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September 2019

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astolat

An Archive Of One's Own

**NEW ETA**: we're going to take a stab at putting this together. For more information and discussion, please join and/or watch otw_news.




ETA: If you are coming to the conversation late, xenacryst has helpfully collected up a bunch of links to a subset of noteworthy discussion threads, over here!




First, why fanfic is not illegal and why YOU should stop saying that it is even if you don't agree, by cesperanza. Please read it.

That said, the people behind fanlib (talked about many places, see astridv here) don't actually care about fanfic, the fanfic community, or anything except making money off content created entirely by other people and getting media attention. They don't have a single fanfic reader or writer on their board; they don't even have a single woman on their board. They're creating a lawsuit-bait site while being bad potential defendants, and they deserve to be chased out being pelted with rocks.

But even if they were, which I doubt is going to happen, because hey, they have people and money, we're still left with this problem: we are sitting quietly by the fireside, creating piles and piles of content around us, and other people are going to look at that and see an opportunity. And they are going to end up creating the front doors that new fanfic writers walk through, unless we stand up and build our OWN front door.

We need a central archive of our own, something like animemusicvideos.org. Something that would NOT hide from google or any public mention, and would clearly state our case for the legality of our hobby up front, while not trying to make a profit off other people's IP and instead only making it easier for us to celebrate it, together, and create a welcoming space for new fans that has a sense of our history and our community behind it.

cutting for details and brainstormingCollapse )

If I had thirty seconds more time I would just try to do it, but I don't right now, and so I am throwing out this plea into the ether. And I'm putting myself out here right now to say that I would help as any/all of an advisor, a fundraiser, a promoter, and I would archive my own stuff there. I would even take on coding parts; I just can't take on project management.

But I know we have project managers in our community -- and coders and designers -- can't we do this? Seriously -- we can come up with a site that would be miles better and more attractive to fanfic writers/readers than anything else out there, guys, because we actually USE the stuff.

I have to go offline to write now, but clearly the conversation is happening right now, thanks to the fanlib guys, and I really wanted to get this out there.

A couple of quick ETAs:
I don't allow anonymous commenting, but if you don't have an lj or OpenID account and would like to comment, you can get one really quick right here. ETA: sorry, OpenID doesn't work with anon commenting disallowed, oops.

Also, please have no hesitation to have conversations among yourselves in the comments; I never mind that anyway, but in this case would like to totally encourage it. You can use the lj thumbtacks to track everything being posted in a single thread even if you don't want to get inundated with everything posted to the entry.
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Comments

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This is a wonderful idea. If I had two synapses that reliably fired on a regular basis I would even like to be involved. In any event, I would certainly donate.
A very interesting idea, if you can get around the legalities. I'm not sure if I'd be able to donate money, but I'd certainly be able to donate time. I've done the whole community management thing, and I'm slowly picking up information organisation skills in library skool.
While I like the idea of a bigger, better, fan run archive, I'm not sure it's the best way to go. I've poked around with 'building a better archive script' a bit- and while I think it's very doable, I'm not sure an all-inclusive site that really succeeded would end up being anything more than FFN with porn and a better interface.

Folks already have so many places to post- FFN, AdultFFN, multiple LJ communities, fandom specific/pairing specific sites, their own LJ, their own site. I think it would be difficult to become THE fanfiction site- even with an excellent new script to run it. And it would be costly and bring some vulnerability having that sort of concentration. And then- well, your FFN with porn and a better interface.

Having played with some of these ideas a fair bit- an alternative might be a more 'web services' approach. I played with pulling RSS feeds for fandom rec sites into a database and making that searchable. Was a simplistic approach and not what I'd suggest. But it was handy for me as a way to quickly search for rare fandoms. I stopped showing it publically due to concerns I was effectively 'stealing content'- and it was limited in scope. But it is one approach.

Probably a better approach- have it be a sort of 'Digg/Delicious' web service built specifically for fic. (Have you checked out StumbleUpon- also a cool idea.) An optimum setup would be to allow the embedding of a 'rate/review' button on... well, anything. LJ in particular, efiction- if FFN could be talked into it, that would be excellent. That would allow for word to spread quickly- authors always like feedback, so they'd be likely to use it. If the ratings were more amazon style- so users weren't searching for '5 start fics' (which is always massively abused and fairly useless regardless)- they could find 'folks who liked this fic also liked...' Bring in tagging, etc. This wouldn't be easy to hash out the details. Probably more difficult than building a new/better archive script. But it has a lot of benefits.

Anyway- it's something I think on in my free time. But by not actually hosting an archive, you ditch a lot of potential legal issues, money issues, some hassle issues. It's something different that could be integrated into the ways folks already post their fic- rather than another archive- even if it is a better archive (which agreed- would be a good thing, don't get me wrong there!)

Eh- rambling. I haven't had time to play with fandom stuff lately. I like the idea- I'm just not sure a new and better archive is the best way to go at this. Web services might be worth considering.

re: teh_jimmeh's remarks and other things

As abrasive as teh_jimmeh may have been, he really does have some very valid points.

[BTW I'm one of the vastly outnumbered male authors -- Bones, Farscape.]

I would add that, in order to have some legal protection, this project would need to incorporate (as an explicit non-profit?). If it got really big, the "we're just fans, small fry flying under the radar" defense would carry less weight.

Donation-only is one way to reduce that risk, but foregoing ad revenue would be a huge problem. If ad revenue was used, perhaps vulnerability to claims of "for profit" (in the broader sense) could be neutralized by a charter that explicitly states no person is to be compensated, that all ad revenues are to go to hosting, bandwidth, backup -- in other words NO paid *personnel* EVER, from the inception.

I am NOT a lawyer but that's how it looks to me.

I have no idea how Mr. FFN is doing it, or how badly he is personally exposed to liability.

Of course, in incorporating, how do you keep from becoming the enemy yourself? ;) Perhaps if you paint the bullseye on your back the weaselwords at fanlib don't seem quite so outrageous.

As to general issues, some sort of searchable rating system fed by registered readers would be the absolute minimum.

Other features such as "Editor's Picks" would be great too, provided the whole thing didn't go up in flames over accusations of bias & favoritism.

I think optional *reader* registration would be good -- both for voting/reccing purposes and bypassing the mature content warnings.

But mandatory registration for readers would be a death knell. Never, EVER make it difficult for users to get on your site to just look/read.

Sorry if this is a bit jumbled.

Re: teh_jimmeh's remarks and other things

I just saw forked's comment above.

YES to Amazon-style recs (though harder to implement).

And yes, rather than a true archive, basically just be a meta search engine (built by writer submission rather than by webbots) for fanfic with a rating/rec system. Sure, you might lose some fic over time, but a helluva lot less overhead.

Preliminary thoughts

If this happens I will participate and I will offer my skills (usability and user-centred design), but I admit I am doubtful of its success for a huge number of reasons that boil down to:

1. This has been attempted before, and has not been achieved yet. I see how this differs from prior efforts but I'm not sure it will differ enough, or can ever overcome the myriad reasons why other efforts were apparently unsuccessful.
2. I see this as a wank magnet for so, so, so many issues. Distributed fandom gives us space to ignore and avoid each other, in cases where that's the better part of valor. A central archive also centralises fandom's rifts, faultlines, minefields and ideology clashes into nuclear clusterfuck potential (possibly see see point 1).
3. A lot of people are keen to volunteer, which is wonderful, but I suspect those who have the best project management, systems architecture, programming, interaction design, information architecture and ongoing management skills and experience are going to be in demand in more places than just fandom, and thus unable to make the kind of commitment they know it takes. I know many of those people will gladly make themselves available in a consulting and advisory capacity, but those make-or-break skills and experience are needed in the thick of it, and anybody with them will probably, like you, have a full plate already.

What I would like to see considered is that this starts as a kind of fandom-built del.icio.us/search engine/story index, some kind of aggregation service, customised to our needs as writers and readers and recommenders, layered over (and leveraging, rather than rivalling or displacing) our current infrastructure. This could include:
- Working with existing archives to index their contents and incorporate their existing metadata and story-finding aids;
- Working with those who built/manage/run other large fannish infrastructure, for instance, huge link and rec databases, similarly.
- Figuring out a way to automatically index or include fandom's LJ infrastructure, imeem infrastructure, del.icio.us infrastructure and others.
- Also focussing on how the new layer can be beneficial to the existing infrastructure, for example by archives pulling down the tags from the new layer to add to the stories they host, or by a rec database using the new layer's metadata to, say, update author email addresses as they change, or by sending out custom RSS feeds for consuming on our friends lists.
- Potential migration toward centralised hosting rather than linking once the best interaction paradigms are established in a more lightweight form.

Basically, although I share the dream of a beautiful archive with everything is all flawlessly formatted and perfectly findable, I think if you do this at an aggregation architecture level, you have less cost, less risk, and a lot of advantages over a hosting model:

continued


* At the centre of the project you're working with (and hopefully winning over) the people who have the most experience with building fannish infrastructure, without depending on them to commit insane amounts of time.
* You're enabling the improvement and enhancement of the rest of fandom's infrastructure - a gift to the gift economy, wherever it may be operating.
* You're enabling people to get their efforts (bookmarking, writing, reccing) into the central site by continuing to do what they've always done.
* You're future proofing it - whatever the fannish medium after LJ is, or the next del.icio.us, or the new huge recs database that gets built in 2009, you just work on interacting with it.
* You can get bang for buck quickly by doing aggregation architecture rather than hosting. For instance, if you could just develop an aggregation service for Automatic Archives and del.icio.us, that's how many stories indexed and tagged? Add some value on top of the aggregation and you've got serious momentum. Remember, the trigger for this is fanlib, and if we don't like what they're doing, we can't take a year or two to build a whiz-bang archive while they proceed merrily with their evil plans.
* Should a move to hosting proceed, if you are already interoperating with existing infrastructure, you're better positioned to conduct a migration whereby an author ticks a box that says, "Sure, import all my stuff!" and then stories are automatically pulled in and reformatted.

A few random other suggestions if the hosting model progresses:
* I haven't seen accessibility mentioned but I would consider that a MUST, and to a high standard.
* You (or somebody) will have to do a very thorough risk analysis and ongoing risk management to avoid the fate of other projects like this. In other words, learning from the mistakes of others is a must.
* Perhaps the appropriate thing to do is to negotiate with one of the existing archives to throw our weight behind that, and mobilise everyone to offer the support they can give to it.
* The metadata associated with a story absolutely, positively and definitely MUST include any storyfinder community descriptions. This archive cannot possibly realise its glorious potential without them.
Having skimmed several pages of comments, posting to consolidate my thoughts on what the best suggestions have been on how to begin, with a few minor additions of my own. (I might have missed some posts in there, so sorry if I accidentally steal anything that I thought was original. :)

1. This should be organized as a nonprofit corporation or cooperative, with a large, formal, preferably volunteer board.

2. Essential staff to be hired (yes, paid, even if it's just a token amount) immediately:
- A lawyer (or lawyers) who has actual, practical experience with internet law and nonprofits. (Would they normally or could they have a seat on the board?)
- An experienced CFO who is familiar with how to set up nonprofit status and the tax implications thereof.

3. The board should immediately move to set up a business plan, outlining:
- A mission statement.
- Board member responsibilities, and how decisions are made, who breaks tie votes, succession plans, etc.
- Broad requirements of the archive. (We need some technical people on the board with experience with very large web projects, to make sure that we're sufficiently scalable and the like.)
- How that archive will be administered (including finalizing questions around chan, RPS, TOS, and other sensitive topics).
- Finalize the monetary plan, projecting at least a couple of years out.
- A comprehensive plan for if and when we receive a C&D or other legal challenges, covering such topics as archive vs. authorial responsibility and support.
- Publish all of the above for fannish review and comments. Pimping is essential here, to make sure we hit up as much of fandom as possible, not just LJ.
- Review comments and vote on any subsequent changes to the above items.

4. Actually complete all of the necessary legal paperwork.

5. Find or hire an experienced project manager for the implementation.

6. Go to town.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

Perhaps we can collect donations for a specific legal fund, in case it is needed? (A la the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.) So that a sudden issue there doesn't bankrupt the archive while it moves through the courts.

Getting the word out to non-LJ: Aside from word of mouth, maybe we can buy a few ads on popular, geeky web sites or podcasts.

I like the idea of allowing people to buy into the archive, either monetarily or socially.
Oh, and it should be obvious, but I wanted to note that doing this right would/will require huge upfront investments of time and money. Everyone involved needs to be very, very sure that they're taking it seriously.

Just wild speculation - I wonder if it would be possible to pull in some sort of large donation or endowment to get it off the ground. Not sure who we'd try to get for that though, if we want to keep this fan-run and no ads...
cupidsbow posted about your idea, and I think it's brilliant. She also said that this kind of project requires volunteers, and I'd like to toss my hat into the ring. My coding skills are pretty much non-existent, but I learn quickly. However, I have a fair bit of project management experience, and my communication skills are in fine shape, so I could do PR, media relations, writing text for the actual site, etc. Please let me know if there's anything I can do, because the fannish community has done a lot for me over the years, and I'd like to give back by helping create space of our own.
This is really interesting, and all you suggest is exactly as how I would want it. Except I'm wondering a little why is it a problem that we sit quietly by the fireside with piles and piles next to us? As I see it, we are reacting against the fanlib site (which I hate with a deep passion, so yes, any kind of response is good) but I also don't want to react just for the sake of reacting. Because up till now we've never seen the need to have this giant collecting site, have we? (Or have we? Maybe we have?!)

Anyway, I'm still pondering this. :-)
Well I, personally, have been craving something multi-fandom better than ff.net for YEARS. I just don't have the fandom cred to throw it out there and have anyone notice. :)

Honestly, though, I prefer large archives for my browsing and reading. There are simply very few good ones out there, so if I get a craving to read a Lost fic (which I don't normally read) I end up googling and then sorting through hundreds of crappy links.
A wonderful idea! :D
I can't help it, I have to pimp Ficwad just a little bit. Whatever you can think to write, Ficwad will gladly take it - shows, RPF, movies, books, original fiction, all genres, all ratings, virtually everything. It is add-supported (at least I think so), but Adblock takes care of that nicely. I'm always trying to get a few more people to join up there, because in my opinion it's a true alternative to ff.net and a good place to archive ALL your fic.

Personally, I don't think an archive relying on donations will work smoothly. Either you bring in the movie to run a website like that or you have to look for other means. But from what I've heard, getting people to donate is a pretty tough thing.

I'm with you on the tagging - it's the one thing I like about Fanlib (*gasp*). AFAIK no other archive offers that feature so far.
I quite like FicWad too, but its mods appear to be largely absent nowadays - or at least they don't seem to add new fandom categories anymore, and haven't for some time.
A couple quick thoughts off the top of my head (without having made it through all the comments already.)

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.

Running on donations only--it's a great ideal, but sadly it rarely seems to work out in the long run. You'll get a handful of people who will happily contribute, and a heck of a lot of freeloaders (plus people who may like to contribute but have no easy way to, or claim as much). I have some dim memory of that being the case with fandomination, for instance, when it first launched. Server demands could start to get really hefty as the site grows. The *quality* level of hosting you might want to avoid downtime and service issues may require better-than-bargain hosting prices as well. There might eventually come a time where a certain small fee would have to be charged to users to keep things running efficiently, or else the entire financial burden is going to end up falling on a small group of folks.

Whether it's legal or not, some folks may still prefer being able to limit their exposure of their fic vs. having it completely open and "out there" on a huge public archve, for whatever personal reasons. One thing I like about posting at the Rockfic archive, for instance, is that it *is* viewable to members only and my stories *won't* show up on google search. And it's not because I believe rpf is illegal, but I just don't want to have it come up too easily to those not looking specifically for it, or have it become an issue I'd have to deal with general music fans about who wouldn't "get" the idea of bandfiction. Just the same as, say, writers of other more debatable types of fanfiction may feel (incest, or heck, slash in general to a lot of people, still.) Would there be some way to provide search-engine blocking for those who wish it? (Such as lj provides?)
I thought Rockfic sounded interesting, then realized it required payment and had to go away as quickly as possible. I'm poor. I'm poor enough I wouldn't be able to feed myself if my darling didn't loan me money (which I will pay back some day, damnit!). Also, I doubt I would have any means of actually paying the fees in question, as I don't own any credit cards. It's too bad really, since I really would have liked to check that one out and I know those two free days wouldn't be nearly enough for anything :/
I find myself wondering if some of these ideas could be turned into lj tools, in some way, since so many people have gravitated to the lj model. If people are thinking about writing code for some of these desired functions, would it be inconceivable that LJ itself would consider adding those options to its site-- and its many fanfic writing/reading paying members?

(It doesn't speak so much to a rebuttal of fanlib, in that way, admittedly.)
I read the main body of the post and thought it was interesting, read the behind-the-cut text and found it fascinating, and finally read through the comments and was absolutely hooked. This is a dream that could become real, become brilliant, and I would love to see that happen.

At the moment, I can think of one feature that I personally am attracted to, and that is authors' recs. I willingly admit that the approval of an author I like will induce me to read many things I would not otherwise have tried, often with happy results. An ideal system would combine FFN's system of making the recs page accessible through the author's main writing page with del.ici.ous's ability to simultaneously see statistics about how many times something's been recced, what tags it falls under, &c. (However, as someone who is mainly a consumer and not a producer, I can't say at all how popular this would be with writers themselves. It's a possibility, is all.)

The fact that a number of commenters to this post have large amounts of social capital and/or extensive skills in programming, organizing, or simple logical thinking gives me hope. As a thoroughly random person with no special skills or connections, I promise to follow any progress avidly and contribute in any way I can.
An ideal system would combine FFN's system of making the recs page accessible through the author's main writing page with del.ici.ous's ability to simultaneously see statistics about how many times something's been recced, what tags it falls under, &c. (However, as someone who is mainly a consumer and not a producer, I can't say at all how popular this would be with writers themselves. It's a possibility, is all.)

Again, this is the sort of thing the RockFic archive has been doing wonderfully for some time already. Stories there can receive comments/feedback as well as "recommended" hits and simple "read" counts (people clicking a button to say they read a story through to the end, whether or not they had any feedback to give on it.) Also readers can make stories "favorites" and have their favorite lists (authors as well as individual stories) available for every member to view. There are "Top 50/Top 25" lists for specific fandoms and story types (het/slash) based on a weighting of hits/recs/favorites/etc.

Any new archive I'd consider wanting to contibute to, I'd probably want to see at least some of these same features included as it's so useful as both a reader and an author to have handy.
I'd like to be able to see chaptered stories as a whole as well as by chapter - and to see if stories are sequels to other stories.

The latest version of eFiction actually has that capability, and I love it to pieces. :-)
Just in case it would be of use to anyone other than me, I've collected links to a number of good threads in this discussion in a post over in my journal. I'm going to try to keep up with the discussion here and update that post to contain links to ongoing threads that crop up.

I think the amount of positive energy behind this is just wonderful. I like the idea of an aggregator site to launch with, possibly growing into more of an archive of its own.
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