On the AO3 all these years later








The tenth anniversary of the OTW and all the AO3 discussion going around this week inspired me to go look at astolat’s original post about creating an An Archive Of Our Own, and found my comment on it:

“I think this is needed and long past needed.

There are of course huge fanfic archives out there like ff.net, but the bigger and more public the site, the more restrictive it is, the more stuff around the edges gets cut off. I don’t WANT the public face of fanfic to be only the most easily palatable stuff, with the smut and the kink and the controversial subjects marginalized and hidden under the table.

And I particularly don’t want to see us all sitting around feeling frustrated while this fabulous community is commodified out from underneath us.

I’m not fit to be a project manager, but I’m great with details and general organizational work. If someone takes this and runs with it, I’d love to help.“

Eleven years and rather a lot of volunteer-hours later, I stand by every single word.

And then I found my original post on the idea that became the OTW/AO3, which says in part:

“However, as I was reading the comments over there, I noticed a frustrating, but not surprising number of comments along the lines of “well, it’s a good idea, but it’s way too ambitious”

I’m not talking about the really useful and practical comments bringing up pitfalls and difficulties to be aware of from the get go with something this massive and complex, I’m talking about all the comments that go something like this:

Amen. I want a site like that. I’d pay money for an archive like that, and I’d invest time and effort to make sure it’s as great as it can be. […] But then I hit the realism switch in my brain and it goes ‘splodey. Because sadly it’s not a very realistic concept.

And this:

In a perfect world it could be an amazing thing and a great way to “rally the troops” so to speak and provide a sort-of one-stop shop for fan-fiction readers and writers. I see a couple potential problems, though.

Or this:

Oh god.

I like what you’re saying, I really do, but I think it’s actually impossible to achieve.

and all the various comments that start with

“It sounds like a cool idea…but”

or words to that effect.

Taken separately, these comments don’t seem like much, but every time a new one showed up I couldn’t help but be reminded of

this post by commodorified, and her oh so brilliant and beautiful rant therein:


And here are some notes:

Yes, you. Yes, everything. Yes, even that.

All of it. Because it’s true. We’re mostly raised to live on table scraps, to wait and see what’s going when everyone else has been served and then choose from what’s left. And that’s crap, and it’ll get you crap.

Forget the limited menu of things that you automatically assume is all that’s available given your (gender, looks, social class, education, financial position, reputation, family, damage level, etc etc etc), and start reading the whole menu instead.

Then figure out what you want. Then check what you’ve got and figure out how to get it. And then go after it baldheaded till either you make it happen or you decide that its real cost is more than it’s worth to you.”

And THAT is what Astolat’s post is about. It’s about saying “THIS is what we want, let’s make it happen.” It’s about aiming for the ideal, not for some artificially imposed, more “realistic” option.

And I think that’s fabulous. And 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” and “there’s no point in trying for that impossible thing, let’s aim for this ‘more realistic’ goal instead.”

Because, damn it, why shouldn’t we ask for every damn thing we want. And why shouldn’t we go out there and get it?”

I am so pleased to have been proved correct. 

(And also, in the category of “women need to ask for every damn thing they want”? I took those words to heart, which is one of many reasons Marna/commodorified and I have been married for going on eight years.)

ETA: I know some of the links are broken, they copied over from my original post and I didn’t have the energy to either delete them or track them down elsewhere.

Asking for it and doing it!!!

So inspiring. And yes – at the time this seemed such a pipedream, but look at it now!

Yup. I remember saying I’d support it regardless, but it would only really be useful to me as a poster if it allowed every kind of content. Heh.

God this brings it back.  People saying we couldn’t do it, that we would never be able to do it, etc. And then there was the sort of six months later moment where people were like, but where is it? (!)  Dudes, we had to found a nonprofit company first! so we could be legal and raise money and pay taxes and have a bank account and enter contracts – and moreover, the archive was written from scratch: from a single blinking cursor on the screen, custom-designed from the ground up.  I remember that I had the job of tracking wireframes in the early days as the real designers figured out how the flow of pages in the archive were going to go. Amazing.

Anyway,  I want to say that the group that came together around the OTW /AO3 in those first years had a track record like WHOA: so many of those people had been archivists, web-admins, fannish fest-runners, newsletter compilers, community moderators, listmoms (kiddies, you won’t know what this is) or had other fannish roles that gave them enormous experience in working collaboratively in fandom and keeping something great going year after year. And  OTW continues to attract great people–and so also, while I’m blathering, let me say that volunteering for the OTW also provides great, real world experience that you can put on your resume, because AO3 is one of the top sites in the world and TWC has been publishing on time for ten years and Fanlore is cited in books and journalism all the time and Open Doors has relationships with many meatspace university libraries and archives etc. so if you think you have something to bring to the table, please do think about volunteering somewhere. It’s work, believe me, but it’s also pretty g-d awesome.

And THAT is what Astolat’s post is about. It’s about saying “THIS is what we want, let’s make it happen.” It’s about aiming for the ideal, not for some artificially imposed, more “realistic” option.

I want to pull this out for a second because I have in fact generally spent much of my life aiming for big unrealistic goals, very few of which I’ve actually achieved, and many of which I didn’t actually want by the time I got close to them. 

The thing about aiming for “unrealistic” goals is that the work you do to achieve those goals doesn’t disappear even if you don’t achieve the goal. We still haven’t accomplished everything on our giant AO3 wishlist. There remains plenty of work to be done (and the OTW and the amazing current team working on the AO3 can always use more help, as Cesperanza says!) 

But because we collectively threw ourselves at this project, there is an archive, and it’s not just good, it’s better than anything else out there. <3

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