OTW Signal, April 2023

Every month in OTW Signal we’ll take a look at stories that connect to the OTW’s mission and projects, including legal, technology, academic, fannish history, and preservation issues that are important for fandom, fan culture or transformative works.

In the News

In a news story about how Darth Vader was originally discussed and written in fanzine fanfiction, many of the resources came from Fanlore.

As zines thrived, shared through mailing lists and conventions, many of them imagined the moment itself. Reviews of one such story published in the zine Pegasus in October 1978 have been saved by the fan wiki Fanlore. Characteristically of the fandom at the time, some were enthusiastic that it portrayed him as totally evil — “[it] makes hating Vader all the more fun,” says a now-anonymous review saved by Fanlore.

Star Wars is far from the only fandom which changed over time as more and more canon was released, shifting the understanding of characters and the story as a whole. However many fandoms are missing entirely from Fanlore’s pages. Do you know about discussions and changes in fandoms you’re involved with? Share those memories and link those resources on Fanlore!

Another news article addressed the issue of how fandom has changed, and not necessarily for the better, as a result of how new online platforms and their algorithms work.

Hollie, a moderator for the 329,000-member group r/fanfiction on Reddit, tells me how she’s seen things change over the 15 years she’s been involved with fandom. “Fandom has become more clustered into a smaller number of spaces, rather than being able to easily separate into different groups. [So] people with very different interests and takes overlap,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, there were ‘sporking’ (mocking fics) sites back in the day, as well as bullying and ship wars, but for the most part, people complained in their own groups about how terrible their rival ship was or how gross they found certain kinks or whatever. They didn’t usually go to the creators/shippers’ social media and fics to complain at them.”

As mentioned in the article, “AO3 is one of the few remaining places on the internet where you alone are responsible for curating the content you consume” and “AO3 isn’t social media. It’s simply a space that hosts an enormous collection of works. It’s basically a library on your phone.”

OTW Tips

AO3’s lack of an algorithm means that users are expected to use site features to discover their own content. The fields in the posting form are there to help contributors remember to include information viewers want to know, as well as to help creators organize their works.

However, in order for that to function creators need to be more specific when posting. As AO3 is global, with readers in many timezones, there isn’t really an optimal post time. Furthermore, overloading a post with tags is more likely to overwhelm or confuse potential viewers than encourage them to read it. So utilize tags that describe the main aspects of your story, artwork or other fanwork since that is what visitors will be looking for. The author’s notes field is also there to help explain things that tags don’t make clear.

Remember that person-to-person recommendations work more slowly, so readership will grow over time. It also likely won’t peak until a work is completed, since some people don’t want to take a chance on an unfinished work. On the plus side, content posted a long time ago remains just as relevant on AO3 as something posted in the past week – so if you read something that was posted a while ago, it’s not weird or awkward if you leave a comment! In fact, most writers would be thrilled to find people still enjoyed their work.

We want your suggestions! If you know of an essay, video, article, podcast, or news story you think we should know about, send us a link. We are looking for content in all languages! Submitting a link doesn’t guarantee that it will be included in an OTW post, and inclusion of a link doesn’t mean that it is endorsed by the OTW.

OTW Signal

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