Nicole Abraham 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?

Accessibility has always been incredibly important when considering designs and features for AO3. In fact, it was even included in the name of Accessibility, Design, & Technology (AD&T), the committee which handles our software design and development. Before releasing new features, we ensure that non-visual accessibility testers have checked for possible issues so that we can make sure the Archive continues to work for everyone. If we receive a Support ticket about an overlooked accessibility issue or a potential accessibility improvement, it is prioritised by AD&T and fixed or updated as soon as possible. I am glad that the person who submitted this question has had a good experience on the Archive so far, and I am committed to the continued prioritization of these issues when developing and improving upon features for AO3 so that users with additional accessibility requirements may continue to enjoy using the Archive.

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 Accessibility, Design, & Technology Committee is constantly working on updates to our code to increase AO3’s efficiency and stability. They frequently add new features to expand the usability of AO3 for users and volunteers. Often, the major issue slowing the development of new features is the amount of time it would take when our limited volunteer labor force is already busy maintaining the Archive, keeping the engines and frameworks on which it is run up to date, and testing and implementing the code that is already written. However, because our volunteer force is already incredibly busy performing regular required duties, this effort takes time. I have discussed the importance of dealing with labor scarcity and volunteer burnout more thoroughly in previous Q&A’s, but I believe that making progress on this issue will be tremendously helpful in our efforts to solve other problems.

The OTW has also been working on creating and maintaining thorough internal documentation so that there is a clear understanding of what is happening within each committee, and what has been tried before. This also takes some time to do well, but is especially invaluable in larger teams like Tag Wrangling to ensure that everyone is on the same page. For example, creating new non-fandom-specific canonical additional tags was originally paused due to a lack of clear guidelines, and concerns on how their creation en masse might affect the Archive. The Tag Wrangling Committee has been actively working on building and solidifying the necessary guidelines so that we may once again create these tags in a consistent, accessible manner. I hope these guidelines can be used to continue maintaining the robust tagging structure that AO3 is often lauded for, and ensure that its tags continue to reflect the large and diverse community whose works call AO3 home. 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?

Fandom is a vast and varied community, and although AO3 was created as a stable repository for anyone to host works, our goal has never been for it to be the only fanfiction archive. Not only do more archives allow for a higher chance of long term hosting security, they can also create fannish communities and inspire fanwork creation. I believe it is important that the code behind AO3 continues to remain free, open-source, and available to anyone who wishes to create and host their own archive using this model.

At the same time, I know this model won’t work for everyone—our code comes with its own issues and learning curve, and also may not be suited for smaller and more focussed fanfic archives, or those who, in general, would prefer a different interface or to include or highlight different features. Therefore, I would not only encourage those who are interested to create their own archives, but also to seriously and carefully consider what sort of interface would best suit their needs, and work to make the best archive possible to fit their standards.

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

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?

Harassment is something that should always be taken seriously, and I believe it is important to ensure that users have the tools and support to create spaces where they do not feel threatened. As discussed in the Statement from the OTW Board of Directors, Chairs, & Leads, providing more options to manage comments is one of the top AO3 development priorities right now. This will allow users to have more control over their own spaces and will help limit harassment. There are also plans to improve upon current admin tools, which will allow our Policy & Abuse Committee to more easily investigate and deal with harassment cases.

Blocking users is also a feature that we are currently investigating. However, because this feature is much more technically complicated, I believe it is important to prioritize the anti-harassment tools we can roll out more swiftly before turning to creating a blocking feature. In short, I would rather we quickly give users a more robust but imperfect set of tools that will allow them to curate their own experiences and prevent harassment than wait to provide any interim support until a blocking feature can be developed.

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?

The OTW, and AO3 as one of its projects, has always been an international organization. We have volunteers from around the world managing and improving upon AO3, and their work and input is incredibly valuable. Our users form a very international audience, and it becomes increasingly more so as our user base grows; a fact that has been especially noticeable through our influx of Chinese and Russain users over the past couple of years. Because of this, it’s important that we consider many diverse and international viewpoints when making decisions that will impact users or volunteers.

One of the most important initiatives to increase our international reach is through projects completed by the Translation committee. Their translation of news posts provides the opportunity for many users who do not speak English to keep up to date on events pertaining to the OTW and its projects, and offering our FAQs in languages other than English allows these users to more easily use the Archive. Additionally, the ability to translate tickets allows our international users a chance to make their voices heard and to receive the same support that English-speaking users have access to. Although AO3 is not yet at a point where we can support a fully translated interface, we continue to make strides towards this goal. Recently this includes no longer setting English as the default language for new works and increased support when publishing news posts that have been translated into a language that reads from right to left. As a member of the Board of Directors, I plan to continue supporting the Translation and AD&T committees in their efforts and to ensure they have access to all the resources they need to eventually make this dream a reality.