Celebrating 40,000 Fandoms on the AO3

The Tag Wrangling Committee is pleased to announce that we have reached the milestone of 40,000 fandoms on Archive of Our Own!

Over the years, we’ve reached several fandom milestones:

  • 5,000 fandoms around New Year’s Day 2010
  • 10,000 fandoms in September 2012
  • 15,000 fandoms in April 2014
  • 20,000 fandoms in December 2015
  • 25,000 fandoms in June 2017
  • 30,000 fandoms in October 2018
  • 35,000 fandoms in December 2019

This time, we’ve chosen to celebrate with this post, which explains more about the ways that our Tag Wranglers organize the tags that make AO3 easy to navigate even as it grows. We’ve also included some tips to help you tag your own works in ways that will benefit both you and the other people using the AO3 filters.

What is a Fandom, anyway?

We’re glad you asked! In regards to tagging on AO3, a fandom is defined as the source media where your characters, relationships or other concepts originate. For example, you may be in a fandom for the pairing Hán Wénqīng/Yè Xiū, but wranglers would consider this part of the 全职高手 – 蝴蝶蓝 | Quánzhí Gāoshôu – Húdié Lán fandom, since that’s where those two characters originally come from.

Fandoms on AO3 include things you might expect like television shows, books, podcasts, video games, movies and bands, but thanks to our wonderfully creative users, we also have fandoms for things like commercials, anthropomorphism, tabletop games, amusement park rides and plenty more.

Sharing 40,000 Fandoms with over 2.5 Million People

Even though there is tremendous variety in the types of fandoms on the Archive, all these fandoms have a surprising number of things in common when it comes to the names of characters, events and concepts. On AO3, characters, events and concepts are all represented with tags! With such a large community of fans and more joining us daily, we felt that this was a good time to explain what this growth means as we work to make all these fandoms easier for users to navigate.

Tags on AO3 are shared. On their own, they don’t have any context or relationship to any other tag. For example, if you enter the tag Chester in the character field, tag wranglers may not be able add it to the filters for Chester the Dog (Stranger Things) or Chester Campbell, even if they determine that’s who you mean. There’s only one “Chester” tag, no matter how many times it’s used or the number of works it’s used on. Any user could tag their work with Chester when they mean Chester the Dog, but they might end up sharing that tag with another user who has already used the Chester tag to refer to Chester Campbell.

Tag Wranglers cannot separate works using the exact same tag—that’s the main reason why wranglers try to make filterable (or ‘canonical’) tags as specific as possible. Unambiguous, fandom-specific canonical tags help everyone find works about the fandoms, characters, relationships and additional concepts they want in the filters where they expect to see them.

If you discover your work is listed in a different filter than what you expect, you can try editing the tag on your work to be clearer. For example, Penny Parker is a character on the TV show MacGyver, and also a common fan name for female Peter Parker (better known as Spider-Man). Tagging your work about female Peter Parker with just “Penny Parker” in the character field will land it in the filters for the MacGyver character, because Tag Wranglers can’t separate uses of plain “Penny Parker” for the MacGyver character from uses for female Peter Parker. Not ideal for MacGyver fans or fans of female Peter Parker!

To make sure your work about female Peter Parker ends up in Peter Parker’s filters, where other Spider-Man fans can enjoy it, consider using a modified character tag like “Penny Parker (girl!Peter)” instead. You could also add a Female Peter Parker tag to the additional tags on your work to help other users find it.

If it’s your first time posting with a tag, why not check out what other works are in its filter? You might discover that another fandom has a different meaning for a tag from a fandom you know and love.

How To Make the Most of Tagging

In 2019, Tag Wranglers collectively wrangled approximately 2.7 million tags. Tag Wranglers work very hard to connect your tags and help make your works findable so other users can enjoy them as much as you enjoyed creating them.

To that end, we have a few tips and tricks that may help wranglers get your works or bookmarks into the filters where you want them to appear. (Please don’t comment on works to ask other users to do this – this is for your own works only!)

Enter your tags in the correct tag categories when posting your works. That is, fandom names go in the Fandoms field, relationships listed in the Relationships field, and character names in the Characters field. For anything that doesn’t fit well into those categories, use Additional Tags.

Add minor roles in the Additional Tags field. If a fandom, character, or relationship is only a passing reference in your work, you can put that in the “Additional Tags”. This includes tags like Ru Pauls drag race references, Yagi Toshinori Is Mentioned, and Small Mention of Flynn/Yuri.That way, other users know your work isn’t primarily about Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Yagi Toshinori or Yuri Lowell/Flynn Scifo (which they might think if you put these tags in the fandom, character, or relationship fields instead).

Ensure your tags are correctly separated. When you enter a number of tags, they can be separated by commas or you can use “Enter” on your keyboard. Since commas separate tags in the database, you won’t be able to create a tag that has a comma in it (it will be split into two tags at the comma instead). (Please note: Chinese and Japanese commas may not work as separators.)

Ensure each tag contains just one concept (one fandom, one character, one relationship, one trope, etc.)

Ensure tags can stand alone (that is, no additional context is required to understand what the tag refers to). Try using the full name for characters in your works, and if they don’t have a surname, consider adding the fandom name to distinguish them from any other characters with the same given name, like this: Undyne (Undertale).

Use the Additional Tags field to include any themes, genres, tropes, squicks, triggers etc. that you think a user might want to know when deciding whether to access your work or not.

Spell-check and double-check your tags before posting.

For tips on tagging Real Person Fiction (RPF) and platonic or non-romantic relationships, check out the advice on our last celebration post or consult the Tags FAQ.

Please note that these tagging suggestions aren’t meant to deter you from tagging creatively for various topics! Tag Wranglers love clever tags, and sometimes we can even canonize the concepts. Erik Lehnsherr’s Terrible Fashion Sense is just one of many enjoyable tags that makes us giggle.

If you have any questions about wrangling, please consult the Tags FAQ. If that doesn’t answer your question, the FAQ also explains how to contact Tag Wranglers directly.

Please don’t leave comments on this post with questions or requests about specific tags. They won’t be answered, since Tag Wranglers can’t easily track requests from here. Instead, please use the options listed above to contact us. Thanks!

Announcement, Archive of Our Own
  1. Lemonsharks commented:

    I have two questions the AO3 and OTW bureaucracy have not been transparent about in the past.

    1) How many people have authority to canonize fandom tags and why aren’t there more of them?

    2) Why is head yuletide mod hhertzof permitted to pause the canonization of new fandom tags in the run-up to yuletide?

    • Jess H commented:

      Thanks for your message! I’m part of the Comms committee but the below reply comes directly from the Tag Wrangling chairs.

      Regarding your first question, there are currently 19 wranglers trained to canonise fandoms, with 2 more in training and 2 others on hiatus. Training volunteers to canonise Fandoms takes much longer than other wrangling training, due to the complexity of the task. Wranglers must have several months of experience as a trained wrangler for other types of ‘mass wrangling’ (that is, helping wrangle large amounts of tags that aren’t specific to a single fandom in other categories, such as characters and relationships tags) before they can begin their training to canonise fandoms. We’re very careful with fandom tag training, as these are the tags that affect users of the site the most and can cause significant problems if they are not canonized in clear and unambiguous ways or are duplicated. Since tags on Chinese works make up the vast majority of unwrangled fandom tags at this time, we have also developed a team of native Chinese speakers as research assistants for fandom tags in Chinese.

      Right now, it’s our busy season for new fandoms (on top of this year being extra busy for wranglers overall), but we’re usually able to canonise new English language fandoms within 1 month of a brand new fandom tag being used. We’ve canonised over 5000 new fandom tags this year, which is more than any previous year. Overall, the wrangling team wrangled approximately 350,000 tags in the month of September and 380,000 in October. (These numbers are available in the OTW newsletter posts each month, for the previous month.)

      Regarding your second question, there is no policy of not canonising tags due to their use in any exchanges, Yuletide included. Delays in fandom canonisation are usually caused by needing translation of the tag or the notes of the work it’s used on, or by the tag being used on an unrevealed work (either in draft or unrevealed in an exchange). Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect!