Jess White 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?

Since this is already a design priority for AO3, if elected I will continue to provide support in whatever way is needed. The Accessibility, Design & Technology (AD&T) committee has always kept, and continues to keep, accessibility at the forefront of AO3’s site design. For example, we do not use copy-protection on the Archive because it would reduce the ability for screen readers to work. They have also developed several different skins that can tweak contrast, fonts, etc. Their publicly displayed skins and a FAQ on how to use/edit them give users the ability to curate their experience as best as possible.

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?

I know this question keeps popping up in fandom spaces, but to the best of my knowledge, and by asking the Chairs involved, it’s no longer an issue. I think that perhaps whoever named the ‘legacy code’ as a key factor might have been a little confused. Or, perhaps this used to be an issue many years ago? Either way, there is no ban on new canonicals. If there were, there would be a lot of Tag Wrangler volunteers with a sudden influx of free time on their hands- because they wouldn’t be able to wrangle! Specifically, the Tag Wrangling committee makes new canonicals every day in characters, relationships, fandoms and additional tags/freeforms – and work towards policies for generic multifandom canonicals, that aren’t community or fandom-specific. There is also no issue with new functions being designed or implemented; blocking users is one of the features to which the Board, Chairs, and Leads have all publicly committed.

The current code is quite familiar to the AD&T and Systems committees. If there are bugs, they are well-known, and have either been fixed, or a work-around provided so that the Archive runs smoothly. In recent years, the only downtime we’ve had has been for the implementation of new features, bug fixes, and server maintenance, so there are few (if any) issues with current functions that would impact the use of the Archive. The coders even provide release notes and more detailed information at the bottom of every page on the Archive so users can follow along with all the changes suggested, made, and implemented. 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?

Well, when the Archive was initially created, it was just one of the many fanfic archives out there. I can’t say for sure whether the Archive’s founders knew it would grow to ‘juggernaut’ status, but I believe that by making the software package something for anyone to use, the original designers were encouraging others who wanted to create their own version of AO3 to do so. I believe this is an acceptable side effect because they have put in the work behind the scenes to ensure its success. By the end of the month, the OTW will have approximately 900 volunteers. So if you were to use that code to create your own archive, you would need to consider who will be dedicating their time to the project – which might not be hundreds of volunteers at the start, but would still need to be a good number of people, particularly if they are also volunteers running the archive in their spare time. That doesn’t mean that someone won’t go out and make their own archive, but it does mean that doing so is not a simple process. That being said, as long as the complications don’t outweigh the need- I think anyone should be able to build their own archives. People have been doing it for most of my fandom life- and I’m sure they will continue to long after I’m gone!

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

I have been committed to fighting harassment in the OTW since I began volunteering for Policy & Abuse seven years ago, and I recently joined the Fanlore Committee to serve in a similar role. Fanlore’s TOS isn’t the same TOS as AO3’s, but both have strong procedures in place to protect users. I serve on the Policy and Admin team there, where unfortunately harassment cases do still pop up across projects.

The Board as a whole does not have an active role in fighting harassment, although they can and do help facilitate those discussions across all the committees that do. The Board, Leads and Chairs’ statement states that they will be ‘potentially drafting revisions that will allow our Policy & Abuse team to address different types of harassment not covered under the current Terms of Service.’ So, having those conversations and seeing how the features such as blocking and muting will affect harassment is quite far-reaching, and I look forward to seeing how we can better serve users.

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?

Oh my, this question is near and dear to my Policy and Abuse heart. I think blocking and/or muting users will be a fantastic addition to our current features. Much like giving users so much choice over how they tag their works, this will give them choice on whose work they want to see. The current plan is to give users the option of blocking others from interacting with each other. So this is already a priority, and I can’t wait for it to roll out.

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 see AO3 as being an international site. Our TOS operates under US law in part because (I assume) the original founders used what was available, and in part because US laws contain provisions for the type of content can be published on the Archive. That might cause some confusion on whether or not we are a US-centric organization. Since most of our volunteers are from outside the US (this information is a best guess due to informal committee polls since we would not collect personal information) when we do decide internal policies, it is done with various committee input to ensure that it’s relevant to everyone- not just volunteers from one country. This internal input then shapes all OTW projects. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but our Translation Committee is one of the largest committees we have. The work that they do to make sure that news posts, tags, Abuse and Support tickets and Frequently Asked Questions are accessible to non-English speaking users further keeps OTW content open to as wide an audience as possible. I will support any OTW committee whose members feel that we need to reach out further to meet the needs of our users- they’ve already made a concerted effort to recruit volunteers with specific language skills, and I am certain they will continue to do so as needs arise. I highly doubt policy will ever be oriented to one country’s domestic politics- US or otherwise- simply because we include volunteers from around the globe in our decision making process.