Archive of Our Own

Last updated
Archive of Our Own
Archive of Our Own logo.png
Type of site
FoundedSeptember 2008;12 years ago (2008-09)
Owner Organization for Transformative Works
Users 3,820,011
LaunchedNovember 15, 2009 (2009-11-15) (Open beta)
Written in Ruby

Archive of Our Own (AO3) is a nonprofit open source repository for fanfiction (fics) and other fanworks contributed by users. The site was created in 2008 by the Organization for Transformative Works and went into open beta in 2009. As of December 2020, Archive of Our Own hosted 7 million works [1] in over 40,000 fandoms. [2] The site has received positive reception for its curation, organization and design, mostly done by readers and writers of fanfiction. [3] [4]


Archive of Our Own won the Hugo Award for Best Related Work in 2019. [5]

History and operations

In 2007, a site called FanLib was created with the goal of monetizing fanfiction. Fanfiction was authored primarily by women, and FanLib, which was run entirely by men, drew criticism. This ultimately led to the creation of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) which sought to record and archive fan cultures and works. [3] OTW created Archive of Our Own (abbreviated AO3) in October 2008 and established it as an open beta on November 14, 2009. [6] [7] [8] The site's name was derived from a blog post by the writer Naomi Novik who, responding to FanLib's lack of interest in fostering a fannish community, called for the creation of "An Archive of One's Own." [3] The name is inspired by the essay A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, in which Woolf said that a writer needed space, time, and resources in order to create. [9] [10] AO3 defines itself primarily as an archive and not an online community. [10]

By 2013, the site's annual expenses were about $70,000. Fic authors from the site held an auction via Tumblr that year to raise money for Archive of Our Own, bringing in $16,729 with commissions for original works from bidders. [6] In 2018, the site's expenses were budgeted at approximately $260,000. [11]

Archive of Our Own runs on open source code programmed almost exclusively by volunteers in the Ruby on Rails web framework. The developers of the site allow users to submit requests for features on the site via a Jira dash board. [3] AO3 has approximately 700 volunteers, [9] who help the organization by working on volunteer committees. Each of these committees, which include AO3 Documentation, Communications, Policy & Abuse, and Tag Wrangling, manages a part of the site.


Hybrid tagging wrangling system

Stories on Archive of Our Own can be sorted into categories and tagged based on elements of the stories, including characters and ships involved and other more specific tags. [12] Approximately 300 volunteers called "tag wranglers" manually connect synonymous tags to bolster the site's search system, allowing it to understand "mermaids", "mermen", and "merfolk" as constituents of the "merpeople" tag, for example. [13] [9] [3]

Content ratings

Archive of Our Own allows users to rate their stories by intended reader age ("General audience", "Teen and up audiences", "Mature", and "Explicit"), by character relationship(s), and by the sexual orientation(s) and pairings of featured characters ("F/F", "M/M", "F/M", "Multi", "Other", and "Gen"). The archive also asks writers to supply content warnings that might apply to their works (e.g., "Major Character Death", "Graphic Depictions of Violence", "Underage", and "Rape/Non-Con"). [12]

Archive of Our Own allows writers to publish any content, so long as it is legal. This allowance was developed as a reaction to the policies of other popular fanfiction hosts such as LiveJournal, which at one time began deleting the accounts of fic writers who wrote what the site considered to be pornography, and FanFiction.Net, which disallows numerous types of stories including any that repurpose characters originally created by authors who disapprove of fanfiction. [3] [10]

Reader feedback

Readers can give stories kudos, which function similarly to likes or hearts on other sites. [14] Readers can also leave comments or make public (and private) bookmarks. [15]


The site does not require users to sign up using their legal names. Instead, users may identify themselves by one or more pseudonyms linked to their central account. [3]


Archive of Our Own reached one million fanworks (including stories, art pieces, and podcast fic recordings or podfics) in February 2014. At that time, the site hosted works representing 14,353 fandoms, the largest of which were the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Supernatural , Sherlock , and Harry Potter . [7] In July 2019 it was announced that the site had 2 million registered users and 5 million posted works. [16] Of the top 100 character pairings written about in fic on the site in 2014, 71 were male/male slash fiction and the majority of character pairings featured white characters. [17] In 2016, about 14% of fic hosted on the site took place in an alternative universe (often shortened to AU) in which characters from a particular canon are transplanted into a different context. [18]

The first fan-fiction published in the site is a General tagged locked story called "All you had to do was ask" from the Dead Poets’s Society fandom. [19] The longest story (as of July 5, 2021) is the incomplete "At the Edge of Lasg’len" at 5,210,456 words and 295 chapters, belonging to the LOTR and The Hobbit fandom. [20] The most liked fic is "I am Groot", with over 99,000 kudos.

AO3 maintains a policy of "maximum inclusiveness" and minimal content censorship, which means that they do not dictate what kinds of work can be posted to the archive. This openness has led to the hosting of controversial content including works depicting rape, incest, and pedophilia. [10] [9] According to AO3 Policy and Abuse Chair Matty Bowers, a small fraction (1,150) stories submitted to the Archive were flagged by users as "offensive". [10] Organization for Transformative Works Legal Committee volunteer Stacey Lantagne has stated that: "The OTW's mission is to advocate on behalf of transformative works, not just the ones we like." [10]

The length of a story on Archive of Our Own tends to correlate with its popularity. Stories of 1,000 words often received fewer than 150 hits on average while stories that were closer in length to a novel were viewed closer to 1,500 times apiece. [12]

Via the OTW's Open Doors project, launched in 2012, stories from older and defunct fic archives are imported to Archive of Our Own with an aim to preserving fandom history. [21]


In 2012 Aja Romano and Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of The Daily Dot described Archive of Our Own as "a cornerstone of the fanfic community," writing that it hosted content that other sites like FanFiction.Net and Wattpad deemed inappropriate and was more easily navigable than Tumblr. [22]

Time listed Archive of Our Own as one of the 50 best websites of 2013, describing it as "the most carefully curated, sanely organized, easily browsable and searchable nonprofit collection of fan fiction on the Web". [4]

According to Casey Fiesler, Shannon Morrison, and Amy S. Bruckman, Archive of Our Own is a rare example of a value-sensitive design that was developed and coded by its target audience, namely writers and readers of fanfiction. They wrote that the site serves as a realization of feminist HCI (an area of human–computer interaction) in practice, despite the fact that the developers of Archive of Our Own had not been conscious of feminist HCI principles when designing the site. [3]

In 2019, Archive of Our Own was awarded a Hugo Award in the category of Best Related Work, a category whose purpose is to recognize science fiction–related work that is notable for reasons other than fictional text. [23] [24]


On February 29, 2020, Archive of Our Own was blocked in mainland China, after fans of Chinese actor Xiao Zhan reported the website for hosting an explicit fan fiction novel with graphic sketches. [25] The banning of the site led to several incidents and controversies online, in the Chinese entertainment industry, as well as to professional enterprises, due to heavy backlash from mainland Chinese users of Archive of Our Own. [26] Users called for boycott against Xiao Zhan, his fans, endorsed products, luxury brands, and other Chinese celebrities involved with the actor. [27] [28]

Related Research Articles

Fandom Subculture composed of fans sharing a common interest

A fandom is a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the objects of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices, differentiating fandom-affiliated people from those with only a casual interest.

Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on romantic or sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. While the term "slash" originally referred only to stories in which male characters are involved in an explicit sexual relationship as a primary plot element, it is now also used to refer to any fan story containing a romantic pairing between same-sex characters. Many fans distinguish slash with female characters as a separate genre, commonly referred to as femslash.

Femslash is a subgenre of slash fan fiction which focuses on romantic and/or sexual relationships between female fictional characters. Typically, characters featured in femslash are heterosexual in the canon universe; however, similar fan fiction about lesbian or bisexual female characters is commonly labeled as femslash for convenience. The term is generally applied only to fanworks based on Western fandoms; the nearest anime/manga equivalents are more often called yuri and shōjo-ai fanfiction. "Saffic" is a portmanteau of Sapphic from the term Sapphic love and fiction. "Altfic" as a term for fanfiction about loving relationships between women was popularized by Xena fans.

Shipping is the desire by followers of a fandom for two or more people, either real-life people or fictional characters to be in a romantic or sexual relationship. It is considered a general term for fans' involvement with the ongoing character development of two people's character arcs in a work of fiction. Shipping often takes the form of unofficial creative works, including fanfiction stories and fan art, most often published on the internet.

Real person fiction or real people fiction (RPF) is a genre of writing similar to fan fiction, but featuring celebrities or other real people.

FanFiction.Net US fanfiction website

FanFiction.Net is an automated fan fiction archive site. It was founded on October 15, 1998 by Los Angeles computer programmer Xing Li, who also runs the site. It has over 12 million registered users and hosts stories in over 40 languages.

Legal issues with fan fiction

Fanfiction has encountered problems with intellectual property law due to usage of copyrighted characters without the original creator or copyright owner's consent.

The Gossamer Project is a group of specialty archives that, combined, contain the vast majority of X-Files fan fiction on the Internet. In the mid to late 1990s, the Gossamer Archives/Project was one of the "big three" single media fandom-focused archives on the Internet, and remained the largest single fandom fan fiction archive until the emergence of various Harry Potter archives in the early 2000s.

Fan labor is the creative activities engaged in by fans, primarily those of various media properties or musical groups. These activities can include creation of written works, visual or computer-assisted art, music, or applied arts and costuming.

Fan fiction Type of fiction created by fans of the original subject

Fan fiction or fanfiction is fictional writing written in an amateur capacity as fans, unauthorized by, but based on an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the original creator(s) as a basis for their writing. Fan fiction ranges from a couple of sentences to an entire novel, and fans can both keep the creator's characters and settings and/or add their own. It is a form of fan labor. Fan fiction can be based on any fictional subject. Common bases for fan fiction include novels, movies, musical groups, cartoons, anime, manga, and video games.

Organization for Transformative Works

The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is a non-profit, fan activist organization. Its mission is to serve fans by preserving and encouraging transformative fan activity, known as "fanwork", and by making fanwork widely accessible.

Transformative Works and Cultures is a peer-reviewed open access academic journal published by the Organization for Transformative Works. The journal collects essays, articles, book reviews, and shorter pieces that concern fandom, fanworks, and fan practices. According to Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), the journal "supports the [Organization for Transformative Works's] mission to promote the legitimacy and sustainability of non-commercial fan creativity by providing a forum for innovative criticism in fan studies, broadly conceived."

My Immortal is a Harry Potter-based fan fiction serially published on between 2006 and 2007. Though notable for its convoluted narrative and constant digressions, the story largely centers on a non-canonical female vampire character named "Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way" and her relationships with the characters of the Harry Potter series, particularly her romantic relationship with Draco Malfoy, culminating in her travelling back in time to defeat the main antagonist of the series, Lord Voldemort. is an automated fan fiction archive site. It was founded in 2009 by Jason Ado, also known as Nichiren.

Fanlore is a wiki created to preserve the history of transformative works, as well as that of fans, and fandoms, with a focus on people and their activities rather than on fandom canon. The beta version of Fanlore launched in September 2008, and the wiki came out of beta in December 2010.

Stucky (fandom) Depictions of a relationship between Captain America and the Winter Soldier

In fandom, Stucky is the pairing of Steve Rogers and James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, fictional characters who appear in comic books and related media produced by Marvel Comics. The pairing is a manifestation of shipping, a phenomenon in fandom wherein individuals create fan works that depict a romantic or sexual relationship between two characters whose relationship in the source material is typically neither romantic nor sexual; Stucky is an example of slash, a genre of fan works that focus on same-sex characters. In accordance with shipping naming conventions, Stucky is a portmanteau of "Steve" and "Bucky".

Omegaverse, also known as A/B/O, is a subgenre of speculative erotic fiction, and originally a subgenre of erotic slash fan fiction. Stories in the genre are premised on societies wherein humans are divided into a dominance hierarchy of dominant "alphas", neutral "betas", and submissive "omegas". These terms are derived from those used in ethology to describe social hierarchies in animals.

Kristina Busse

Kristina Dorothea Busse is a professor in the Philosophy department at the University of South Alabama. As the co-editor of Transformative Works and Cultures, her research focuses on fanfiction communities and fan culture. Alongside fandom academics Alexis Lothian and Robin Anne Reid, she coined the term "queer female space" in 2007.

Francesca Coppa American scholar of literature

Francesca Coppa is an American scholar whose research has encompassed British drama, performance studies and fan studies. In English literature, she is known for her work on the British writer Joe Orton; she edited several of his early novels and plays for their first publication in 1998–99, more than thirty years after his murder, and compiled an essay collection, Joe Orton: A Casebook (2003). She has also published on Oscar Wilde. In the fan-studies field, Coppa is known for documenting the history of media fandom and, in particular, of fanvids, a type of fan-made video. She co-founded the Organization for Transformative Works in 2007, originated the idea of interpreting fan fiction as performance, and in 2017, published the first collection of fan fiction designed for teaching purposes. As of 2021, Coppa is a professor of English at Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania.

Fan studies is an academic discipline that analyses fans, fandoms, fan cultures and fan activities, including fanworks. It is an interdisciplinary field located at the intersection of the humanities and social sciences, which emerged in the early 1990s as a separate discipline, and draws particularly on audience studies and cultural studies.


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Further reading