Archive of Our Own

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Archive of Our Own
A stylized red logo consisting of three lines: a V, an O, and a sideways V that resolves on its right end as a 3
Archive of Our Own's homepage.
Type of site
FoundedSeptember 2008; 13 years ago (2008-09)
OwnerOrganization for Transformative Works
LaunchedNovember 14, 2009 (2009-11-14) (Open beta)
Written inRuby

Archive of Our Own (often shortened to AO3) is a nonprofit open source repository for fanfiction 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.[1] As of May 2022, Archive of Our Own hosted 9,350,000 works [2] in over 40,000 fandoms.[3] The site has received positive reception for its curation, organization and design, mostly done by readers and writers of fanfiction.[4][5]

Archive of Our Own won the Hugo Award for Best Related Work in 2019.[6]

History and operations[edit]

In 2007, a website 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.[4] OTW created Archive of Our Own (abbreviated AO3) in October 2008 and established it as an open beta on November 14, 2009.[7][8][9] 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."[4] 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.[10][11] AO3 defines itself primarily as an archive and not an online community.[11]

By 2013, the site's annual expenses were about $70,000. Fanfiction 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.[7] In 2018, the site's expenses were budgeted at approximately $260,000.[12]

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.[4] AO3 has approximately 700 volunteers,[10] 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[edit]

Stories on Archive of Our Own can be sorted into categories and tagged based on elements of the stories, including characters and ships involved, as well as other specific tags.[13] 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, as an example.[14][10][4]

Content ratings[edit]

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").[13]

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.[4][11]

Reader feedback[edit]

Readers can give stories kudos, which function similarly to likes or hearts on other sites.[15] Readers can also leave comments and make public or private bookmarks.[16]


The site does not require users to sign up using their legal names, allowing the use of usernames. In addition, users may identify themselves by one or more pseudonyms, referred to as "pseuds", linked to their central account.[4]


Archive of Our Own reached one million fanworks (including stories, art pieces, and podcast fic recordings, referred to as 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.[8] In July 2019 it was announced that the site had 2 million registered users and 5 million posted works.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[11][10] 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".[11] 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."[11]

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.[13]

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.[20]


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.[21]

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".[5]

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.[4]

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.[22][23]


On February 29, 2020, Archive of Our Own was blocked in China, after fans of Chinese actor Xiao Zhan reported the website for hosting an explicit fan fiction novel with graphic sketches.[24] 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.[25] Users called for boycott against Xiao Zhan, his fans, endorsed products, luxury brands, and other Chinese celebrities involved with the actor.[26][27]


  1. ^ "Announcing Open Beta!".
  2. ^ "The Archive of Our Own Reaches Seven Million Fanworks! – Organization for Transformative Works". Retrieved 2021-01-10.
  3. ^ "Celebrating 40,000 Fandoms on the AO3 – Organization for Transformative Works". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Fiesler, Casey; Morrison, Shannon; Bruckman, Amy S. (2016). An Archive of Their Own: A Case Study of Feminist HCI and Values in Design. CHI 2016. San Jose, CA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 2574–2585. doi:10.1145/2858036.2858409. ISBN 978-1-4503-3362-7. closed access
  5. ^ a b Grossman, Lev (May 1, 2013). "Archive of Our Own". Time. Archived from the original on March 13, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  6. ^ "2019 Hugo Award & 1944 Retro Hugo Award Finalists". The Hugo Awards. April 2, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Baker-Whitelaw, Gavia (May 3, 2013). "Fans raise $16,000 in auction to help popular fic archive". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Baker-Whitelaw, Gavia (February 27, 2014). "This is what 1 million fanfics looks like". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  9. ^ Lothian, Alexis (2012). "Archival anarchies: Online fandom, subcultural conservation, and the transformative work of digital ephemera". International Journal of Cultural Studies. 16 (6): 541–556. doi:10.1177/1367877912459132. S2CID 145568162. closed access
  10. ^ a b c d Busch, Caitlin (February 12, 2019). "An Archive of Our Own: How AO3 built a nonprofit fanfiction empire and safe haven". SyfyWire. Archived from the original on February 19, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Minkel, Elizabeth (November 8, 2018). "Fan fiction site AO3 is dealing with a free speech debate of its own". The Verge. Archived from the original on November 8, 2018.
  12. ^ "OTW Finance: 2018 Budget". Organization for Transformative Works. April 16, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  13. ^ a b c Baker-Whitelaw, Gavia (July 15, 2013). "Unpacking the unofficial fanfiction census". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on June 27, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  14. ^ McCulloch, Gretchen (June 11, 2019). "Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online". Wired. Archived from the original on June 11, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  15. ^ Jenkins, Henry (2019). "'Art Happens not in Isolation, But in Community': The Collective Literacies of Media Fandom". Cultural Science Journal. 11 (1): 78–88. doi:10.5334/csci.125.
  16. ^ "AO3 reaches 2 million registered Users and 5 million posted works".
  17. ^ Baker-Whitelaw, Gavia (July 21, 2014). "'Sherlock,' 'Teen Wolf,' 'Supernatural' among top targets for fanfic writers". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  18. ^ Romano, Aja (January 30, 2016). "Is it possible to quantify fandom? Here's one statistician who's crunching the numbers". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  19. ^ Coker, Catherine (2017). "The margins of print? Fan fiction as book history". Transformative Works and Cultures. 25. doi:10.3983/twc.2017.01053.
  20. ^ Romano, Aja; Baker-Whitelaw, Gavia (August 17, 2012). "Where to find the good fanfiction porn". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  21. ^ Worldcon. "2019 Hugo Results" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2019.
  22. ^ Whitbrook, James (August 20, 2019). "Here Are Your Hugo 2019 Award Winners". Gizmodo.
  23. ^ 陈圣雅, ed. (March 1, 2020). 同人小说平台ao3被举报,肖战深陷抵制风波 [The fanfiction platform ao3 was tip-offed, Xiao Zhan was deeply involved in the boycott storm]. (in Chinese). Phoenix New Media. Archived from the original on March 1, 2020. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  24. ^ 李湘文 (March 1, 2020). 不爽偶像被寫進同人文…肖戰粉絲「聯手滅掉AO3」用戶怒炸! 工作室道歉了. (in Chinese). Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  25. ^ 李红笛 (March 11, 2020). 肖战事件:是非曲直如何评说. 检察日报 [Procuratorial Daily] (in Chinese). Beijing: Supreme People's Procuratorate. doi:10.28407/n.cnki.njcrb.2020.000877. Archived from the original on March 11, 2020.
  26. ^ Romano, Aja (1 March 2020). "China has censored the Archive of Our Own, one of the internet's largest fanfiction websites". Vox. Retrieved 1 March 2020.

Further reading[edit]

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