Searching for Fanworks on the Internet
Ever since fans started posting fanworks on the internet, other fans have been trying to find them. In the twentieth century, the majority of online fanworks were text-based—fanfiction or meta—but as bandwidth increased, streaming technology was introduced, and social media services started up, hosting fanworks in other media (visual, audio, video) became easier, and new forms of digital fanworks evolved. Meanwhile, the tools and strategies fans have used to find what they're looking for in this cornucopia of fannish production have evolved as well. A perennial concern is how to find the good stuff with a minimum of effort.
For information on finding print fanworks, see Where to Find Zines.
On Usenet, many newsgroups for discussion of fannish sources created "spinoff" newsgroups specifically for fanworks. Generally these newsgroups had the same name as their parent newsgroups, with the suffix ".creative" added. For instance, alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer and alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer.creative. (However, other suffixes were also used, such as alt.comic.fan-fiction.)
Sexually explicit or "adult" fanworks were often split off into their own newsgroups, with a suffix indicating adult content: for instance, alt.tv.x-files.creative and alt.tv.x-files.creative.mature, or alt.startrek.creative and alt.startrek.creative.erotica.
See also List of Usenet Newsgroups for a list of fannish newsgroups.
Particularly with single-fandom mailing lists, people will sometimes post that they are looking for a particular story and ask if anyone can help. Response can take the form of pointing the way to a fanzine or online source. However, it is also possible that someone (possibly, but not necessarily the author) will e-mail a copy directly if the story is not otherwise available.
A more general request may result in a spate of rec postings.
There are also mailing lists specifically for posting fiction. However, although someone subscribed to such a list will automatically receive new postings, if the stories aren't saved to hard drive, they are fundamentally ephemeral.
On some fandoms, such as Lois & Clark, sexually explicit fiction is restricted to specific mailing lists which require an age statement before allowing a fan to join. Alternatively, an "ADULT:" header may be required on all fiction rated higher than PG13. The use of such a header allows subscribers to filter such stories out if they prefer not to receive them.
Search Engines and Web Directories
Possibly the least efficient way of finding fanworks that actually appeal to you, using a web search engine is still the easiest method for the uninitiated. In fact, new fans are just as likely to discover fanworks accidentally when searching for something else. Before Google became ubiquitous, in the mid 1990s there were a few web search engines available (Webcrawler, Lycos, AltaVista, etc.), and Yahoo! was still just a web directory. But you could only get results for fanfiction if it was posted on the Web, which not all fanfic was.
Nowadays the problem isn't so much finding fanfic—googling "fanfiction" yields over sixty-five million results—but finding "good" fanfic.
In the 90s, with the availability of free webhosting services like Geocities, Angelfire, FortuneCity, and Tripod, there were plenty of small single-author and multi-author fanfiction archives that would turn up in a web search. Personal fansites, centralized single-fandom and multifandom archives, and themed archives could be a goldmine once you found them. Instead of endlessly searching the web, fans could check their favorite sites for new material. Reading all the fanfic by a beloved author is also a way for readers to find new fandoms or fall in love with new types of fanworks, since many fan-creators' personal websites host more than one type of fanwork. Nowadays, fan-run archives hosting various types of fanworks (not just fanfiction) are still valuable online resources and are some fans' primary method of discovering new fanworks.
One early strategy, discussed in Rogue Archives, was finding a good website and binge-reading everything on it. Back when everything was hand-coded (e.g. Data Annex Fan Fiction Archive), the archivist could include detailed fanfiction metadata (called headers) on the page to help readers decide what to read. Later, when some archives had more advanced software, readers could use more targeted strategies to narrow down their search. When automated archive software was developed, header information could be added into separate fields and easily searched or sorted on. Fanfiction.net, the largest fanfic archive on the web, was launched in 1998 and allows readers to find fic based on fandom, character, rating, genre, length, language, and completion status. FF.net also displays the number of reviews that each story receives; this statistic can be used as a rough guide for deciding what's good and what's garbage.
Archive of Our Own
The Archive of Our Own, which entered open beta in 2009, is a multifandom archive programmed with many tools designed specifically to aid the reader in finding exactly what they want. Fans can search the site, but browsing by user-generated tags and using the tag filters to further limit results is especially useful when the fan doesn't have a specific creator or title in mind (e.g. you can find all works tagged with both mpreg and Jim/Blair if that's what floats your boat). Since many fans don't like to read WIPs, AO3 can limit results to completed works only. Similar to the way readers can judge FF.net stories, readers on AO3 can see, and sort by, the number of comments, bookmarks, and "kudos" clicks a fanwork has received. AO3's tagging system is unusual (a "curated taxonomy") in that tags with similar meanings are linked on the backend to allow greater recall, but the idea of tagging itself is part of the mid-2000s "Web 2.0" revolution; fans in search of fanworks can now navigate many sites by user-generated tags, and a shared fannish vocabulary makes guessing tag names that much easier. However, fans still complain about how certain site features (or lack thereof) have hindered their searches. (For example, fans who want to find crossovers cannot rely on the crossovers tag, and fans who do not want to find crossovers have no way to filter them out. See the AO3 Tagging Policy Debate.)
Wattpad is a social media site that became popular for posting fanfic in the 2010s. Sometimes fics posted there are announced on Tumblr or crossposted to the AO3. Nobody has anything good to say about their site organization, though Wattpad was never conceived of as an archive. A recent Fail_Fandomanon commenter asked how to find fic on Wattpad, and a helpful anon provided detailed instructions:
You can't really just browse the fandom - Fanfiction is its own category and isn't subdivided any more than that, and not everyone marks fanfiction as such.
There actually is a tag search; tagging is pretty sporadic, but that's somewhere to start. You can type #fandomname or #charactername into the search box and that'll bring up everything tagged with that - tags are all one word, and are stackable, so you can put in #samwinchester and #deanwinchester for works tagged with both. You can also do a regular keyword search, and on the desktop site it should pop up with a series of coloured buttons at the top listing (hopefully) related tags that are in use.
To give you some idea, I search "puella magi madoka magica" that brings up 11.5k stories. But one of the recommended tags is #madokamagica, which takes it down to 299 stories, and then I can additionally narrow my search by things tagged #madokakaname, and now we're down to 34 stories. It's not great, but it's something.
People do make public reading lists, so I assume there are "My Fave [Fandom] Fics" lists out there, though they're even tougher to find than the fics themselves. But checking profiles might be worth it if it's an active fandom.For my very tiny fandom where I'm desperate for any content, I've also done a google search for for relevant terms and limited it to site:wattpad.com. It's not necessarily much better than Wattpad's own search, but it brings up different results sometimes.
Fanart on the Web
Before (and after) the rise of free hosting and social media, fanartists who could afford to would display art on their own websites.
Since 2000 a lot of fanartists have been putting their art on DeviantArt, and more recently, Tumblr. Other social media websites where fans have posted their own fanart include Pixiv, Twitter, and Instagram. Photobucket was a popular choice for embedding all kinds of images, including fanart, on other websites. Livejournal, though more suited to text, also provided image hosting, and a lot of Livejournal communities were intended specifically for posting fanart. See below for more on how to use LJ to find fanworks.
Tumblr has become an easy way to find fanart, including the material originally posted to DeviantArt. On DeviantArt, anyone can search the site for keywords, browse by category (e.g. Fan Art > Digital Art), or find the Favourites section of a Group that is focused on a given fandom (e.g. xena-warriorprincess), but many users sign up to get access to additional features (like being able to favourite art or leave comments) even if they don't create fanart themselves. The sidebar on individual fanart pages is another method of browsing as it recommends similar art. On Tumblr, anyone with an account can either follow other users who post fanart or track tags like fanart, but site-wide browsing by tag (as opposed to browsing an individual account's tags) is impossible when logged out. (See Help:Tumblr for tips on how to navigate Tumblr.)
Increasingly, fanart from elsewhere shows up on the visual bookmarking sites Pinterest and Weheartit, where users can "curate" collections of images from the web. These sites are great for looking at galleries of pretty fanart, but not so great for figuring out who made them. Weheartit in particular has generated a lot of wank on Tumblr, as Tumblr users repost fanart with only "weheartit" given as the source. Finding the actual source can involve some detective work, using Google Search by image and Tineye.com.
Fannish Videos on the Web
- personal websites
- livejournal communities for posting or reccing
- Youtube has everything; other video-sharing sites
- Fandom-specific vid directories, such as the Kawoosh! Stargate Music Video Archive (link)
Podfic on the Web
- Journal fandom: There are journal communities dedicated to posting podfic, either fandom-specific, like gleepodfic, or multifandom, like Amplificathon. Amplificathon also hosted an annual rec fest, Amplirecathon. Fandom- and pairing-specific journal communities where fans post fanworks are another source for finding podfic. See the list of communities interested in podfic on livejournal and dreamwidth. See also Timeline of Podfic Communities.
- Archives and websites: The Audiofic Archive hosts thousands of podfics in many fandoms, but has a limited tag set and search functionality. Because Archive of Our Own is more user-friendly, many podfic fans only use the Podfic tag to find new podfic. However, not all podfic hosted on the Audiofic Archive is linked from the AO3.
- Many podficcers announce their new podfics on Tumblr or Twitter. podficannouncements was set up in November 2014 to reblog these announcements, but has been inactive since January 2015. See also the podfic Tumblr tag.
- Tumblr is also home to podfic fans who post recs and masterlists. See the Multifandom Podfic Rec Blog run by stonearchfuzzy.
Recs and Reviews
Instead of or in addition to finding the good stuff themselves, fans can also turn to a trusted reccer or reviewer who provides links to and sometimes reviews of fanworks. In the 1990s, fansites often had links to other fansites of interest, and there were also dedicated "rec pages" or whole rec sites.
Later, as web technology evolved, fans could find recs posted to personal blogs, LiveJournal, social bookmarking sites like Delicious, social networking sites like Facebook, and microblogging sites like Twitter and Tumblr. Tumblr accounts dedicated exclusively to posting recs or masterlists of fanworks for a given ship or fandom often contain the word "library" in the username (e.g. theofficialstereklibrary).
Fans can choose to look for recs and reviews from individual reccers, to visit multireccer single-fandom reccing communities like Crack Impala, or multireccer multifandom reccing communities like Crack Van, Epic Recs, and Fancake. Crack Van was closed in 2013, but its back catalog of 25,000 recs is still available.
There are also some spaces for anonymous recs and reviews, such as the Fic Discussion posts at the Supernatural anon meme, or the multifandom anonymous reviewing LiveJournal community reviewsanon. The general fandom discussion anon meme Fail fandomanon is also used to request and post reclists, as well as discuss popular fanfic.
LiveJournal is a social media site that many, many fans have used to share fanworks. Although LJ later implemented (non-social) tags and searching, the site has been around since before a lot of Web 2.0 tools became popular and is not optimized for search the way newer sites like Tumblr and Twitter are. Instead, LJ users and communities list "interests" in their profiles that other people can use to find them.
However, depending on the fandom or fanwork type you are looking for, searching by interest can take a lot of time and be very frustrating. Experienced LiveJournal fans can also figure out which communities to watch to get good fanworks by checking out some of the resources other fans have built: For example, newbieguide is a community with posted guides on where the action is for each fandom, and crack_van is a multifandom multi-fanwork-type reccing community. There are many LJ communities devoted to specific fandoms, fan activities, pairings, or characters. Many high-traffic communities also have tagging policies to make it easier to find what you want—pairing, fanwork type, creator, etc.
If you have a LiveJournal account, you can "friend" these communities and get fed a constant stream of fanworks and discussion. Once you identify a fan creator whose works you like, you can friend their journal as well to keep track of when they post new material.
Fans can use social bookmarking sites to find new fanworks in several ways:
- follow a reccer with an account
- scroll through one of the many accounts on Delicious set up as masterlists for a given topic, challenge, or kink meme
- see all bookmarks on the site tagged by any user with certain fannish keywords, sorted
Keeping Track of Fanworks Once You Find Them
Fans have printed out fanfic from the internet, downloaded fanworks to their hard drives, saved links using either their web browser's bookmark feature or a word document, or posted links online to webpages, blogs, journals, or social bookmarking services. Fans also use any site feature that can keep track of things on the site that they like, including the bookmark or "mark to read later" functions on AO3, the favorite/"like" option on DeviantArt and Tumblr, and even the subscription function on Fanfiction.net. Additionally, AO3's "Download" button makes it straightforward to download fanfics in MOBI, EPUB, PDF and HTML format to read later.
Much of Tumblr activity is reblogging posts by other people that you like, and secondary Tumblrs are sometimes set up specifically to reblog everything on a given topic so that everyone else can find it. Another way to hold onto fanworks is unauthorized re-posting of the fanwork itself; in fandoms where archiving without permission is taboo, this strategy can result in a lot of angry fan creators descending upon the would-be archivist.
On LiveJournal, fans who lose track of a fanwork they once enjoyed can hope to find it again by posting a request to a Fic Finding community. Similar communities exist on Tumblr to help fans locate fanworks of a particular fandom or pairing, such as Clint/Coulson fic finders. Mailing list fans have often asked their fandom mailing lists. And some fans now post their requests on Yahoo!Answers.
However, fanworks on the web can easily disappear entirely. GeoCities and similar services provided free web space in the 1990s, and many fans used the services to put up their own stories or manually code archives of fanfics submitted by others. Meanwhile, other fans maintained fansites on university servers (see The Gossamer Project) or paid for server space once commercial ISPs appeared. Each of these methods has resulted in dead links as fansites were moved or deleted, payments were discontinued, fans graduated, or free webhosts were shut down. Large archives can be doomed by their own popularity as bandwidth costs soar, and commercial sites have discontinued features (imeem) or folded entirely (Fanlib) when they didn't succeed in making a profit. Youtube frequently removes fanvids and other remix videos when copyright holders complain. On LiveJournal, users can decide to friendslock or delete content previously made public, and there is a practice of users temporarily deleting their accounts sometimes just to force themselves to get RL work done.
Fans have found various work-arounds for dead links:
- download to your hard drive (unless your hard drive dies)
- google the title in hopes the author posted in more than one place (unless they took it down everywhere)
- look up the URL on the Wayback Machine (unless the website is served dynamically or has robots.txt or was never archived there)
- contact the author/creator to ask for their copy (unless there's no contact information or the creator's hard drive also dies)
- contact other fans to ask for their copy (unless you don't know anyone who's into that fandom)
A few fans feel uncomfortable looking for lost fanfic on the assumption that the author removed the fanfic for a reason and that their desire to read the story again is a violation of some unwritten fandom rule:
"I feel a little bit bad about using archive.org to retrieve fanfic that has been otherwise left to die by its owner? Obviously, I'm not going to distribute it, but the culture of fandom is such that if they don't want it out there any more, I feel at least a bit bad for going back and getting it.
On the other hand, some of this fic has immense nostalgia value for me, because it was a lot of the earliest fic I read after discovering that fanfic was a thing. So regardless of what the author thinks of it, I have many fond memories, and I'd rather save it now for my personal re-reading in future rather than possibly never be able to read it again.I still feel a little guilty, though."
A 2014 Discussion About Fiction Loss
[ wendelah1 ]: Just last week, I was going through someone's rec posts, looking for Gilmore Girls fanfic. I kept finding stories that sounded good, but the author had deleted their journal. Just like that! Gone! Poof! The thing is Gossamer hasn't been updated in over a year. Maybe it's nearly two years now. The owners of the site are busy people. It makes me anxious even thinking about the possibility of that archive going away but it easily could. There is a lot of fanfic there that can't be found anywhere else other than the Wayback Machine, and that's assuming the author had a website back in the day.
[lanalucy]: Yeah, people get busy, people grow out of their fandom interest, people become "serious" writers and disavow all knowledge of their prior fanfic persona, and let's face it, people die.
[wendelah1]: A couple of years back I tried to talk an author into orphaning her fic at AO3. She wasn't interested. She took down her website and blocked it from being displayed on Wayback. She had her fic removed from Gossamer and from Fugues and a few other sites with active management. Ironically, I recently found a sizable cache of her fic on Wayback that had been archived on an old, long defunct rec site. I know she has stories still up in a couple of other old archives too. It's really hard now to erase all traces of an old fandom identity if you were popular and recced. I understand why people who posted under their real names--and there were a surprising number who did back in the day-- would want to fix that by changing to a pseudonym, reposting under that instead. If you're planning to file off the serial numbers and get people to pay for your fanfic, whoops, I mean romance novels, I can see why you might need to do that too. You can't have two versions of the same story out there with different character names. So those authors probably won't agree to orphaning their fic either.
- Slash Fan Fiction on the Net, a Web resource with extensive lists of links to other fansites
- Fandom on the Internet, a print resource published in 1995 by Ann Teitelbaum and Dar F
- Help me, fannish hivebrain - 2010 dreamwidth discussion on how to find good fanfic for a given trope
- Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? 2015 Tumblr discussion
- The Virtual Swamp, or Navigating the Web Without a Map (2004)
- Fansplaining: Cataloging Fandom (April 6, 2016)
- Search and Browse FAQ on Archive of Our Own
- Destiel Fanfiction, Guide to Finding Fics (Tips and Tricks), Archived version (October 12, 2013)
- I don’t understand how anyone can take AO3 for granted (2018)
- A “quick” & “simple” guide to finding old fic off of AO3 (2018)
- In the twentieth century, the response to the ephemerality of fiction posted to mailing lists initially led to some stories being reprinted in fanzines, and later to the establishment of fiction archives.
- At least, that's how I found fanfiction circa 1998. (user:aethel, October 10, 2011)
- Google search on October 10, 2011
- 2017-09-14 thread
- Total number of fanwork-producing lj fen is unknown, but the community fandom_counts was set up 30 May 2007 as a response to Strikethrough. As of December 7, 2011, fandom_counts had 33,601 members. In January 2015, it had 26,457 members.
- "it's a pretty common thing for people to use their subscription list, which isn't publicly viewable, as a hidden bookmarks for fics we're embarrassed for people to know we liked. I'm actually surprised when someone doesn't realize that's why people use it for fics that are completed." Fail_fandomanon comment 21 September 2013
- devil_girl91. Underwater Light by Maya?, posted 11 March 2009.
- And sometimes users react by making remix videos about it: Hitler reacts to the Hitler parodies being removed from YouTube
- See some of the explanations given on deleting-my-lj posts.
- I feel conflicted dated May 27, 2013; WebCite.