Introducing the Category Change Workgroup!

Hello, this is Sole G., the Category Change workgroup lead, and I’d like to introduce the workgroup, talk a little about our goals, and ask for some initial feedback from all of you as fellow fans and users of AO3.

The Category Change workgroup was created to address a long-standing debate, both internally and externally – that is, whether or not the current Fandom Categories in the Archive are the best possible browsing solution. Our goal is to take a look at the current categories and how they work and see what other options we can come up with that might be more effective at representing different fannish traditions, aiding fandom browsing, and reflecting the diversity of the Archive.

While we are taking previously held discussions into account, we are analyzing the issue from scratch and trying to find new perspectives. We are looking at the Fandom Categories framework and analyzing it from every possible perspective – even considering whether or not they are necessary at all or how the browsing experience can be changed to better reflect the needs of our users.

The most heatedly contested categories are ‘Anime & Manga’ and ‘Cartoons & Comics & Graphic Novels’. To begin with, this division strikes some fans as artificial, since they are all either forms of animation or different traditions of comics under geographically- or culturally-determined names. Naming those two categories explicitly also implicitly leaves out other traditions, such as manhwa, manhua, bande dessinée and historieta. In addition, the inclusion of all different East Asian comic traditions under ‘Anime & Manga’ is inaccurate, as well as culturally insensitive.

Concerns about ‘Music & Bands’ and ‘Celebrities and Real People’ have also been raised, again citing the artificial division and the confusing categorization of albums and bands side-by-side. Other issues that have been brought up are, for example, multimedia fandoms, audio-based sources, folklore and mythology fic, etc.

We’re looking for a solution that balances complex, sometimes competing, factors such as diverse fannish traditions, user behavior (current and potential), and ease of browsing.

Since this is a task that involves the purview of several different committees, a workgroup consisting of members of all involved committees has been formed. These committees are:

  • Accessibility, Design & Technology (AD&T), due to the certain possibility of changes in the AO3 code being required, and the potential impact on design, user experience and archive browsing.
  • Internationalization & Outreach (I&O), since one of the issues with the current Media Categories is related to the different boundaries between media categories international fandoms have.
  • Tag Wrangling (TW), because tag wranglers are in charge of categorizing fandoms, and any changes will have direct impact on tag wranglers’ procedure and workload.
  • Support, since any change in the categories will involve responding to users’ concerns.

This workgroup was developed by I&O and then backed by all of the involved committees. Each committee then chose their own representatives from among their interested staff members. While several of the Category Change staffers are also tag wranglers, a tag wrangler volunteer was recruited as well in order to directly represent the interests of that volunteer pool.

One of our top priorities is to maintain a healthy, fluid communication with the Archive of Our Own userbase, so we want to start gathering feedback as soon as possible. If you have any opinions, feedback, suggestions, knowledge or ideas, you can either leave a comment on this post or you can contact us through the Category Change contact form. We don’t see the emails used when you post guest comments, and you can request that any feedback that you send through the contact form be archived anonymously in OTW workspaces so that your name and contact information are only visible to members of the workgroup and not to all staff and volunteers.

We are particularly interested in answers to these questions:

1. Do you currently use the Media Categories in order to browse the Archive? If yes, then how do you do it? For example, are you generally looking for a specific fandom or do you browse the different pages to see what fandoms are listed on the site or to find new ones? What are your usual routines? If you want to find a specific fandom on the archive for the first time, how do you do that? How do you find fandoms by more casual browsing? Don’t be afraid to be as specific and detailed as you want; details and step-by-step descriptions are really useful to us.

2. What issues have you run into with the current media categories? Are there fandoms that aren’t listed where you might have expected them to be? Are there other problems you’ve noticed with fandoms being either grouped with or separated from one another in a way that’s not ideal?

3. How would you like to see the categories and the media/fandom pages be improved? What’s your vision of a better way to find, browse, and organize fandoms? We’re open to all kinds of ideas, not just different names for the existing categories.

Please feel free to comment and brainstorm, and also to discuss and engage with each other. We’re very interested in hearing what you think, and thanks in advance for your feedback!

Mirrored from an original post on AO3 News. Find related news by viewing our tag cloud.

Announcement, Archive of Our Own
  1. dogpoet commented: I don't envy you the task of taking this on! I have no brilliant solutions, but I do have some user experience with fandoms that bridge several categories. The biggest ones are Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but I have similar issues with Wallander, which is a BBC TV show, but also a Swedish TV show and a series of novels. Different fandoms have different levels of...let's call it precision about verses. This makes a lot of sense in certain cases. For instance, Doyle-verse Sherlock Holmes is very different from BBC-verse. In other cases, it seems sort of annoying. Like, I wrote a Wallander story that was BBC-verse, but drew on novel canon, so I had to give it 3 fandom tags to be sure it would show up if someone looked at Wallander (UK TV) or Wallander-Henning Mankell instead of using the Wallander-all media types category. It's just hard to know where to look in cases like that. Some people might look under Wallander (UK TV), and then miss some stories they'd like to read. I feel like there should be a redirect type of solution, similar to wikipedia. Or a disambiguation page. IDK. Or general headers like Sherlock Holmes with all the verses listed as subcategories so that people know their options. That's all the feedback I have for now. I really love AO3's organisation system in general, and I wish my computer's hard drive could be organised in the same way. I'm certain the AO3 geniuses will come up with an excellent solution. g.
    • Lady Oscar commented: Hi dogpoet, Thank you for your feedback about fandoms that span several media categories and for the kind words about the Archive! We have registered your input and promise to carefully consider all suggestions. As the process continues, we will post more about our progress and request further comments. Best, Lady Oscar AO3 Category Change
  2. Laura JV commented: 3. How would you like to see the categories and the media/fandom pages be improved? What's your vision of a better way to find, browse, and organize fandoms? We're open to all kinds of ideas, not just different names for the existing categories. So -- one way I might think about approaching this, if I were doing it (I used to do IA, back in the day), would be to say that now there are things that have ended up lumped together for cultural reasons (whether it is "these related items come from the same country" or "these related items tend to share fans and may have overlapping canons" or whatever), and then write the items out and do a card sort on them, looking for different ways of categorization. A quick mental version of this ended up with a category breakdown that is much more related to media type -- Animation (Anime, Cartoons, etc), Graphic Arts (Manga, Comics, Graphic Novels, Paintings, etc), Audio (Music, Radio Plays), Real Person (Musicians, Actors, Sports, Artists, etc). There are some obvious problems with this, such as fandoms where you have multiple media types, but on the other hand there's always the "Sherlock Holmes & Related Fandoms" solution to that. Anyway, that's just a quick mental exercise on the category issue; it might be worth giving some fan volunteers some broken-out lists of the at-issue categories (so break apart any multiple-item categories into individual items -- Anime & Manga would have 2 entries in the lists of words) and asking them to sort them & title the categories. Then look at the sorted lists and see what kinds of groupings you have.
    • Lady Oscar commented: Hi Laura JV, Thank you for your suggestions on methods for coming up with logical categories. We appreciate your feedback! Best, Lady Oscar AO3 Category Change
  3. JJR commented: I usually come to AO3 looking for a specific fandom, rather than to browse around among various fandoms. So for me, what I really want is an alphabetical listing and/or a full-featured search function for fandoms. I would like to be able to type in a keyword and get a listing of of all the fandoms that are similar to that keyword. The media tags would still be useful for making sure that you go to the right place, so the search results should include this information. That way, if I were to type in "Sherlock", I could easily see that there are book, TV, and movie fandoms (and probably also RPF--does that exist?). Do people come here to browse around among different fandoms? I suppose in that case the media divisions could be useful, but, it seems to me, minimally so. Maybe there could be some kind of fandom-relatedness graph based on user behavior. Like, users that participate in fandom x are also likely to participated in fandoms y and z. This would help people run into fandoms that are similar to ones that they like. The actual relatedness of fandoms is quite an interesting topic; people jump around among fandoms based on concrete qualities like actors and writers, but I think there's a lot more nebulous ways in which fandoms are similar to each other...sensibility, zeitgeist, I dunno. There might be a way to get at this. I'm not sure if this is within the mandate of AO3, but I'm just trying to think about how browsing among fandoms could work. Thanks for doing such a great job with this site! I can't even express how much I adore it.
    • Emilie K commented: Hi! I'm not on the Category Change committee but Tag Wrangling. When it comes to searching for fandoms, have you tried Tag Search? If you search for canonical "Fandom" tags featuring Sherlock, you get the following list:[name]=sherlock&query[type]=Fandom&query[canonical]=true It's not exactly what you're looking for - it doesn't specify media, and doesn't use keywords but only what is actually in the fandom name, so misses things like "The Great Mouse Detective" - but it's often better at finding specific fandoms than the general works search. And the standard search operators do work with it (so you can search for Sher* and get fandoms with Sherlock and Sherwood and Sherman, etc.) Hope that helps your future fandom finding!
    • amaresu commented: I really like the idea of a fandom-relatedness graph. I'm thinking something along the lines of Amazon's 'Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought' feature. A way to point you at fanworks you might not have noticed before.
      • Lady Oscar commented: Hi amaresu, We’ve registered your support for having some sort of fandom relatedness measure to help find new fandoms. Thank you for your feedback! Best, Lady Oscar AO3 Category Change
    • Lady Oscar commented: Hi JJR, Thank you for your kind words! We appreciate your feedback on how you use the Archive and your suggestions for making it easier for users to find fandoms of interest; we promise to consider all input and keep everyone updated on our progress. Best, Lady Oscar AO3 Category Change
  4. melannen commented: I don't currently browse around the archive using the "media types" option, but I think that's at least partially because the categories as they exist are all too large to be generally useful. If they were narrower or had subcategories or some other way of narrowing it down, I think I might use them. On the other hand, I do use them quite a lot when working with fandom tag sets for multifandom challenges and fests. (probably because they are then small enough to be useful.)
    • Lady Oscar commented: Hi melannen, Thank you for your feedback on how media categories could be more useful to you! We will add your input to our discussion. Best, Lady Oscar AO3 Support
  5. Calanthe commented: I usually go looking for one specific fandom and then I use the Media Categories to find what I'm looking for. But I've found the archives many "all encompassing" fandom tags like "... - All fandoms" or "- ambigious fandom" can be a nuisance when I'm looking for specific "book" or "movie" fandom stuff. Not because these fandom tags exsist, but because people have started tagging directly with them even when their fic is based on a specific canon. Overall I'm pretty okay with the current way things are organized and wouldn't change to much about it. But maybe things like "Hotaru no haka | Grave of the Fireflies (1988)" and "Howl no Ugoku Shiro | Howl's Moving Castle" should appear under both "Anime" and "Movies" as they are both. (I'm not sure that's how it currently works.) The most heatedly contested categories are 'Anime & Manga' and 'Cartoons & Comics & Graphic Novels'. To begin with, this division strikes some fans as artificial, since they are all either forms of animation or different traditions of comics under geographically- or culturally-determined names. Naming those two categories explicitly also implicitly leaves out other traditions, such as manhwa, manhua, bande dessinée and historieta. In addition, the inclusion of all different East Asian comic traditions under 'Anime & Manga' is inaccurate, as well as culturally insensitive. Wow. I think this is seriously overthinking it and totally missing the point of these fandom cantegories. Of course, it's an artifical division, but one that is fandom practice in many places and helps people finding what they are looking for. I would find it pretty much useless to find 'Anime & Manga' and 'Cartoons & Comics & Graphic Novels' become one category without subcategories. Is there a rule how many things can be named in a category name? (Like would "Anime&Manga&Manhwa&manhua" be possible?) You could of course also give them their own small category, as fandom practice seems to treat it as "related to anime/manga, but its own thing". I'm not sure how it would work out if you named the categories "Eastern" against "Western" comics&cartoons - because that is what is more or less implied, but it goes against fandom practice to actually say it like that. (Also I'm not sure it's true that naming a category "comics & graphic novels" actually leaves out any of the European traditions, most languages I know use the word comic pretty inclusive to include their own tradition, too. But, of course, I don't speak every European language and could be wrong.) So I would defintely opt for holding to the fandom traditions here, instead of introducing artificial all-encompassing categories no-one outside the Archive ever subscribed to.
    • Lady Oscar commented: Hi Calanthe, Thank you for your input on the large meta-tags and the categorization of drawn/animated works! We especially appreciate hearing users’ perspectives on this often contentious issue, and we promise to carefully consider all suggestions. In answer to your question about listing multiple elements in a category title, I believe there is a technical limitation that the name, as a tag, cannot exceed 100 characters in length. Within that limit, everything is on the table. Your point that there is ambiguity/overlap in the categories is well taken. I passed your specific comments about the categorization of the animated movies “Howl no Ugoku Shiro | Howl's Moving Castle” and “Hotaru no Haka | Grave of the Fireflies (1988)” on to our Tag Wranglers. Currently, the guidelines are for Japanese animated movies to be categorized in the “Anime & Manga” section. “Hotaru no Haka | Grave of the Fireflies (1988)” has now been moved, and the wrangler in question thanks you for pointing it out. Best, Lady Oscar AO3 Category Change