OTW Signal, October 2021

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

Many fans are familiar with the OTW project Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), which released the first of its 36 issues 13 years ago on September 15, 2008. TWC is an international, peer-reviewed journal which publishes academic articles about transformative works, media studies, and fan communities. Their issues have included studies about fanfiction, fan videos, film, TV, anime, comic books, fandom groups, video games, and machinima.

But the OTW itself has sometimes been the focus of academic work. Many of these have focused on AO3, either studying fandom while analyzing its content or looking at what its structure and function says about fandom and technology.

One recent publication which is freely accessible uses AO3 as one of three case studies and focuses on our use of human tag wranglers to create organization on the site.

The third form of curated folksonomy, from Archive of our Own (AO3),falls in-between the examples of LibraryThing and StackOverflow. As with LibraryThing, the tagged objects are primarily textual works and the curated folksonomy actions do not change user-chosen variants, only equate terms in retrieval. As with StackOverflow, the primary activity of the site is outward-facing—authors to readers—and the nominal purpose of tagging and the curated folksonomy is to increase the visibility of user-generated content to relevant readers. Of the three, AO3 is arguably the most selective with regards to which users participate in curated folksonomy design; whereas LibraryThing allows all users to nominate and vote, and StackOverflow allows established users to nominate and vote, AO3 has a small (~200) team of volunteers who complete a recruitment and training process before receiving access and permissions to the curated folksonomy interface. Volunteers do not nominate and vote on decisions within the curated folksonomy, rather, each volunteer is responsible for a section of the site and makes the changes to the folksonomy with substantial autonomy.

Fan studies are not only important for academic purposes but also to clarify public perception of what fanworks are — and what they aren’t. For example, last month attention briefly rested on an online work featuring public figures, which was quickly dubbed “fanfiction” and later “fan art.” But as people researching fans quickly pointed out, these terms were inaccurate.

“Sergent says the most popular RPfic is not generally about civil servants and journalists, but about boy bands and emo bands. “The motivation that someone might have to read fanfic about [insert emo band] here, and the guitarist and the lead singer having hot, passionate sex backstage, is completely different to the motivation to read Blooming Desire.”

She sums up Blooming Desire, not unkindly, as “stunt writing”. “It’s a silly little piece of art that people get excited about because it’s people that we know, and it’s an art form that an unfamiliar audience feels comfortable laughing at.””

OTW Tips

If you not only read news about fandom but would like to know what news the OTW puts out about itself, here are some things to check out. AO3’s news blog can be searched by tags: just click on the Tags dropdown list under the “AO3 News” heading. It can also be searched by language! And for all OTW news, visit our Pinboard account where our news tags can be browsed both alphabetically and by how frequently they’ve been used.

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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