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 Nary, who volunteers as a Support staffer and Tag Wrangler.
How does what you do as a volunteer fit into what the OTW does?
I volunteer as part of the AO3 Support team, which means that I handle questions that come in about the site and how it works, requests for new features, and problems when something is broken or not working the expected way.
The Support team works closely with many other committees — Tag Wrangling when there’s a problem with a tag; AD&T when there are issues with the site’s performance, when bugs are found and fixed, and when new features are being developed; Abuse when addressing issues that fall under the Archive’s Terms of Service; Documentation in order to help clarify the wording of the FAQs or other instructions on the site; Testing when we are trying to duplicate an issue a user is reporting; and Translation to handle requests for support that use languages apart from those spoken by members of the Support team.
I’m currently the liaison to the Tag Wrangling committee, which is handy because I’m also a tag wrangler, so I was already familiar with how the Tag Wrangling system works. Being the liaison means that I contact wranglers if a question comes in about a tag in one of their assigned fandoms, and relay their answer back to the user. If it’s a question about a No Fandom tag, or a tag in a fandom that doesn’t currently have a wrangler, I bring the question to the staff of the Tag Wrangling committee so that one of them can look into it.
What is a typical week like for you as a volunteer?
I answer a lot of questions via email! We receive support tickets through our tracking system, our volunteers claim them, draft an answer, get the answer beta-read by another Support staffer, and if everything looks good, send it off. We try to do this as quickly as we can, although if it requires consultation with another committee or testing a problem to see if we can duplicate it, it can take longer. And sometimes we just get a large number of requests in a short period of time, and it takes longer to work through them all!
We have templates for answering common questions that we can make use of, which helps things go more quickly, but even then we try to make sure we’re tailoring the reply to the user’s exact problem. For instance, if someone asks about how to filter out particular tags from their search results, we will try to use the specific tags they asked about in our example, if possible.
So pretty much every day I answer a number of support requests, and beta other people’s answers to try and catch any typos or mistakes before the answer is sent. I’d estimate I spend an average of 2 hours a day on Support, although some days I do less and some more. I fit in a bit of tag wrangling around that when I have a chance. I’ve had to scale back how much I can do there, and limit myself mostly to fairly small fandoms that don’t get a lot of new tags every day!
I tend to keep the OTW’s internal chat service open most of the time, so that I can receive any urgent messages or find out about developments as they happen. We’ve also been training some new volunteers for Support lately (yay!) so I try to be available to answer questions for them as they come up.
The Support Committee created a graph showing the number of requests they’ve gotten since 2011. It looks like the 500 per month benchmark lasted a long time but was left in the dust last year. Were you around to see this change?
I’ve been volunteering for Support for a little over two years, so I did see the increase happening, although it didn’t feel that dramatic to me, because I hadn’t seen how things worked when we had a much lower volume of requests.
As requests were increasing, several of our Support staffers became Board members, so we were faced with more support requests, with fewer volunteers available to answer them. We have had to find ways to deal with the increase, as a committee, while still trying to provide the same level of service to our users. The increase in requests for help reflects the growth of the Archive as a whole, and I’m glad that people are finding us and making use of the service we provide. I also believe that part of the increase is because when users find Support helpful, they’re more likely to come to us again with any future questions or problems, which is great!
One big help has been moving to our new ticket tracking system, which has streamlined the process a lot. It makes it quite a bit faster to go through the process of draft -> beta -> send, and we don’t need to manually paste in answers from users if they reply to us, because it will thread any replies within the same ticket.
Another solution, of course, has been working to recruit and train more volunteers, which is a great help in keeping on top of the workload!
What’s the most fun thing for you about volunteering?
By volunteering for Support, I’ve definitely learned things about how to use the Archive that I wasn’t aware of before, even though I’d been a user of the site since 2009. For instance, I’ve become a lot more familiar with the searching and filtering options that are available, like how to exclude certain tags or make my searches more precise. Picking up new tips and tricks is always fun!
It’s always especially satisfying when we can help someone with a tricky problem, too. I’m sure we’ve all had frustrating moments trying to get a website or piece of software to behave, and when you can get an answer from a real live human being that solves your problem, that’s a great feeling. I’m happy to be able to provide that help to users.
What fannish things do you like to do?
I write fanfic, although I find that these days, when there are so many other demands on my time, I do best when I’m writing for an exchange — having a deadline helps to motivate me, as does knowing that someone is counting on me to finish my story. So I participate in a handful of exchanges every year — Yuletide and Jukebox for sure, and then a few others as time permits or interest strikes me. In 2016 so far I’ve participated in the Chocolate Box exchange and Smut Swap, for instance, and I’m planning to sign up for the Seeing Color exchange as well. I write in a wide variety of mostly-small fandoms, so multifandom exchanges are my favourite kind.
I’m also trying my hand at running an exchange on AO3 for the first time, called Three Worlds Travelers, for the Books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells. It’s fairly small, but I’m very excited about it, because in any small fandom, new fic is always a cause for celebration! I had some experience running exchanges in the Song of Ice and Fire fandom years ago, but those were all run through LiveJournal, so it’s been interesting to see first-hand all the features that AO3 offers to make the task simpler than it used to be. I’m sure it will make me more comfortable with answering the questions that we receive about collections and exchanges, too!
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.
(If you have an AO3 support request though, please use the Support form, as that makes things easier on our volunteers!)