Every month or so the OTW will be doing a Q&A with one of its volunteers about their experiences in the organization. The posts express each volunteer’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. Today’s post is with Sumeria, who volunteers as a staffer in the Tag Wrangling Committee
How does what you do as a volunteer fit into what the OTW does?
As a member of the Tag Wrangling Staff, I help to manage the very large volunteer pool that form the AO3’s Tag Wranglers, but what I do principally is to help sort and categorize the vast inflow of tags the users of the AO3 generate on their fanworks. Tag wrangling is what makes the AO3, in my opinion, the most useful platform on which to search for fanworks that there is. For most platforms, either you are limited to only using those tags that the platform has pre-seeded (which is inflexible, and means that the concepts you can tag for are, of necessity, limited), or there is no way to search for a unified concept at all. A system like, for example, tumblr, allows users to tag for anything they like, any way they like. This is great for avoiding the limiting factor of a pre-seeded tag set, but it means that if one set of users tag for a relationship as “Tony/Steve”, another set as “Steve/Tony” and a third set as “Stark Spangled”, you can only search for one concept at a time. (And I assure you: Marvel fandom has way more names for that relationship than just those three examples.)
Tag wrangling means that tags are seen by a human who is generally familiar with the fandom, and who will know that “Pepperony” in the relationships field is a synonym for Pepper Potts/Tony Stark, and who can thus tell the search index to bring up both sets of results when a user searches for one of them. Conversely, Tag Wranglers are also the ones who notice that Sam Wilson, Marvel Superhero codenamed: Falcon is not actually the same individual as Sam Wilson, MD, best friend of Gregory House, and make sure that the canonical tags for these two gentlemen are disambiguated, so that users have the option to look for works about the specific Sam Wilson they are seeking (EDIT: Whoops! Sam is actually not House’s best friend but the wife of his best friend, James. But don’t worry, House wranglers know the difference!). This not only makes searching maximally useful, but it also enables us to preserve the rich diversity of fandom language and usages, and give users maximum freedom to express themselves in how they identify their works.
What is a typical week like for you as a volunteer?
All tag wranglers assign themselves to a number of fandoms, depending on their own interests, the amount of time they want to commit, and where additional help is needed. When a user creates a new, never-before-used tag, it shows up in what we call the “unwrangled bins” of every wrangler assigned to the fandoms tagged on the work. What wranglers such as myself do is look at those incoming tags, and determine, based on the Wrangling Guidelines, if the tag should be marked as canonical (the form of that concept that will show in the drop down menus and autocompletes), made a synonym of any existing canonical, or left unfilterable as a tag that is too unique as of yet to be useful for filtering. As a general rule, any character who exists in canon, and any relationship that involves at least one canonical character, will be canonized on the first usage. More general concepts (such as “Alternate Universe” or “Angst”) will generally need to be used by multiple users before being canonized. (Obviously, those two particular concepts hit the usage threshold basically as soon as the Archive opened, but you get the gist.)
I myself help to wrangle a healthy chunk of Marvel comics, X-Men movies, and a few smaller anime and manga fandoms, so in any given week I usually spend quite a bit of time looking through the bins at new tags, and figuring out what the proper form of their canonicals should be. Since Marvel, in particular, is a vast sprawling web of fandoms that generates a truly unbelievable number of tags, I also spend some time talking to the other Marvel wranglers, helping to determine if, for example, a new character from Agents of SHIELD is based on an existing comics character or not, or discussing how best to disambiguate the several different Marvel characters named Valeria.
As a Staff Member of the Wrangling team, I also spend time discussing with the rest of the Wrangling Staff responses to communications from other committees; answers to questions that wrangling volunteers bring us about difficult or unusual situations; ways to improve the wrangling guidelines; and other general administrative things. I manage to keep myself pretty busy. ^_^
What made you decide to volunteer?
A combination of things. I consume a great many fanworks in my day to day life, but I don’t really create that many. Tag wrangling is a way that I can feel as though I give something back to the community that has brought me so much joy. Additionally, I’m the type of boring individual who likes sorting and organizing things — being able to spend an hour here or there working on wrangling is soothing. Also, you sometimes find the most delightful tags and/or new fanworks that way.
Also, I got to canonize Magneto’s Terrible Fashion Sense, which made me grin for most of a day.
What’s the most fun thing to you about volunteering for the OTW?
Spending time chatting with the rest of the tag wranglers while we sort through our various bins is actually kind of a delight; someone is guaranteed to have discovered some new thing that I personally would never have imagined anyone tagging for pretty much every day. I’m usually a lurker by nature on the internet, but wrangling is a surprisingly good social outlet. I’ve met a number of amazing people while wrangling.
What fannish things do you like to do?
I read a truly astonishing amount of fanfic, and then I bookmark and obsessively tag my favorites on my Pinboard page, because that is the kind of person I am. In retrospect, the fact that I ended up a tag wrangler may have been somewhat predictable.
I do fanart a lot more than I write, though. I’m currently embroiled on a project of trying to do portraits of the entire cast of the Silmarillion which is…ambitious of me, perhaps, but what is life without flinging yourself into ridiculous projects, right?
Now that our volunteer’s said five things about what they do, it’s your turn to ask one more thing! Feel free to ask about their work in comments. Or if you’d like, you can check out earlier Five Things posts.