Talking with Claudia Rebaza of AO3

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Talking with Claudia Rebaza of AO3
Interviewer: Susan McGuire for "The Booklist Reader"
Interviewee: Claudia Rebaza
Date(s): August 12-16, 2019
Medium: online
External Links: Talking with Claudia Rebaza of AO3: Part One : The Booklist Reader, Archived version -- Talking with Claudia Rebaza: Part Two : The Booklist Reader, Archived version -- Talking with Claudia Rebaza: Part Three : The Booklist Reader, Archived version (August 12-16, 2019)
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Talking with Claudia Rebaza of AO3 is a 2019 interview with Claudia Rebaza conducted by Susan McGuire of "The Booklist Reader."

Some Topics Discussed


Congratulations on your Hugo nomination! By the time this comes out, the winners will already have been announced, but I hope the old saying is true, that it’s an honor just to be nominated. What did this nomination mean to you all?

I can’t speak for everyone in the OTW, especially given that we currently have over 700 volunteers working for us, though I’m sure everyone would agree that it is an honor. That’s equally true for AO3 users: we got more comments and readers on our news post announcing our nomination than any other post this past year. There’s been a lot of excitement.

AO3 is being recognized in the Best Related Work category, which was instituted in 1980 as Best Related Book and renamed in 2010. That was three years after the OTW was formed, almost a year after the AO3 opened for public beta, and nearly 20 years after the World Wide Web was available to the public. So, for me personally, I find the most important thing about AO3’s nomination to be an acknowledgment of changing times.

AO3 will pass five million works this year, and in the month of May, it served up over one billion page views. We have readers from just about every country in the world (we received donations from fans in 86 countries in April). We’re far from the only fan works platform, though we are the largest nonprofit and fan-created one. So I think it’s really important for creative activity to be recognized as it is happening in these fairly massive ways, affirming the important contributions of noncommercial entities and practices.

I also think, as some articles reporting on our nomination pointed out, that it’s no coincidence that the nomination happened this year when the slate of Hugo nominees as a whole was the most diverse yet. As we state on our website, the OTW represents a practice of transformative fan work historically rooted in a primarily female culture, and we encourage new and nonmainstream expressions of cultural identity within fandom. So I think we fit neatly into this broader way of looking at fan activity in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

Do fans/readers have a say in how the tags are used?

Yes, in various ways. Fans who have an issue with a specific guideline, or find a contradiction in the guidelines can contact theTag Wrangling Committee Staff by submitting a Support ticket. Also, since our volunteer wranglers are all fans themselves, that’s certainly a direct way of affecting how a fandom’s tags are organized. When volunteers join us as tag wranglers, they select fandoms they know about to work on, and if they’re smaller fandoms, they might take on 10, 20, or more of them because there isn’t much new activity. For larger fandoms there are teams of volunteers who work together to make decisions about tagging for their particular fandom. And coordinating all the tag wranglers is the committee staff who, among other things, work with them to develop new policies.

Though not directly about tags, when there are policy changes or a major reorganization is being considered, we have made announcements soliciting public input.

Ultimately fans determine tag use by creating tags. There’s a policy of canonizing tags after multiple users have utilized the same tags in their works and there isn’t already an authority version for that concept. Once tags are canonized they show up as autocomplete options in our posting form. That means even more fans will be able to select it as a default description, though they are always free to use their own. And fans create a lot of new tags! In our most recent newsletter, the Tag Wrangling Committee reported that its volunteers wrangled over 202,000 tags in a single month. seems like some authors use tags almost like a second work, with a series of unique and essentially useless tags with fandom jokes embedded in them.

It’s somewhat different from fan to fan and has a lot to do, I think, with what other online spaces they are used to interacting in. For example, we get a number of people who have primarily used FanFiction.Net (FFN) but who then come to AO3. There is no tagging on FFN and so those fans may have difficulty using them at first. You’ll sometimes see works with very few tags, even for important things such as characters, and even that may be because all posts require some sort of minimal tagging. Other fans using a site such as Tumblr often tag very broadly and use the space to speak to their expected audience more than to use the tags as finding aids. Users who have come from spaces like LiveJournal or Dreamwidth, where tags are generally used to organize community and personal spaces, probably put more emphasis on the use of tags as a way for the works to find an audience (every work its reader, and every reader their work!) [Ed note: Shout-out to Ranganathan realness!]

So the use of tags is something of a carryover from other fandom spaces and personal histories. How people react to the tags is equally influenced. Some people love reading a long block of tags attached to a work and other people hate them.

Most of our readers are librarians, and we’re always interested in learning what readers enjoy about what they are reading. Do you get a sense of what readers get out of fan fiction? I have this idea that it must be somehow different from reading, say, a straight-up novel . . . but maybe it’s fundamentally not? Is there an interactive element to reading fan fiction? Is “interactive” even the right word?

Well, that also presumes we understand what readers are getting out of a novel! A lot of times even the reader isn’t aware or takes for granted an experience they would never express if asked.

That’s definitely relatable for folks who traffic in the readers’ advisory conversation.

There’s also the question of what’s different for each user if the story is in an audio, a visual, or a text format. Much like we have different learning styles, I suspect that people connect differently to formats and styles of storytelling. Fans tell stories through art, video, and audio as well.

I’m not aware of any studies that look at the reading process when it comes to fan fiction, though I expect there are some out there. But I can contribute some personal experiences and conversations I’ve had.

This is going back over a decade now, but when I was working on my PhD I did a series of interviews with fans, and one thing I asked them about was their reading habits. The main question was whether they did most of their reading online or off. Even today I do almost all my own reading offline because I sideload content to my e-book reader, and I mainly read for leisure before I go to sleep. Back in the early to mid-2000s the question was relevant because of people’s sometimes limited access to the Web because of connection costs or limited access to a computer. But there were other reasons, too: People mentioned issues such as eye strain or the difficulty in reading through certain font or color choices, or even back pain from sitting for long periods in front of the computer.

So even though it was an online medium, people were taking it offline.

Around this time (2000-ish), many people were printing out stories, either to read them later or to format and save them. Some people bound certain works so they could put them on their bookshelves like any other favorite book. One person told me that she maintained binders of stories, with hundreds of pages in each. Another fan told me she printed out the stories in order to be able to write in the margins, something which is common enough that it’s a feature in e-readers, to be able to make notes and bookmark certain passages.