On Archive of Our Own Mobile Apps

An unofficial Archive of Our Own Android app was recently released to Google Play. As this release has brought the subject back into the spotlight, we wanted to take this opportunity to share the current state of official AO3 app development.

“Have you thought about making an app?” is one of our most frequently asked questions, but in mobile app development, there isn’t actually such a thing as “an” app. Apps need to be built for different mobile platforms — Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile being the top three — and for the many versions of those platforms still in use.

Before we could even start developing an app that would allow you to do anything more than browse unrestricted works, we would need to develop a public API — definitely on our roadmap, but several major releases away. Then, we would need to build different, responsive user interfaces for both phone and tablet. What seems like a small, straightforward project evolves very quickly into something needing many resources, dedicated ones, with diverse skill-sets. While we have said in the past that we’d like to release a mobile AO3 app, the required resources just aren’t available.

The coders who develop the Archive all do so on a volunteer basis, and give as much time as possible to support its growth — but that time is limited, and fully consumed by the work needed to keep the Archive running smoothly. Either the team spends time continuing to improve the Archive, or developing an app — there simply aren’t enough volunteers to support both.

It’s not just the initial development that would be resource-intensive. An app would need to be maintained and continually updated to ensure it keeps working as new versions of each platform are released — not to mention enhancing the app to include new and improved Archive features! And because an app would require long-term maintenance by a dedicated team, it’s not something we can reliably fund with donations.

But coding and testing resources don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what would be needed to support an app! Resources would also be needed from the following teams:

  • Support would need to be staffed, trained, and equipped to help with any technical issues encountered on each platform,
  • Our Documentation team would have to create and continually update support documents for the app, and
  • The Translation team would have to translate and continually update the documentation to make the app accessible to non-English speakers.

Not only would this be more resources than we currently have available, it would also pull team members away from working in support of our roadmap.

Our team’s goal is to keep the Archive available and accessible to as many people as possible. The best way we can do so is by focusing our efforts on building a single, responsive version of the Archive that works (and works well!) on as many devices as possible. We are eternally dedicated to ensuring that this includes devices of all shapes and sizes, and will continue to focus resources on enhancing the site’s mobile responsiveness and usability for all. That means a standalone app just isn’t possible at this point in the Archive’s development.

To close on a security note, if a third-party app or website requests your AO3 login information, please proceed cautiously and be aware that you are providing this information at your own risk. While there are no current security concerns, please be sure to change your password if you believe your account may have been compromised at any time.

Announcement, Archive of Our Own
  1. Lynn Graham commented:

    Really I can see why people would like one, but seriously I don’t understand the constant stream of comments asking about it lately.

    There are plenty of ways to access the archive or transfer the stories to your devices and be notified of updates.

    Please just be happy these guys take the time, to voluntarily create, update and maintain the archive. This is NOT their job.

    I can access and download from my kindle, laptop and iPod when I am out and about if I am in need of a fan fiction fix, and to be honest I am happy with the access. So what if it takes me a few more minutes to access than a dedicated app would take. If I really want to update a story then I will talk the extra time to check. If it’s to fiddly or slow I will wait till I get home.

    The immediacy of the internet thanks to other apps has really lessened peoples patience.

    Everyone needs to remember that this archive is a voluntary non paid labour of love for the people that work on it.

    Can’t people just be happy that they donate their time and keep it up to date and running. That is a big enough job as it is, without asking for add ons. They will get to it, it may take time.

    Patience people, patience.

    P.S. Sorry for the Hamlet ref I couldn’t help myself.

  2. Arrow/esteefee commented:

    I have to wonder what the big gain would be behind having a mobile app versus the mobile version of the website and all the pretty download formats. Just having an icon to click? 🙂 Otherwise, seems to me there are so many other more useful lines of development you guys already seem to be pursuing (the API being one of them).

    Thanks for giving it due consideration though. 😀

  3. a brilliant loser commented:

    As a user who does about 99% of her ao3 reading on some mobile device, i honestly don’t see a benefit to an app when AO3 works beautifully well as a mobile site. And whenever i know I’m going to be without phone access i download a number of fics to read while offline.

    So honestly you guys are doing the right thing, focusing on the site instead of trying to make apps.

  4. textreciprocation commented:

    Honestly, I’ve always been more than happy to access AO3 from the web browser on my phone. It works great. I can read fic, I can check my messages, I can look at my statistics, and I have my shortcuts on the AO3 homepage. I receive email updates from the website which I can also access on my phone. (As a matter of fact, I prefer to use AO3 on my phone, because I’m lazy and I like to be nice and comfy in bed while I read fic.)

    I even went through a period of reading fic on my 3DS while my phone was broken a few years ago. It worked great, even if it wasn’t as good or as easy as using my phone. AO3 works just fine on my kindle is well; it’s a really responsive website.

    I honestly don’t think an app is necessary. I appreciate what you guys do so much as it is; I can’t imagine asking any more of you! I think focusing on the site really and truly is the best thing to do.

    Anyway, yeah! That’s just my two cents. Pfft.