2011)
  27. http://ira-gladkova.dreamwidth.org/540.html?thread=5148#cmt5148 (Accessed Nov. 9, 2011)
  28. OTW Elections by Chouma. Posted 2011-11-07. Accessed 2011-11-10.