C. Ryan Smith 2018 Q&A: Group 3

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

9. What is something nice that you can say about your colleagues that you’re running with/against?

To be quite honest, I have too many nice things to say about all of them to limit it to 300 words! They have all been wonderful co-candidates and it’s been truly great getting to know each of them more. On our private chat platform, we all have a private room that we can talk to each other and discuss the election or any questions we have with our Elections Committee liaisons. It has also been a good place to find encouragement to continue working towards the end of the election season. We have had several light hearted conversations about procrastination and how we promise to do better the next week (spoiler alert: we haven’t yet). We’ve also had serious discussions about the questions that we have answered over the past three weeks. Overall, it has just been a great experience running with each of them and I’m happy to say that I’ve made three new friendships with the organization. I am also very happy to say that I am confident the OTW in great hands no matter who among us is elected.

10. A frequent complaint in today’s fandom is that AO3 should be more restrictive with regards to its content, or offer users more ways to avoid content they don’t want to see. What do you think the OTW board’s role should be regarding this?

Outside of the usual role of serving in an advisory capacity to all OTW committees and discussing issues with them as necessary, the Board doesn’t have a place in those type of discussions. The reason for this is twofold, in my opinion:

  • The Board’s mission is to serve as a guide for the OTW as a whole, not dictate specific committees’ actions.
  • The Board does not have the subject matter expertise required (ie knowledge of coding and development) to make informed choices regarding new features.

The Accessibility, Design, & Technology (AD&T) Committee is responsible for approving and developing all new features to appear on AO3. In fact, most of the “milestone” features they would like to work on have already been set out in the project roadmap. In as far as restricting the types of content that AO3 hosts, it is part of our Terms of Service (ToS) that our goal is maximum inclusiveness and that the Archive might host content that is “offensive, triggering, erroneous, sexually explicit, indecent, blasphemous, objectionable, grammatically incorrect, or badly spelled.” This is one of the founding tenets of the Archive and as a potential Board member, I would not support any efforts to change that.

11. If elected, would you consider making suicide an official archive warning, since this can be massively triggering for many, many people?

The addition of a new archive warning would involve a large discussion with all of the committees behind AO3, not just any one group. For the sake of my word count, I am going to look at this primarily through the lens of the Policy & Abuse Committee (PAC).

All of our archive warnings are already very subjective issues, which require very clear cut cases in order for PAC to interfere with a work. This is especially true because, per our ToS, we tend to defer to how the creator categorizes a work unless it is clearly missing either a proper warning tag or “Creator Chose Not to use Archive Warnings.” If this new warning were added, many of our nearly 4 million works would suddenly become miscategorized and would require intervention, adding to the already immense workload of PAC. Furthermore, the AO3 ToS does not allow for PAC to add specific warnings outside of “Creator Chose Not to Use Archive Warnings”, thus the extra work would not necessarily assist anyone looking to avoid triggering content.

In short, I don’t think that something like this is an idea that we can approach without very careful consideration by all parties involved and the concerns I mentioned above are merely from a standpoint of enforceability by PAC. In the meantime, I would encourage all users who want to avoid triggering content to utilize the new exclusion filters to remove content you do not wish to see using the existing freeform tags.

12. Considering the on-going problems with the archive, how will you ensure that the OTW‘s resources are directed to a comprehensive and sustainable solution for the archive?

Before I really answer this question, I feel I should address the “on-going problems” mentioned above. The AD&T and Systems Committees released a downtime report back in May regarding the largest incident in question, detailing how the issues in question were short term, related to our recent updating of the various softwares that make up the backbone of the Archive. Additionally, we detail downtime events as they unfold, as well as what we think potentially causes them, on our @AO3_Status Twitter (you can look back at our history there to see some of the more recent incidents—and follow us to stay up to date on current ones as well!). We are hoping to recruit (or possibly even contract out to) new sysadmins in order to lessen the load on our current team.

It falls to the individual committees within the OTW to budget for their expenses and then forward that onto the Finance Committee for incorporation into the organizational budget. To reiterate a point I made in question #10 above, the Board does not have the subject matter expertise required (in this case, knowledge of server administration) in order to arbitrarily decide what constitutes a “sustainable solution for the archive.” The Board places its trust in all OTW committees to responsibly budget for their individual mandates & needs, including the various committees behind AO3.