OTW Guest Post: Snowflake Challenge

Every month the OTW hosts guest posts on our OTW News accounts to provide an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom. These posts express each individual’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. Today several of the mods for the snowflake_challenge talk about work on the community.

Seleneheart/Raederle is both a science nerd who thinks physics is the best science, and a lover of fairy tales and the wild woods. Her childhood was shaped by JRR Tolkien, Patricia McKillip, and Ursula Le Guin, and their stories inform the adult she is today. Turps has been online for a very long time now, and has participated in many fandoms in that time, the main ones being The Sentinel, Voyager, Mutant X, popslash and then bandom. Right now Turps is enjoying The Musketeers and the winterhawk side of MCU while waiting to be hit with the next big thing. Spikedluv has been in fandom since 2001 when she discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These days she can’t remember what the term ‘mono-fannish’ means and has a deep love for small fandoms and moderating communities. Tjs_whatnot has been writing fanfic for about 20 years (yikes!). Their first decade was devoted mostly to HP, but then she discovered Yuletide and their tiny fandom heart swelled.

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

S/R: I had a friend in junior high who somehow got her hands on Star Wars zines, so that was probably my first experience with fanworks. For me personally, I didn’t come across fanworks until the internet took off in the 90s. I used to be on the official Buffy the Vampire Slayer forums (was it on UPN back then? I think so). I ran across someone linking to their fanfic, clicked the link, and here we are. But I would say the mere act of posting to the forum was building fandom, as we commented and speculated about the show. Anyway, that led me to Fanfiction.net and to the myriad individual sites that existed back in those days.

Turps: That was back in the days of dial up and the endless waits for connection. I didn’t even have a computer at home at the time so used to visit the library where I could surf online via hour long booked slots. At the time I’d fallen for a show called Poltergeist the Legacy, and one day decided to look it up. While doing that I found a site about the show, and that site had a section called fanfic. Now, I had no idea what fanfic actually was, but clicked anyway, and was amazed to find stories about the show I loved — and that was the start of it all.

An addition to that story. That site was hosted on an Angelfire site and had an embedded werewolf howl that would play each time you loaded the page. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast to find the mute button the first time that howl rang out in the library.

Spikedluv: I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer in syndication on FX during November 2001. I thought the show was fun and witty, but I fell in love with Spike when he appeared. (As you might’ve guessed from my user name. *g*) I went to the computer to find out more about Spike and discovered that there were a whole lot of people talking about BtVS and Spike and that some were even writing fanfic! My entire world changed that day.

TJ: A real- life friend introduced me to LJ and my life was changed forever.

How did the idea to continue Snowflake Challenge come about when the original mods departed?

S/R: Snowflake has seen a gradual turnover of mods, with ‘old’ mods passing the baton to the ‘newer’ mods, who then become the old mods. Therefore, the Snowflake Challenge has been running continuously since 2012, when it was confined to akamine-chan’s personal journal. We’ve had a great intersection of previous mods who know the traditions and new mods with fresh ideas or new approaches to the Challenge.

Turps: I wasn’t around as a mod at that time, but as someone who was friendslist friends with the original mods, and had done the Snowflake challenge since the very start, I was thrilled to see people step forward to take over.

Spikedluv: I had only been participating in Snowflake for a couple of rounds when this happened and at that point I couldn’t imagine starting the new year off without it. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to keep the challenge running. And thankfully, a bunch of the existing mods, as well as some new ones, came on board as well. This is definitely a group effort.

I don’t think there was ever a consideration in those first few years that we wouldn’t continue after the original mods stepped down. Thankfully we had enough of us still willing, and especially someone who had the knowledge, skill and time to keep us organized (Spikedluv <3)

Participation in the Challenge seems to be growing. What about it do you think appeals to people?

S/R: First of all, we emphasize that it is a LOW PRESSURE challenge! People can do as many or as few challenges as they like, and there’s no deadline to get it done. We sometimes get challenge fills months after January, and we’re just as happy to see those as any others.

Secondly, we mods have made a concerted effort to make Snowflake Challenge as inclusive and accessible as possible. Things like making sure we have alt text on all graphics, and respecting people’s identity and presentation. We live and breathe the saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” If we can’t make a pleasant comment on someone’s post, we call for help from other mods.

Next, the mods always reflect on the challenge at the end, trying to identify what worked and what didn’t, what we could do better. Over the years, we adjusted several things about the challenge, most notably posting challenges every other day instead of every day. That gives both the mods and the participants some breathing room. This is only one example of how we continuously work to make the challenge run more smoothly and appeal to more people.

And finally, I think the timing of it is very important – at the turn of the year, when people are both taking stock of their previous year, and looking forward to the next. For many people, it is helpful for letting go of things in the past, and planning their goals for the future. A liminal space where they are safe to transition from one year to the next wrapped in their love of fandom.

Turps: I think it starts the year on a positive note. The challenges allow you to think about the things that make you happy, mostly of a fannish nature, but also personal. I also think the casual nature of the challenge helps the appeal, too. Participation is never noted down and it’s always stressed that people can do all, a few or none of the challenges if none appeal.

It’s also more than fine to respond to challenges at any time — I won’t say late as no challenge responses are ever considered late for Snowflake. For example, I was responding to comments on challenges I’d posted months later last year.

So, it’s a very free and easy challenge that allows you to easily interact with fellow fans at a time that’s, for many, a low energy time of year.

Spikedluv: I can only speak for myself, as a kind-of-fandom-old who misses the early days of LiveJournal when there was so much activity and connection and community around fandom. This is what I said in my ‘meet the mods’ blurb: The best thing about this challenge is that it reminds me of all the great things about fandom. The feeling of community. The comments and feedback. The squee that comes with discovering new fandoms and new fic and new friends. And while Snowflake only lasts for one month, these are things we can take with us into the rest of the year. As I’ve said previously, Snowflake has taught me that I need to be the change I want to see in fandom and gets me pumped up to go forth and be a more active participant.

Maybe other people feel that way, too?

Tjs_whatnot: It’s a renewal, a time to reflect and be optimistic about what we can accomplish. I love seeing new faces as well as the people who keep coming back, keep getting things from it.

What hurdles do the mods find particularly difficult when prepping for or running each year’s challenge?

S/R: One of the bigger issues is how the participants will interpret a particular challenge, often running off in ways we didn’t anticipate or intend, leaving us looking at each other in bafflement and saying, “Wow, that took a turn.” We have to be careful that we leave the wording of a particular challenge open enough that people can interpret it in a variety of ways, but specific enough that people know what we are asking them. We don’t want anyone saying, “I don’t understand this challenge.”

Over the years, we’ve found a few of the challenges are just not fixable. For instance, the Wishlist Challenge – we got far too much “I wish people would stop sucking” type responses. We eventually left it off the list. These decisions are the result of the reflection we do after each challenge winds up.

For the 2021 challenge in particular, we were concerned about where our participants were emotionally. We had a world-wide pandemic, with people in various levels of lockdown, some perhaps who had gotten sick or had loved ones who had been ill. We had an extremely divisive US presidential election and turmoil in many other countries. We knew that everyone in the world had experienced some level of trauma in the past year. We needed Snowflake to be a safe place where everyone could find comfort. We also had previous mods who didn’t have the spoons to deal with Snowflake. Thus, we tried to make that year’s challenge as low pressure as possible.

We try to have a good mix of old favorite challenges with new ones. With the new ones, we have to make sure they are accessible to anyone in any circumstance. For instance, last year we introduced a pictorial scavenger hunt. I was writing the challenge as someone who lives in a house in a major North American city in the Northern Hemisphere. I had to be sure that someone who was in none of those spaces could participate equally. For that reason, it is important that we have volunteers with a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds to help us understand areas where we are limiting participation.

Turps: Getting the balance right between the long-time fans and the newbies. There will always be someone who has done a certain challenge multiple times over the years and may grumble a bit when they see it again. But at the same time, there’s always new joiners who have never done them before. So a balance needs to be struck.

The wording of the challenges has to be so careful too. I never realised that until I became a mod myself and saw what happened behind the scenes. We never want to offend or issue challenges that are unclear. It’s why I like that the other mods are always around to discuss challenge wording, and what works or doesn’t.

Spikedluv: Having enough mods volunteering to comment to all the participants without anyone getting burnt out, and coming up with some unique challenges to include with some old favorites.

Tjs_whatnot: Finding enough people to help mod to make it successful. The More the Merrier might be a cliche, but it’s absolutely true in Snowflake. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but it’s even easier to get so much from it if you have enough people to keep the load light.

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

S/R: I’m a fandom-sort-of-old who was on Livejournal when Strikethrough happened, and witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by familiar and much-loved fandom spaces disappearing overnight. I was in the Stargate Atlantis fandom and saw posts that Astolat (and others who I can’t recall at the moment) were talking about creating a space where things couldn’t be lost, where we would have lawyers and servers, and preservation projects. I got my Archive of Our Own account as soon as I could get an invite code. That was in 2009. My user ID there has only 4 digits, which should tell you how quickly I got my account.

Over the years, I’ve seen OTW expand from creating AO3 to working on preserving fanworks from other sites as the web transitioned from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and lots of those sites were in danger of being lost forever. The Fanlore wiki is another important project for preserving our heritage as fans. OTW is in my regular rotation of charitable giving, because both lawyers and servers are expensive, but absolutely necessary.

Turps: My main interaction with OTW is AO3. I’ve been a member there and have posted and read fic there, for a long time. I do know about other things such as Open Doors, but AO3 is the one I’ll always think about first when someone mentions OTW.

Spikedluv: I’ve known that the OTW existed almost as long as I’ve known about AO3, and in general I feel like their role is, in part, to be the barrier between fanfic writers and cease and desist orders. But I haven’t ever really delved further into their role.

Tjs_whatnot: I feel like I’ve been on OTW from its inception. I think its role is to give support to creators of fanworks and legitimacy in the real world.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

S/R: I would say that every fanfic I read or fanart I view inspires me. I gasp at an amazing turn of phrase or smile at some heart-warming scene that ‘fixes’ a mistake in canon. Every single fan I’ve ever interacted with has taught me something new, given me a different perspective on an issue, or motivated me to create my own fanworks.

Turps: I hope these are classed as fandom things, but LiveJournal, and then Dreamwidth, simply because they’re the places where I interact with my fannish friends. There’s nothing as fantastic as the fannish energy that can be generated via a talk with a fellow fan, and I treasure every person I’ve met on those platforms.

Spikedluv: I was inspired by Snowflake before it became something I was partially responsible for. But I’m also inspired by people who run communities that help people/groups, such as fandomtrumpshate, people who fill gift baskets in various exchanges, and people who find time for fandom even though they’ve got a lot of other things on their plate.

Tjs_whatnot: Community. A sense of belonging and understanding with like minds.

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