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Fanwork Migration

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This happens to be the 15th anniversary of the Buffyverse Top 5 community, created to share recs in the Buffy and Angel fandoms, and later the other Joss Whedon productions. This timing is particularly fitting because I have spent several months since our 2019 session going through every post in the community (1,846 of them!) as part of an effort to locate recced content on AO3 for our collection here.

This gave me a unique perspective on patterns in the fandom as well as a good bit of nostalgia about participants and creators over the years. So I thought I'd share those observations as we kick off this year's celebration of works old and new.

First, some changes observed over the years:

1) Formats: The last moodsets recced were in 2010, and the last "Friends Only" banners in 2009. Picspam posts evolved into gifsets at Top 5's midpoint. Fan crafts have been almost absent throughout the entire run of Top 5, and while RPG works were included from the very first session of the community, these recs have faded out over time. Instead, podcasts and podfics began to make appearances. Recs for resources such as screencaps or layouts have also been few but the dropoff in recs for communities or fanwork awards have reflected the shrinking of the fandom. Icons, happily, have resisted location changes and continue to be made and recced, though their smaller numbers reflect their unique use on LiveJournal clone sites.

2) Locations: Locations have also changed. The first half of Top 5's existence included many recs that pointed to works on individual or small websites. As time has gone on, these pointers are few, replaced with repeated links to larger or active sites such as AO3, Twisting the Hellmouth, or Elysian Fields. Multimedia recs also moved from home sites such as LJ or format-specific sites like Deviant Art and jinjurly's Audiofic Archive, to general audience sites like Tumblr, Soundcloud, or Twitter. In some cases this change is because a community or fest has relocated, but in many cases it's happened because communities have closed and thus fewer works are posted on older sites.

3) Existence: Earlier this year when I announced the launch of March Meta Matters, it was because the types of work that ended up archived at AO3 showed some distinct patterns. Artwork is almost entirely absent, vids are mostly missing, as are other multimedia formats. But many text format works that were entirely transferable were also missing. This was particularly striking as regards meta, which has gotten recced at every Top 5 session, but also more off-the-cuff content such as drabbles or comment fic.

What was most surprising though was that it wasn’t just format but genre that affected archiving. For example, humor stories or crackfic were much less likely to get copied over there, as were darker fics with torture and slavery. Perhaps unsurprisingly, items that were recced as WIPs also didn't tend to show up there.

4) Time Period: There were also patterns to whose work ended up at AO3. Although, particularly in the early years, there were a wide number of people whose work was recced at Top 5, many of the works found were concentrated among a smaller number of creators. These creators had generally been based on LJ and were active in the fandom during the time period when Top 5 began. That meant that many creators recced in early Classic Recs session didn't have their works show up. If the works were originally located somewhere other than LJ, they didn't tend to appear either.

5) Activity: When you subtract mod posts and the like from Top 5's content, 1,696 rec posts remain. I estimate about 5% of items were recced by multiple people, which still leaves around 8,056 unique works shared in the last 15 years.

Of these 1,543 are currently in the AO3 collection and an additional 403 were located, meaning that roughly ¼ of all recced works can be found there. The 403 are not available because the creators have not yet accepted the invite, or in some cases, because there is no one to do so since the work was orphaned. Additionally, some works were only found because archive owners either independently, or with the help of the OTW's Open Doors project, transferred those works to AO3 once their original site was abandoned. These works will probably not make it into the collection either. But other works might be there and simply weren't found.

6) Name Changes: Creators may be going by different pseuds these days. One thing I discovered quickly when I began searching was that I couldn't search by author names. Quite a few people had changed them entirely, had used different ones in different places, or had to change them slightly once they opened AO3 accounts. Instead I searched based on title and fandom, although even this proved tricky.

For example, there are far fewer Angel the Series works that have been recced over the years than BtVS works, and most of the Angel works were recced in the first years of Top 5's run. But other than some characters who appeared only on Angel (such as Gunn or Fred), works with those characters might have been tagged with both fandoms or only one. That might mean having to do two searches for the items, particularly if I knew that the creator had an AO3 account so the item was probably available.

The other problem is that there are a lot of stories with the same names, even in the same fandom. The most common one I came across? "Family" with 28. Given that I couldn't always trust that the author's name was the same (and quite a few people did not list the creator's name in the rec either, a big roadblock if their link was dead) I had to rely on the story description. And sometimes that didn't mention pairings or characters! What's more, there are a fair number of recs for untitled works, which made for a pretty hopeless search.

On the technical side, AO3 did some truly inexplicable things when it came to search results. Even when I knew a story was there, it might not come up from searches that should have turned it up. So there are quite possibly many more items that simply weren't found. However there's always operator failure to consider as well –- some people reccing works misspelled their titles!

On a personal note, it was heartening when I found a fan long absent from the fandom on the archive. I would often be quite excited to find that a work I didn't expect would be there...actually was! It was also sad as I came across many other references to names once frequently seen, but who have since left the fandom. There was even, in 2010, a post made at Top 5 with 71 comments which was a tribute to one of them.

Also a pleasant surprise is that, despite the devastation across older accounts caused by image hosts closing or changing their terms in the last 5 years, many images shared in Top 5 posts are still intact. To be sure, many aren't or show up watermarked now, but the number is not as lopsided as I expected.

One last factoid? The first Eurovision Contest crossover recced was in 2007.

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I came across two different articles about how fandom needs community spaces in order to function properly, one by osteophage at Pillowfort and one at The Mary Sue regarding Discord.

I know that I've said before how fandom (like most things) tends to follow pendulum swings in terms of the sites where it grows, usually trading off things like privacy and community for more content and followers. But it was interesting to hear in the Mary Sue piece that Discord is essentially a retro form of fandom with better tech. It makes me think of the return of vinyl, Polaroid cameras, and typewriters that Gen Z finds so vintage.

On the opposite side of vintage is the clear commercialization trend that fan cons have taken. Bravo Con is hardly the first, and D23 is bigger. But for once I don't think this will have much of an effect on what few homegrown fan cons are left. Instead, it is the Creation type outfits that are going to feel the pinch. Because just like studios and networks are locking up content to go direct to consumer, I'm willing to bet they're going to start doing the same thing with their performers soon, so that the only place you'll be able to see them are the network/studio cons.

However what the look at those Bravo stars made me think of is this article about how The 2010s, as a decade, belong to fandom.

"These sites’ searchable databases of properties and characters precluded a change in the way fans interacted online. Fandom became less of a collection of islands and more of an all-encompassing, increasingly weird internet party."

In other words, all those formerly private things now being made public for all to see (and follow) created a dramatic change in people's experiences as fans, both for good and ill. For some it meant incredible good fortune as huge followings led to pro careers (for all types of fanwork makers). Less obvious are the things being lost, such as any kind of historical context for fandom with almost everyone making it sound like something the Internet made happen instead of something people made happen by utilizing different Internet spaces across the decades. So the question is: how much of that fandom decade is going to be around in, well, another decade? The upcoming purge of Yahoo Groups (which means an enormous deletion of fandom in the 1990s and 2000s) is showing us how commercialization and consolidation are leading to an erasure of millions of people's interactions.

The less spoken part however, is how many people as individuals are wiping out that collective history: I am speaking of how much stuff is intentionally deleted all the time. For example, this post about bookmarking items on AO3 noted sad statistics on works that go missing (which is why I always copy the work info into my bookmark now, since otherwise I've no idea what it used to be). It makes me think about the value of things, with some people deleting things and others frantically trying to save them in this odd back and forth. When the OTW came into its own there were now options where works didn't have to be lost when fan sites died, and that the AO3 itself would be around permanently as a site that wouldn't censor and wouldn't get bought ought. But while there have always been people deleting their own content, it's so much more visible now and alarming as to how short a time things may stay up. Along with content that has been available for years, there's stuff that was recced a year earlier which is now gone, or which has gone away between the time I've downloaded and read it and gone back to leave feedback. And older works do still get read, even if it only gets a kudos every few months. Why is it going away?

I know that at least some of the takedowns are related to the creators trying to market that work. That seems particularly likely if, say, only a few works disappear but the author leaves the rest up, and if they were particularly popular. (I'd think they'd be pretty sad to lose all the feedback though if that were the case). I've also seen people say they're taking down their works because they're not getting enough feedback. That makes no sense to me since attention on AO3 isn't that time sensitive (unlike on a social media platform where finding something again is tough). If they've gone to all the trouble of putting it up, why take it down again? Let it find an audience. Someone suggested it's because they may find a work that gets almost no response embarrassing so it's better to remove it. However if the work gets almost no response, how embarrassing can it be if no one's noticing it?

Related to stuff being invisible though, I am getting so fed up with AO3's search function. Because I've always downloaded content and read it months later, I have long searched for the stories once I finish them in order to leave feedback. I've noticed that the search results have gotten worse and worse. Since I know the stories are in there, I keep trying until I find them. And when I do, there is often no reason why the search didn't result in the particular story turning up. Yet when I've tried the advanced search form with title in the title field and author in the author field I often get nothing.

Then I go to the author's account (if I've found it) and do something like "search for word count" and scroll through. Whaddayaknow -- there it is! And there's zero reason why it didn't show up in my original basic search query 5 minutes ago, much less the advanced search form.

I was going to ask if anyone else has noticed this, but then in total randomness I came across this thread about using AO3 vs FFN and someone complains of this very thing. Why it should be happening, I don't know, but I wonder if searches are getting timed out as the body of work on the site gets larger.


As I've been documenting Yahoo Groups on Fanlore, here are some things I've discovered in this look back at fandom (in no particular order):

a-JAG was a super popular show. When I went into the TV Genres-> Legal section, there was group after group for it –- ships, fanfic, episode discussion, you name it.

b-People spent a lot of time trying to find content. Some of the earliest messages were about where they could get a recording of some episode or season, as well as questions about what network might be showing the show (if it was older). Funny how that's true again now for different reasons.

c-Yahoo Groups was international. One group I came across was of Hungarian fans who wanted to discuss Richard Dean Anderson's acting in McGyver. And there were large groups of expats who wanted to keep up with developments of the soaps at home, leading to episode summary groups.

d-How to get in touch with the actors was such a typical question that some groups answered it on their main page, probably to avoid cluttering the list with it or having to deal with people signing up for only that reason.

e-Speaking of, even if only membership signups were moderated or a user's first post was moderated it made a huge difference in whether or not the group was shortly overrun with spam. Accounts that had both had virtually none of it.

f-It was interesting to see the transition of fandom in real time in those groups who continued using their communities for a decade or more. Early talk was about cable networks and video tapes, more recent ones about streaming services and purchasing episodes.

It has been depressing seeing how much content is going to be lost, a good chunk of it from people no longer alive or online. There were sometimes people from a canon's creative team populating groups, as well as reports of fan cons past, frequent calls for RPG participation, or announcements of fan projects.