TWC Editor Karen Hellekson Talks About Research Ethics on fandomresearch.org

Karen Hellekson, co-editor of Transformative Works and Cultures, has a guest post on Fandom Research, a new blog which aims to be “a clearing-house for surveys, questionnaires, theses, dissertations, and other research pertinent to the active field of fandom studies.” Karen’s post is called, “Fandom research methods,” and deals not only with academic standards like those of university or college institutional review boards (IRB) or The Association of Internet Researchers but also about fannish community standards for personal privacy: when its appropriate to quote, whether a LiveJournal or blog post is “public” or not, etc. Aca-fans and other fandom researchers and fanthropologists should check out both the post and this site.

New Feature! Archive news post #1 – The basics

Hello from AD&T!

Since the OTW began, we’ve been working away busily on creating the Archive of Our Own, buoyed up by tons of support from fandom. Now that we’ve been working on it a while, we know that people have questions. So from now on we’ll be running a twice-monthly news post specifically about the Archive, answering some frequently asked questions. We’ll answer a handful of questions each post, to keep it manageable for us and you.

Please leave your questions about the Archive in comments and we’ll answer them in upcoming posts. (This is a space for more general questions – if you have specific comments about the design or usability of the Archive please send feedback on the Archive site itself (so it goes into our bugfix and design process).

Your questions and answers for this session:

What is the Archive of Our Own?

(Most people reading will know this already, but just as a refresher before we start.)
The Archive of Our Own offers a noncommercial and nonprofit central hosting place for fanfiction and (long-term) other transformative fanworks: i.e. it is free to use and does not make any money. It is multifannish, and built on open-source archiving software designed and built by and for fans. It will be hosted on servers owned by the OTW, and therefore not vulnerable to a commercial hosting company deciding they don’t like our stuff.

Sounds great! Why can’t I create an account?

We’re currently in closed beta and account creation is strictly limited. This is because we’re still busy working on the core software for the Archive and acquiring the hardware which will host it. While we’re in closed beta, everything about the Archive will change rapidly and things may break. We need to keep user numbers extremely low so our servers don’t crash and we’re not overwhelmed by feedback on the many bugs that still exist.

You can enjoy a lot of the features of the Archive without an account – please come and enjoy some of the stories already posted. We currently have over 4500 stories in 480 fandoms, so there’s plenty to choose from! You can leave comments on fics without an account, and if you supply a valid email address you’ll be notified when there’s a reply.

We are adding new users very gradually, drawing from our pool of people who leave feedback about the experience of using the Archive. So, if you’re really keen to get an account, leaving feedback about the Archive site there (not here!) is a good way to start.

I’m really keen to see the Archive come out of closed beta – why is it taking so long?

There are a few reasons why we’ve been in closed beta for what might feel a relatively long time:

  • We don’t own the servers yet! Buying and setting up colocated servers which can handle the kind of traffic we anticipate takes time and money. Our current server setup can only take a very small number of users. However, we’re happy to report that our latest membership drive raised the money we needed to do this, and we’re now almost through all the work required to turn the dream into a reality – more news on this very soon! \0/
  • We have a small team working on the project. The OTW is entirely volunteer-run, which means that everyone involved has other major commitments which prevent them from working constantly on building the archive (although some of our coders pretty much are working constantly, because they are amazingly dedicated!) This is a big difference between us and commercial sites, who can pay full-time staff.
  • The Archive is custom-built. We wanted it to meet the needs of fandom as it is now and as it might develop, so rather than just copying the features of existing archives (for example, the Automated Archive software built by our own Naomi Novik) we started with a list of dream features and tried to design from scratch. We think this will make a better archive in the long run.
  • We want the archive to serve all fans. We’re working hard to make it as accessible as possible to all users, and to provide an infrastructure which can support multiple languages. This is a massive undertaking, so it takes time to get it right.

How can I help things move faster?

  • You can volunteer to join our teams! We always need more people to help work on the archive, not just as coders (although we would love to have more coders) but also to work on testing, documentation, translation, and so on. You can read more about volunteering to work on the archive at How you can help. If you’re interested in helping, but you’re not sure what you would do, then let us know your strengths and we’ll figure out which team would be the best fit for you. If you want to code but have no experience, then don’t be put off – we welcome beginner coders and are keen to offer training and support.
  • You can become a member or donate. The more secure our finances are, the easier it is for us to support our servers.
  • You can test the archive informally (i.e. without joining our official team of testers) by reading fic and trying out the other features, then leaving your feedback. This means we will pick up bugs quicker and will build the archive how you want it! (This also increases the chance of you getting a beta account, as we draw our beta users from the pool of those who have left feedback.)

When will you start open beta and how will I be able to get an account?

We can’t make any firm promises for this yet, because we still have a few important things to complete (although now we know we can buy our servers, it’s definitely on the horizon \0/). We’re tentatively looking at moving to open beta at the end of the summer (northern hemisphere!) Accounts will still be invitation-only at that point, so our servers don’t get swamped, and we’re working on a plan for making sure that invitations are available to as wide a range of the fannish community as possible. So, watch this space! (And if you have thoughts on how you’d like to see invitations work, then feel free to share them with us.)

We hope this post answers a few of your questions! Please leave other questions and comments here. We won’t be answering comments on this post directly – we’ll put your comments into our pool of things to answer in future posts.

Roundup for Vidders

A few items of interest to vidders:

1) As many vidders have noted, iMeem is no longer supporting embeds, and YouTube continues its policy of random takedowns. (Remember that you can dispute a takedown if you believe your vid is a fair use!) A lot of vidders are therefore looking at other streaming services. Markus Weiland did a good comparison of the terms of service of many of the competing sites (including Blip, Dailymotion, Kyte, Vimeo, and others) in his article Owned? Legal terms of video hosting services compared. Worth a look if you’re thinking about a new home for your vids.

2) This may possibly make fan vidders squinty-eyed: Swanswan caught that a male artist is exhibiting something that looks a heck of a lot like a fanvid at the Glucksman Contemporary Art gallery at the University of Cork. Swanswan aptly summarizes the issue: “I don’t know whether to forward this on to the OTW and say look! Other people making vids and calling it art, awesome!! Or look! Some random dude does what we’ve been doing for decades and all of a sudden it’s art?” Hey, it’s totally art! And it was art when we did it 30 years ago, and it’s art when we do it now! (And I’ll bet we do it better!)

3) You might be interested in the upcoming Open Video Conference, June 19-20 in New York City. This conference plans to tackle a range of issues surrounding online video — from codecs to content, to fair use, and beyond. “Open Video” is a growing movement for transparency, interoperability, and further decentralization in online video, which encourages and invites remix, collage, and repurposing (including vidding.) Featured speakers include: NYU’s Clay Shirky, Harvard’s Yochai Benkler, Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin, DVD Jon, Free Press’ Josh Silver, EFF’s Corynne McSherry, and many more. (OTW’s Francesca Coppa and political remix vidder Jonathan McIntosh are scheduled to present some work there too.) For the full agenda, go to: http://openvideoconference.org/agenda/. Register at http://openvideoconference.org/registration/.