Alex Tischer 2020 Q&A: AO3 Features

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]

I’m blind and my screen reader works pretty well on the website. My question though was in what way do you plan to deal with accessibility if you are elected?

Most of the committees working on user-facing projects, especially the Accessibility, Design & Technology committee (AD&T), who work on the Archive, have processes in place to test new releases for accessibility as part of their quality control. I would support them in these processes and help with the testing where I can.
Accessibility is a core value for the OTW and, while AO3 does pretty well, we still have room for improvement in other areas. Internally and for our other outlets, such as the OTW website and our news posts, I would try to find more resources and help the relevant committees implement them as well as hopefully coming up with a workflow that clearly incorporates accessibility testing too.

AO3’s legacy code is a critical Archive-wide problem preventing scalability of current functions (see: ban on new canonicals) and has been named a key factor slowing or preventing development of popularly-desired new functions (ex. blocking). Do you plan to address this? How? On what timeline/priority?

The Archive’s code handles scale at a truly massive degree, serving millions of pageviews every day. The AD&T team understandably prioritises maintenance and performance improvements over creating new features in order to preserve the site’s stability despite its continuous growth. The fact that our codebase is constantly under improvement – like any other – and that some changes have to be prioritised over others is a realistic consequence of how development works.
My plan would be to support AD&T in their work and trust that they are the best suited to decide whether updating Elasticsearch or addressing a security vulnerability in the back end is more important at any given time than working on a new feature. As for new canonicals: thousands of them are created every day. Tag Wrangling has halted the creation of no-fandom canonicals while they reassess their own internal procedures, but there is no impediment to no-fandom canonicals in the Archive’s code. states “Our first goal is to create a…software package to allow fans to host their own robust, full-featured archives.” Do you believe it’s important to encourage diversification of fanfiction hosting on non-ao3 sites, or is the AO3 being the “juggernaut” archive an acceptable side-effect of its success?

We don’t (and shouldn’t) try to direct fandom, we are here for when it wants to come our way.
Fandom develops mostly without outside planning or control. The OTW is not fandom’s guiding light, and it’s not meant to be the be-all end-all of fandom. We’re just a small part of it, and doing the best we can to help in a number of ways; there are countless fans out there who’ve never heard of the OTW, and countless other archives that I hope will continue to thrive. Fandom being so plural is part of what makes it brilliant.
I think carrying out any actual tasks related to the active support of other archives is beyond the scope of what the OTW can realistically achieve while still maintaining its core work, but we should certainly continue to be supportive and encouraging with regard to fan activity regardless of whether it takes place in our platforms.

What actions will candidates commit to in order to fight harassment on OTW platforms, including the AO3?

The Board does not deal with harassment cases directly and as such, I would offer the Policy & Abuse committee (who does deal with harassment reports on the AO3) or Fanlore staff (who would be dealing with harassment on their site) all the support they ask for and would work with the relevant other committees to look into establishing more formal harassment policies for their platforms as needed.
I would also continue to support Legal, especially the Content Policy Workgroup, who makes sure that our projects’ Terms of Service continue to have a usable definition of harassment that can be enforced.

Where would you rank adding contact moderation (ie blocking users) on your list of priorities, and why? If it’s low on your priority list, what anti-abuse actions are higher? If none are higher, why is that?

I would rank contact moderation fairly high on my list of priorities for anti-harassment features but not at the top because I think the ability to have better fine control over comments would have a bigger effect.
These priorities are just my personal opinion, though. Given that Policy & Abuse (who have to deal with all the harassment complaints we currently receive) and AD&T (who have to design and develop any new features) surely have multiple discussions in progress about how best to address harassment that takes place on AO3, I’m think that they are best situated to make that call. I would therefore support them in their work more than try to convince them that my list of priorities is the one they have to follow.

Do you see AO3 as being America-centric or international? If international, how do you propose to make AO3 welcoming and relevant to international users, rather than orienting it in response to American domestic politics?

I certainly see the Archive as international. Seeing how I have been giving my time and helping others from all over the world donate theirs to help maintain it for about ten years now, and knowing most of my fannish circles (and I) are non-USian, I could hardly think otherwise.
That said, to keep making the Archive increasingly welcoming and relevant to non-US users, we need to listen to them and our non-US volunteers. There are many discussions and decisions, big and small, that benefit from a diverse debating atmosphere and a wide variety of perspectives and contributions. We’ve already received plenty of feedback over the years regarding the most important change we need to make in terms of international inclusiveness: Given how much of a privilege it is to be able to read English fluently, the biggest change we can make in terms of global accessibility, in the long term, is to make the AO3 interface available in other languages.
We already strive to have as much translated content as possible, from AO3 FAQs and news posts and on to Policy & Abuse and Support tickets. In the meantime, AD&T is working in the background to make interface translation possible someday. The Translation committee will jump with joy once that’s available, but it’s a long and complicated process, so in the meantime, we do our best to offer as much content as we can.