Candidate manifestos

Our remaining chat with our new Board members, Andrea Horbinski, Eylul Dogruel and Franzeska Dickson is coming up. The meetings are open to all of our members and to the public. It will be held in the OTW public chatroom.

Transcripts of the candidate chat will be made available on the elections website shortly following the event, and both members and candidates are encouraged to comment on them. Each chat will be with two of the new Board members, which is actually more realistic for board meetings anyway, now that we’re spread more equally around the world. The transcript of the second chat is now available.

The date and time of the chat is Sat 6th Oct 1500 UTC with Andrea & Eylul (What time is that where I live?)

The candidates’ personal bios and manifestos are now available on the OTW Elections website, and comments on this post are welcome, or you can send in questions via the Elections Officer.

Franzeska
Eylul
Andrea

13 thoughts on “Candidate manifestos

  1. 1. How willing are you to listen to critique of the board from outside sources, including anonymous sources like the fail_fandomanon? I’m a gentlefailer who’s felt increasingly disenfranchised by the leadership here and the overall culture of the OTW. This is an organization I want to support, both in spirit and in dollars, but so far I haven’t been able to work up enough trust to open my wallet. I’ve seen a lot of my frustrations voiced eloquently, if angrily, by other gentlefailers, and I know that the unofficialotwnews tumblr keeps track of our discussions.

    2. Are you willing to support the fast-track creation of a message board for OTW users to discuss the organization in an official capacity, so that users can discuss areas of the OTW without having to resort to writing meta on LJ/DW or venting our spleens on f_fa?

    3. What’s your position on the issue of tags in the AO3 and many users’ (imo justified) frustration with the scalability and sensibility of the current “anything goes” philosophy and associated tag wrangling? Are you willing to reconsider the tag philosophy espoused by the AO3? I know Franzeska’s opinion on the subject, but I’m interested in hearing those of Eylul and Andrea.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. 1. I’m definitely willing to listen to critique of the Board and of the OTW from outside sources, including anonymous sources like f_fa – as a veteran of the Google Plus Names debacle, I’m well aware that anonymity doesn’t automatically mean anything in terms of comment content. That said (and I’m not very up on the distinction apparently meant by “gentlefailer,” sorry!), although I have perused the anon memes fairly regularly in the past I’ve found my tolerance for jumping in sight unseen to be much lower lately, so I’ve been relying on friends to give me the highlights. In the past, I’ve seen outside critics and f_fa make a lot of good points, including many that I agree with. The difficulty of course is going from agreement to action, and I can only speak for myself here, but one of the things that I suspect people on the outside don’t realize is that those of us inside the organization can only say so much in public about things that aren’t ready to be publicly announced yet, and there’s only so much unofficial criticism that we can take official notice of. It’s the nature of the beast in that the OTW is a non-profit organization, and we have to abide by certain standards and practices for non-profit organizations including confidentiality. So, I can understand why people might be feeling frustrated, at least about some things, and I definitely think we can probably do more to communicate, but I can’t give you an objective opinion about whether you should trust us, unfortunately.

      2. I definitely support the creation of an OTW message board or forum, although I don’t know how feasible it is to “fast-track” it – I know the current Board has been looking at that very question, and I don’t think they are going out of their way to be slow about it! Definitely, I know the current and the 2013 Board will be continuing to work on this.

      3. I’m not sure which “tag frustration” camp you’re referring to – there are at least two schools of dissatisfaction that I’m aware of. I’ve seen a lot of griping in some corners about the rise of so-called “Tumblr-style” tags on the AO3, and I have to say that the essential philosophy of tag wrangling, which is basically that wranglers follow the users rather than trying to impose rules on them, is a feature and not a bug as far as I’m concerned. I do know that people have been wanting more information as to what guidelines Tag Wrangling sets and how they’re implemented, and that Tag Wrangling is working on providing that, which I think is definitely a good thing. Having been a wrangler myself, I do have concerns about the scalability of the current system, particularly as the AO3 acquires more users and more fandoms, but I’m not sure to what extent scalability requires rethinking the tag philosophy – the tag architecture is pretty deeply bound up with the architecture of the Archive itself, and I also think that the AO3 striking a middle road between restrictive rules and total user tagging freedom makes a lot of sense: the “Our Own” in the name isn’t just AO3 staffers, but all users. All that having been said, should there ever come a day when Board hears a proposal to reconsider all of this, I would of course give it a fair hearing.

    2. 1) About listening to criticism, I try to read as much as I can (although I am sure there is a lot I miss outside LJ and DW, and even within it, so I don’t even claim that I am aware of all discussions that is going on out there). I do however happen to read FFA. It is a good place to figure out what (a subset) of fandom is thinking about OTW as well as other topics. I have in past participated to OTW related and non OTW related discussions as an anon although I consider myself mostly a lurker. 🙂 So yes I am happy to listen and think on what is said.

      2) I do want to see the message board happen sooner rather than later. It is an initiative I supported from very early on.

      Unlike an unofficial venue we have to be careful to use software that fits our requirements for our projects (For example many forum software candidates were eliminated due to accessibility reasons such as using tables, hard-coded fonts and colors, etc). Right now wiki is trying to roll out forums for the Fanlore project. This will be also a way to test the Vanilla Forums which is currently chosen as a candidate software to use for the organization. The idea is to try it out in a smaller scale first, rather than roll out the whole OTW wide forums at once and have to deal with problems such as downtime and data porting during an urgent transition later.

      To make things a bit more exciting, we are dealing with completion of a lot of internal work that is limiting what we can accomplish. For example, the Volunteer Committee is in the middle of a much needed process of updating and streamlining volunteer intake and training processes. Unfortunately this means that we are currently in a hiring freeze. With our already existing burnout problem and no intake to balance it, for a lot of OTW projects, volunteer time is a scarce resource right now. Adding to that that a lot of committees are working hard also on fixing and improving their own processes and documentations which is again badly needed, but means less time to spare on other types of work.

      I just don’t want people to think that it is an administrative decision or somebody in particular at fault that is keeping forums from happening. We just have a lot of emergencies at the moment (some of which was aired during last elections), and changes and work toward fixing them means a slowdown or complete pause in outward facing projects. There is discussion however to figure out how to minimize that in projects such as this.

      3)I know there are concerns about the tags. Where the scaling issues the archive is having are concerned, the existence of non-canonical tags (versus say the complete number of tags and filtering with them, and versus even bigger challenges such as multimedia hosting) is a relatively minor issue. Also, to cater to a wider audience (whether it is to cater to users coming from existing setups that we know well such as tumblr, or to allow organically for the AO3 to adjust to different communities that begin to use the archive as it grows) the slight overhead is worth the flexibility. Even if that wasn’t the case however, I don’t think that cutting corners at diversity first time facing a difficulty is the right approach to build a successful and inclusive space, especially when the problems faced are perfectly solvable. I do think that on this topic, the decision to stick with current system was the right choice.

    3. 1. FFA is great. I read it regularly and follow the OTW discussion there with interest. I’m an optimistic person, so I’m not so much in the ~~~~~~\o/~~~~~~ camp, but good points have been raised there. (But I’ve been having computer issues this weekend, so I’ve missed most of the recent reactions to Board stuff as well as being late replying here. Let us know if there are threads we need to see.)

      I will say that I have a reasonably high tolerance for grudgewank, even when it’s about me, but reading that day in day out is psychologically damaging to anyone and makes anyone less productive. (Hostile environment. Issues with over-application of the tone argument. Yadda yadda. Though I doubt gentlefailers need any lectures from me on that score.) A lot of OTW staff have trouble finding the good stuff on ffa because the hostility–whether obnoxious lie-spreading and screaming or well-spoken, understandably pissed off critique–is just too much to handle. This isn’t some “Leave Britney alone” nonsense, but I do want people to understand that a lot of us just can’t keep up with ffa directly. I’m glad to see people submitting URLs of threads to Support. I hope that will continue whether or not there is a better central non-anon discussion forum for OTW. Unofficialotwnews has a lot of promise, but whoever’s maintaining it will presumably get busy and go on hiatus again in the future. I already follow it, of course, but I’m not counting on it to be comprehensive (or on myself to keep up with my dashboard).

      If you don’t feel comfortable giving us money or volunteering right now, come back in a few years and see if we’re doing better. It’s my intention to insure that we are, and we’ll happily accept your support then. If we’re not, it would have been money badly spent anyway; the world is full of other causes and organizations.

      2. I like the idea of a forum. I haven’t always (so you may find public statements from me elsewhere to the contrary), but I think it would be a great thing at this point in OTW’s development. However, I agree with those gentlefailers who pointed out that an official space is always more stifling than an unofficial one. I doubt even a well-run OTW forum will prevent the anonymous venting of spleen. Nor should it.

      3. (For others reading these comments, I’ll make that explicit: I view the current ‘anything goes’ philosophy as a cornerstone of what AO3 is. I think the issues with tags are actually issues with searching, filtering, and browsing and that they require a different type of solution.)

  2. And AO3 question: What are your thoughts on meta being on the archive?

    A more general question: it seems to me that so many OTW projects are essentially on their own, Fanlore in particular. Would you say that’s the case (I imagine you’d all have more access to information than I do)? What would you do to foster more collaboration between OTWs big projects?

    More general still: What are your thoughts on the handful of unofficial OTW places that have sprung up lately?

    1. Meta:
      I think that if people wish to submit meta to the archive, it should be allowed. I am not sure if the current archive is the best place for some types of meta such as essays or memes at the moment (personally, I think that that type of fan activity suits better to blogging where works are more visible as a dialogue rather than individual static content that sits on their own within a category) but I don’t think that that alone should be a reason to prevent the fans who do want to use AO3 to post their fannish content from doing so. For other types of meta including non-text based meta that has already limited hosting alternatives or for meta that directly relates to the works on archive (DVD commentary for fics, etc) AO3 will be a good alternative when we can begin hosting media based content.

      I know that there are disagreement on several points for this. First is that there are readers who don’t want to see meta mixed in with fiction, especially in large numbers. Frankly through this issue is not that different than the issue of readers who don’t want to see fanart or vidding etc mixed with fanfic within the archive. A lot of such concerns can be addressed through the whole media type design that I know is in the works for the archive. The second concern is that this will become a resource issue for us. Hosting of fan art and vidding which we plan is a much larger scalability challenge than hosting text-based meta. I mentioned my opinion on media based meta above. There is of course the question of if allowing meta in short term could result in an explosion of works from existing members of the archive. I think that while yes it is a risk, performance is something we need to prioritize regardless and we have taken similar risks that challenged our performance before to open the archive to fan projects and works. In the end I think the question that the board should decide is if taking this risk is worth it in case of meta or not.

      Projects and collaboration:
      I wouldn’t say they are completely on their own. However there is definitely a resource inequality. I have written about this in the manifesto and answered a similar question in the last chat (for which the transcript will go out soon) so I will summarize here real quick. I think one of the problems hindering severely other projects is that most of the technical volunteer management (design, coding and QA to be specific) structure of the organization is right now fused with AO3 project management. This results in other projects either not getting the attention they need or the technical volunteers they hire separately as a solution not having the same support and training. Also, in some cases, it is another committee such as Systems who steps up to help, which means volunteer hours away from also crucial work that committee has to perform. I did write several weeks ago a possible solution to this structural problem. So in short I don’t think it is a lack of collaboration but a more serious case of committee structure that we outgrew that could use some reorganization.

      Unofficial OTW places:
      I think they are awesome (I have been following the unofficial tumblr. I just discovered the forum yesterday). It is great that there are people out there passionate enough to not only comment on OTW but also take their time to build their own communities and platforms around it. I do hope that we will eventually be able to pull at least some of the people behind such initiatives to work on official OTW projects because we can always use more energetic volunteers and staffers. 🙂 I do however think that while we should and will improve our communication and transparency, there will always be a place for discussions and platforms emerging outside the org. I do agree with Andrea’s opinion from the last chat that OTW will never be the everything for everyone in fandom (even through I argue that we can be more for more people compared to where we are now).

    2. Although I personally would never consider posting the sort of non-fiction analysis/essays that people are calling “meta” in this discussion to the Archive, as I’ve said elsewhere on this page, my general view is that the Archive should follow the users rather than trying to dictate to them, so that if people want to post meta on the Archive, they should probably be formally allowed to post meta on the Archive. Inasmuch as it can be considered another type of fan work, in fact, it’s hard for me to think of a good argument against, although again, speaking personally, it’s just not something I would ever think to do – I really enjoy Twitter and Dreamwidth for those sorts of analytical discussions, not to mention conventions. But, that’s just me, and I’m definitely not the sum total of all Archive users past, present, and future. I do think that the meta discussion has sapped a lot of the Board’s valuable, and scarce, time and energy this year, so I hope that this can be concluded soon, one way or another. I also think the entire discussion has highlighted the need for the bruited “media type design” for the Archive to be implemented ASAP, and inasmuch as meta would be another (presumably small) type within that framework, I doubt it would present much of an additional technical challenge beyond that of the overarching design.

      I don’t think that many or even most of the OTW projects are completely on their own, but I do think – as I think I talked about in the last candidate chat – that there are some pretty severe differentials in terms of resources and also information across projects. Eylul has talked a bit about this from the technical perspective, and I said some more in the chat, but I do think that many projects would benefit from more sustained attention, both internally and externally. I think the first step to solving any problem is recognizing that it exists, of course, and I think the changes to the Board liaison system this year have done some good in terms of repairing the damages. Obviously, there’s a lot of ground to make up, from multiple angles, one of which is making sure that information flows freely and transparently through the Org itself. People have asked good questions about that in chat and I don’t have a simple glib answer. Like all of our larger structural problems, this is going to require multiple changes to solve, but I do think that a good step in the right direction is establishing where up to date information about each project can be found, and sticking to that over time.

      I am, in general, a fan of the unofficial OTW places – I follow the tumblr, and though I’ve not checked out the new unofficial forum, I certainly don’t think it shouldn’t exist. One thing from an internal perspective is that it can be hard to take official notice of opinions that are voiced in unofficial fora, however, which is why I definitely think some kind of OTW forum or message board needs to be implemented so that people can voice those criticisms in an official OTW space and we can officially notice and respond to them. Another thing is that I wish, from a selfish organizational perspective, that we could get some of the people who put so much energy into those unofficial spaces to come put their energy and commitment to work for the actual Org itself, but obviously that’s a decision people make for themselves and if they feel more effective on an unofficial basis, then that’s the way it is. And let me just reiterate that I’ve said that the OTW can’t and shouldn’t be all things to every single person in all of fandom globally, not that I don’t think we can and should be more for more people than we are now. 🙂

    3. I’m for meta on AO3. The last time I analyzed the works tagged ‘meta’ (about 6 months ago), I saw a lot of hard-to-classify works, a lot of fic with meta themes, and a few dozen meta essays and blog post-like nonfiction works. Of the nonfiction, three or four essays in popular fandoms were drawing a lot of attention. Unless the numbers and the rate of new meta works have changed dramatically relative to the rate of new accounts and total new works, I see no reason not to allow meta.

      Behind the scenes, we do need to make sure all of our projects have the technical support they need, but most OTW committees already collaborate or are related to more than one project. On the user end, why should a fan who enjoys wiki editing be the same person who wants to post to a fanworks archive? There’s overlap, but these are different hobbies that may appeal to different people. I’d rather we focus on improving Fanlore’s outreach outside of current AO3 users or OTW supporters.

      Unofficial forums are normal. It’s good people are talking about OTW; it means they have an opinion.

  3. Fanlore is a fascinating project, but currently suffers from a lot of inaccurate and outdated information, pages clearly made by people with no knowledge of the topic and (understandably imo) a skewing of presentation of meta-type articles towards Western Media fandom. I see that there are hopes for increasing the outreach and name recognition of this project and hopefully bring greater accuracy and more viewpoints to the spread, but how exactly does OTW plan to go about it?

    What do think of the allegedly high volunteer burnout rate in OTW, at all levels of the organization? Is this a tangible problem? If so, how do plan to tackle it?

    And lastly, one of the problems that seem to have been plaguing the OTW board is low attendance of board members. What are your thoughts on this situation, possible solutions or affects to the Org and the productivity of the board?

    1. Fanlore:
      Tough question for a person who generally uses wikis as a reader rather than contributor.

      1) Observing how successful wiki communities elsewhere tackled this and to see what we do different. I don’t defend just blindly adapting any solution we find but sometimes you do find a solution that fits, and no need to reinvent the wheel. Also, sometimes there is no solution, but it turns out it is an endemic: in that case at least you can already know what has been tried and why it failed. I do think that OTW can do more looking around rather than trying to find a creative answer on our own to each question, and I don’t think that should be limited to software development or management problems.

      2) I think a lot of biased articles and inaccuracies really has to do with lack of numbers of editors rather than a policy (although if people feel this is not the case feel free to say it here). The staff managing also is short on numbers. All of this is really affecting the project. I am hoping that the more org-wide approach to diversity and volunteer retention will benefit the committee. Beyond that sometimes mainstream visibility helps. Wiki is actually in a decent shape in search engine visibility but still could benefit from being linked more? How to do so? Well I am open to ideas there.

      I think that the wiki will grow through a cycle of better content and more users, rather than one preceding the other, and I think that generally it is one of the org projects that didn’t get a lot of thought focused at it, and that is one change that can happen to begin producing solutions to this problem.

      Burnout:
      Tangible problem in most parts of the org. I did mention already that a lot of the problems the org faces has to do with underlying imbalances, inefficiencies and bottlenecks within the structure of how committees are set. I think volunteer burnout is in part due to this issue. If your committee is waiting for 3 months in fullstop for another committee to finish work so that they can continue working (hypothetical example but similar situations did and does happen) you will loose volunteers. Similarly if you cannot efficiently get the right volunteer in right place, that volunteer will feel useless and leave eventually. On the opposite side of the coin, if a volunteer perceives that the only way they can meaningfully contribute to the org is through spending more time than it is reasonable and available to them, it will affect their willingness to stay with the projects. I do have a proposal up on technical volunteer management and processes that ties to this topic. However, I think similar type of critical reviewing of our structure can be expanded to other aspects of volunteer management in the org: and this is a topic that has already been discussed on in and outside the org for more than a year.

      Another aspect of this problem is management issues. The “management as a reward” assumption within the org and lack of training has been already mentioned several times. OTW this doesn’t only result in burnout of volunteers who are “managed” but also affects the managers themselves. I am happy that there is work being done on this already and that progress is being made.

      Board Attendance:
      This question was actually brought to us during the last chat (for which the transcript should be out soon. I am copy pasting my answer to here):

      I know there was a solution in part to make the meetings rotate to accommodate more timezones. Beyond that however, I think defining an attendance minimum that is reasonable and holding board members accountable for it is part of the solution. I think the big issue as Jenny mentioned in her second post on the topic was not that the board members was missing the meetings but that the asynchronous conversation over emails and tasks such as being a liaison was also suffering. The solution I think, again, is to set up expectations, to make these expectations clear to incoming members, and then, hold board members accountable in it. I do also think that there are things that can be done to gradually lower the time expectation from board members which is frankly huge.

      Board currently has to do a lot of mentoring and decision making that again is appropriate for a newly founded small non-profit, and not appropriate for our current scale. The whole issue of building new structures that is suited to a larger and more mature org ties to this too. (I think the board has been discussing this and beginning to work on solutions over past year)

    2. I’m not sure what the wiki committee’s plans are. On a personal level, I do try to be an advocate for Fanlore at fannish gatherings I go to and as I’m socializing online. I think it’s helpful to get groups of people to work on certain topics together as an organized project: wiki editing works much better when there are more people bouncing ideas off of each other.

      When I’ve felt burnt out in past OTW duties, it has usually been because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or whom to ask for help. As a Board member, I want to work on making the org structure clearer and setting clearer goals for different areas. Having a clear sense of when you’ve made progress and what to do if there are problems will alleviate many of our burnout issues. Promoting a culture where it’s okay to say “no” to work you don’t have time for and to set realistic boundaries will also help. Avoiding burnout isn’t just about retaining volunteers: it’s also about having ex-volunteers who recommend the experience and who will come back when they have more free time.

      We need to improve our attendance. I have seen criticism that the OTW Board meets with unusual frequency and that this may be part of the cause of bad attendance numbers. It’s a fair point, but I’ll have to see board work from the inside before I can form a strong opinion.

  4. Thanks for your answers all. But your answers have given me even more to think about, and I have a few follow up questions regarding meta, if that’s okay?

    1) I think it’s great that the OTW wants to follow its users. But currently there also seems to be a vocal contingent of users who don’t want “meta” on the archive. In such a scenario, specially given the current lack of channels of adequate communication between the org and the users, as acknowledged by y’all, how does the org plan to make the decision of what it is that more of the users want?

    2) In case of meta, would the OTW choose to have some guidelines on content – aka what makes or doesn’t make a piece of writing, a piece of meta as opposed to say, a diary entry more suited to a personal blog?

    1. 1. Frankly, I don’t think it’s appropriate to decide an issue like that on sheer numbers. We did not take a numerical vote when we decided to allow sexually explicit stories, underage sexuality, RPF, slash, or anything else that some people may find controversial. If meta takes significant resources away from another project or priority, of course we’ll have to weigh the benefit of being inclusive against whatever we’re giving up in order to support meta. In reality, I think we’re looking at a small number of users who are into meta and who will be strongly affected by our decision (so their needs/views are important here) and a large number of users who will be almost totally unaffected by whether meta is allowed (so their needs/views are _not_ important here). The needs of that majority will be best addressed by AO3 having a fanwork type field.

      2. Possibly. Meta is tricky to define, and AO3’s policies tend towards letting the fanwork creator define what counts as a fanwork. I am not in favor of trying to define meta too narrowly, but it would be better to allow some meta than to allow none, and guidelines would be helpful with that.

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