International Outreach: Behind the Scenes

The International Outreach (IO) committee is a relatively young committee, founded at the beginning of the 2010 term. In a previous Spotlight post, we highlighted the basics of our work, but in light of the recent server names discussion, which directly addressed issues of diversity and representation, we wanted to take the opportunity to give people a few more details about what we do.

What do we believe?

We believe in the OTW’s potential to be useful to a wide range of fannish communities, not only the one it originated from. This potential is one of the myriad motivations that inspire people to volunteer for the OTW; among them volunteers who are neither media fans, women, nor native speakers of English. By contributing their skills, experience, and opinions, they’re already making the OTW’s services more accessible to more diverse users, giving substance to the OTW’s mission statement of “value[ing] infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” IO was founded to help focus these behind-the-scenes endeavours, working to help other committees address issues from within.

Who are we serving?

We specialize in a very specific type of outreach: international outreach. We understand ourselves as a lobby both for current minority users and future users. The OTW’s projects should serve fans of different languages and/or fannish cultures: Malaysian fans documenting their fannish history on Fanlore, Israeli authors uploading fic in Hebrew, French fans looking for information on vidding, or fans from any other tradition, whether they are part of the community that the OTW originally emerged from or not.

What have we achieved so far?

We’re not particularly visible, because we haven’t done any active “outreach” campaigns yet. We’re first looking at the organization and its products internally and are acting in an advisory function for other committees, because we believe there’s not much use in promoting the AO3 to non-English language fans if we don’t have a translatable archive interface yet, or pointing people to our website when it implicitly assumes a US-American readership.

To give you an idea what projects we’ve been working on throughout our first year, here are a couple that have evolved quite far:

* we’ve been systematically discussing and rewriting website material
* we’ve been contributing to the OTW blog with more international news
* we have coordinated translations of blog posts and archive release notes, among other translation projects
* we’ve been meeting with Archive coders in order to discuss a host of issues, from language browsing to fic translation functionalities — this was a big chunk of our work (more on the Archive’s language functionality will be forthcoming in a separate blog post!)

Where do you come in?

If you’re using one of the OTW’s projects, chances are that you’ve run into an issue that isn’t covered in any Known Issues list, or that you aren’t sure how to address. And we know that sometimes, even if you make the effort to give constructive feedback, you’re not sure how it will be handled and whether it will have an impact at all.

One of our reasons for writing this report is that we want to present IO as one of the venues inside the OTW that you can turn to with feedback, even (or especially) critical feedback: the committee was founded specifically to amplify and support concerns related to international accessibility. We are aware that we need to improve how we process user feedback (the Support committee and coders are developing a new solution for the AO3), but we also want to make sure you know that feedback is very welcome.

Our scenarios can only go so far in reflecting actual usage, and our collective experience can’t always prevent biases or oversights. This is why feedback from our users and volunteers is so valuable. Please take this post as an invitation to contribute your experience: while we are looking for committee members, one-time advice is just as valuable. Drop us an e-mail (or, if it’s about Archive functionality, a support request). Your input helps us move forward.

Signed, the International Outreach committee

Electra (USA), hele (Argentina), Helka (Finland), Ivy (USA), Julia (Germany), Natacha (France), Rodo (Germany)

  1. Tel commented:

    in my opinion, the biggest current barrier isn’t the lack of a translatable interface, it’s the lack of a reasonable, obvious way to sort for foreign language fic. Yes, there’s the languages list, but to get there you have to go to the very bottom of the home page to click on the FAQ, then scroll to the bottom of the page again to click on the languages & translation subheader, then scroll midway down a text-heavy page in English to click on the languages list, then click on your language, and then you get faced with a small random selection of recent works. To get to a -sortable version- from there you have to click on the “# works” link, and even then it’s every fandom jumbled together, the fandom sort is hidden behind a closed dropdown and all the labels you’re sorting by are in English.

    I mean, there’s a reason English-speaking people don’t get pointed to when they’re trying to find fic.

    Meanwhile, if you go looking for your fandom in the nice English user interface, which most newcomers would be doing rather than going five layers deep into the FAQ, there’s no way to sort by language. This is a problem that cuts both ways. Theoretically, if all the Russian fic in my fandom got ported over to AO3, it’d be hundreds of fic and up to 40% of all fic in that fandom. That’d be more than enough to make it difficult for English-speaking readers to find what they were looking for because they can’t sort either.

    • hele commented:

      Indeed, that’s also a problem! We’ve discussed this with coders, and I’m sure we will be discussing it more in the future, as they’re redesigning the way browsing and searching works in the archive. (In the meantime, I would advice anyone to use advanced search (, which lets you use language as one of the parameters.)

      I’m not sure one could say what’s the biggest problem that non-English users could encounter at the archive, because it would depend on the community, but I know a lot of them wouldn’t be able to use the archive at all without an interface in their language, even for posting. This of course probably varies wildly between languages and countries, depending on the level of English that is imposed in obligatory education (I know that for example Argentina’s level is awful — I doubt anyone from here could just navigate the archive with that alone. Even my mother, who is college educated and mostly handles herself, had issues with it when I made her try a couple of things).