FanFiction.Net vs. Archive of Our Own
FanFiction.Net vs. Archive of Our Own: A Comparison of Two Fanfiction Archives
Fanfiction is a widely popular hobby on the Internet today. Fanfiction has been around for decades, shared in fanzines or passed-around, type-written stories. But since the 1990s, there has been an explosion of fanfiction websites and archives online.
People share their fanfiction stories through online mailing lists, journaling and social media networks like LiveJournal and Tumblr, and archive websites. These archives can be small and focused on specific fandoms, such as Twilight, Star Trek, or Harry Potter, or they can be large and all-encompassing, open to almost any and all kinds of fanfiction.
Two of the largest and most well-known multi-fandom archives today are FanFiction.Net and Archive of Our Own. In this article, I will give a brief history of both as well as a comparison of their features, usability, and criticisms. There are certainly pros and cons to both archives, yet for a fanfiction author who wants to preserve their work and present it to a wider audience, using one—or both—of these archives may be worthwhile.
FanFiction.Net: The Internet's Largest Fanfiction Archive
Founding of FanFiction.Net
FanFiction.Net (FFN) was launched on October 15, 1998, by Los Angeles computer programmer Xing Li. Xing Li was not himself heavily involved in fandom but hosted the site on a server connected to his place of employment, where it was considered a test of the server's functionality.
FanFiction.Net quickly rose in popularity, being one of the few archives at the time open to just about any kind of fandom, not just a single specific universe, anime, or TV series. Originally, the archive was open to anyone over the age of 18 who wished to register for an account and allowed any storing rating from general audiences ("G") to explicit adult ("NC-17"). Stories about celebrities, including musicians, actors, and athletes (i.e., Real Person Fiction) were allowed along with those stories written about television series, fictional books, comics, anime, and movies.
Advertising and Content Regulation
Eventually, the website needed to employ advertising in order to keep the server running due to increasing demand and use. However, registered members could pay for a premium account if they wanted to avoid ads and have access to other special functions. This function was not heavily embraced by users and was eventually abandoned in favor of advertising support only.
As the archive grew in popularity and size, certain types of content were officially banned, and other changes were implemented. In 2002, NC-17-rated stories were no longer allowed (although enforcement of this policy is up to users reporting stories; there are still many explicit-content fictions to be found on the site.) Real person/celebrity fiction was disallowed in 2003.
Other topics such as songfic, choose-your-own-adventure, and non-fiction lists have also been banned through the years, although again, enforcement is spotty at best. The site has also disallowed fanfiction based on certain works after receiving requests from their creators, including authors such as:
- Anne Rice,
- P. N. Elrod,
- Laurell K. Hamilton,
- Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb,
- Raymond Feist, and
- Terry Goodkind.
In 2012, there was a widespread purge of adult content from the site, which had a widespread impact throughout fanfiction communities online.
The age limit for site registration is now 13. As of 2018, the site has over 10 million users and stories posted in over 40 languages. Its largest fandom is Harry Potter, with more than 800,000 stories posted in that category alone. Naruto is the second most popular fandom, with more than 425,000 stories.
FanFiction.Net also features active forums for users to discuss their fandoms; communities of moderated, hand-selected fiction; and a list of beta readers available to help authors improve their work. The site now has a mobile version and RSS feeds one can subscribe to in order to see the latest works in particular fandoms, as well as apps for iPhone and Android.
5 Criticisms of FanFiction.Net
FanFiction.Net may be the largest fanfiction archive on the Internet, but it's not everyone's favorite site by a long shot. These are some of the common criticisms of the site.
1. It's difficult to find quality fiction amid all of the dreck.
As Sturgeon's Law proposes, 90% of everything is crap—and that means there is an awful lot of crap on FanFiction.Net. Indeed, the site has long been known as "The Pit of Voles," derided as the home of some of the worst of the worst that fanfiction has to offer. Lack of proper spelling and punctuation, poor characterization, childish plotting, and blatant Mary Sues—to many, this is what FanFiction.Net represents.
2. There are limitations on allowed content.
As the site grew to astronomical proportions and needed to start accepting advertising to stay afloat, it is not surprising that it had to start restricting content in order to be acceptable to non-adult-oriented advertisers. Yet that means that the site is technically useless to fanfiction authors who write about subjects or include content that is no longer allowed, such as bandfic or adult fanfiction.
Writers of adult fanfiction continued to post their stories on FanFiction.Net, however, as enforcement of these policies was poor at best. This changed in May 2012, when a widespread purge of adult-content stories began, angering many users of the site. Statistics on Fanlore suggest that over 17,000 Harry Potter stories alone were deleted during this purge, along with thousands in other top fandoms.
3. Sorting multiple-character/relationship fiction is difficult.
FanFiction.Net only allows one to sort/filter fiction within a fandom by two characters (Kirk and Spock in Star Trek). What if you are looking for stories featuring more characters or complicated relationships (yes, people do write Kirk/Spock/Uhura poly relationships, or perhaps love triangles such as Kirk/Uhura and Uhura/Spock). With AO3's freeform tag system, it is much easier to label and look for such stories. On March 15, 2013, FanFiction.Net began to allow four characters to be assigned to a story, not just two.
4. The advertising is annoying.
Some users find the full-page ads one must skip over or wait to load on FanFiction.Net extremely annoying—particularly those on slower Internet connections.
5. There's a lack of interest in punishing/banning plagiarist authors and plagiarism.
Plagiarism can be a major problem in fanfiction, as some think that because "all fanfiction is stealing," it's perfectly fine to steal another's words and claim them as one's own. That can be a fanfiction author stealing content word-for-word from a published author's work, or from another fanfiction author (oftentimes only changing characters' names and minor details to publish a story in a different fandom.) When such incidents have occurred on FanFiction.Net, they have generally been ignored by the site administrators.
Archive of Our Own: A Multi-Fandom Nonprofit Fanfiction Archive
Founding of Archive of Our Own
Archive of Our Own (AO3) first launched in beta-testing on November 14, 2009. The archive is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit organization that promotes the legitimate and transformative nature of fan works, including fanfiction, fan vids, and fan art.
It was originally proposed in 2007, in part as a reaction against the recently launched archive FanLib. FanLib faced deep criticism by the media fandom community at the time for its corporate sponsorship and funding and apparent lack of understanding of how fan communities truly operated. At the time, many older, smaller fanfiction archives were disappearing as free hosting sites popular in the 1990s and early 2000s were disappearing or going out of business.
AO3 has grown slowly, as one requires an invite code to join (if you request one, it can take anywhere from a month to upwards of 5–6 months to receive one, according to recent reports.) The archive is now the home of the large, annual small-fandom fest Yuletide, which is how many members of AO3 have gotten accounts there by signing up to take part in the exchange.
Features and Highlights of AO3
- It's open to all kinds of fandoms, including Real Person Fiction.
- It's open to all ratings of fanfiction, from general audiences to adult. Other policies are in place to disallow harassment or threats against real people, whether other users or people named in fictional stories.
- As of February 2013, the archive allows users to host meta fandom writings as well as fiction.
- Authors have the ability to lock story visibility to other AO3 members only to minimize search engine inclusion (some authors don't want their stories showing up in general Google searches.) AO3 allows of certain fandoms (including Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles) and story types (including songfic) that have been banned from FanFiction.Net.
- Users have the ability to link various pseudonyms and names under one account and also to "orphan" stories to remove their names from them.
- There's a complex tagging system so that stories can be searched by theme (romance, hurt/comfort), trope (steampunk AU, aliens made them do it), or whatever an author may choose.
- There's a backdating system, which is useful if one is trying to organize all of their fanfiction chronologically.
- Users have the ability to import stories from other URLs.
- There are collections and challenges.
- The site has a "Kudos" button to show that you read a story and enjoyed it without having to leave written feedback.
- Authors have the ability to add new fandoms if they are not already listed without having to wait for a site administrator to add them.
- There's a warning system for common fannish triggers and controversial subjects, which an author can choose or choose not to use.
Archive of Our Own features more than 34,000 fandoms, 5,200,000 archived works, and 2,100,000 users. The minimum age for registering for an account is 13.
9 Criticisms of Archive of Our Own
The following are some of the criticisms that some have made of Archive of Our Own as a fanfiction archive. While the site has been embraced by many, there are those who are not as thrilled with the archive or have had issues with it in the past.
1. It's too heavily focused on media fandom.
The archive administrative team has been accused on numerous occasions of having little understanding of how other fanfiction communities operate, such as music and anime fandoms. Everything from the site's design to category structure reflects a Western media fandom bias, particularly that of LiveJournal media fandom. As such, many outside of Western media fandoms do not feel welcomed contributing to the site nor feel like their specific community issues and needs are being addressed.
2. There's no ability to sort out crossovers from non-crossover stories.
Crossover stories, involving characters from multiple fannish sources in one story, are quite popular among many fanfiction readers and writers. However, some readers do not care for crossovers in general or at all, and AO3 doesn't have an easy way to filter crossover stories out of the listings returned for a particular fandom. In comparison, FanFiction.Net has a completely separate section of their website for crossover fiction only, so it's easier to find (or not find) such stories as you wish.
3. There's frequent downtime/slow server response.
As the site's userbase has grown, some have reported increasing errors and downtime when trying to access the site. This became particularly troublesome around the end of May/early June 2012, perhaps linked to the sudden surge of interest in Avengers fandom as well as the mature-content purge at FanFiction.Net. This led some to wonder if the archive can really keep running on its current hardware, software, and financial donations to OTW alone.
4. The tagging system is a mess.
Writers are allowed to use however many different tags as they want to on their stories, and there is very little structure to the tagging system. Even within a single fandom, one character may have their name "tagged" in multiple different ways, making it difficult to easily filter only for stories featuring them. The archive does employ a team of tag wranglers whose sole task is to link together related tags to be more searchable. (For instance, if I search for the tag "vampire AU," nine different tags are currently returned for me to sort through including "vampire AU, "'verse: Vampire AU" "vampire!AU" and "sherlock bbc john watson holmes vampire au.") However, as the archive grows and grows, in keeping up with all of the freeform, user-generated tags can become difficult—and some tag wranglers have expressed frustration with the system and how their committee has been handled. It doesn't help when you have some authors tagging everything and anything possible to an almost laughable extent. Do we really need to know that many details about a story before reading it? Are these things people will actually want to search based upon?
5. There's a lack of community/readers don't comment and review.
Many authors seem to view AO3 as a convenient "storage bin" for all of their old works, dropping stories there but rarely reading others' works. Many fan communities even with large numbers of stories on AO3 are far more active elsewhere, such as on LiveJournal communities or smaller, fandom-focused websites. With the "Kudos" button feature, readers are less likely to leave actual feedback or interact with authors, since they can just hit "Kudos" to show that they read and at least moderately enjoyed a story.
6. It's hard to keep up with what's new in a particular fandom.
With backdating, sometimes it's hard to just find what are the newest stories posted in a particular fandom. However, RSS feed subscriptions were eventually introduced, allowing interested readers to subscribe to not just favorite authors but favorite fandoms as well.
7. There are no filter "out" options, period.
Many users have expressed annoyance that there is no way to search on AO3 to "filter out" unwanted tags, characters, or types of fiction. For instance, if a Harry Potter fan didn't want to read about any stories heavily featuring Severus Snape, or slash as a tag, you can't do that. In very large fandoms, this makes searching for stories a person actually wants to read rather difficult, particularly as there is also a 1,000 work cap on search results. Now that the archive allows for the hosting of meta posts and they are mixed in with the fiction, more users are annoyed by this inability to filter out the types of content they do not want to read.
8. There's too much adult content and no way to filter out adult summaries and titles.
While some appreciate the freedom of AO3's accepting of gen to mature/explicit content, not everyone is happy about it. Some feel as though AO3 has become little more than a "smut dump" (see comments at bottom of this page), with certain fandom's categories completely predominated by sexually explicit material. This is why some wish there was an easy way to filter out content—both stories themselves and story titles/tags/summaries—if undesirable or intended for adults only.
9. There's an increasingly long wait for an invite code.
On June 11, 2012, Lucy Pearson posted on the OTW news site that there were over 17,000 requests in the queue for invitation codes. However, since the beginning of 2013, it appears that the wait time for invite codes has decreased considerably; it may take only a week or less to get access to a user account.
How familiar are you with FanFiction.Net and Archive of Our Own?
Other Online Multi-Fandom Archives
A multi-fandom archive with currently over 30,000 stories. Note there are currently concerns about lack of administrative management and control over spammers on the site.
A band fiction RPF archive with over 2,000 stories.
A large multi-fandom archive for fanfiction and fan art, with an emphasis on anime and cartoons. However, this site is suffering from lack of moderation and site administration, so new users be wary.
- Fandom Haven Story Archive
A multi-fandom archive with an emphasis on western media fandoms. Currently with about 2,000 stories.
A closed archive (you must have an invite to join) which a large community of Harry Potter authors, but many other book, anime, movie and television fandoms represented as well.
- WWOMB: The Wonderful World of Make-Believe
Home to over 28,000 stories, with an emphasis on Western Media fandoms. Hosts several smaller collections as well as the main archive.
- Passion and Perfection
An archive for f/f ("femmeslash") fiction in various fandoms.
You've read the basic information and examined some of the pros and cons of each—now it's time to leave your opinion. Which fanfiction archive do you prefer, and why?
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Nicole Pellegrini