And why should we, you ask? Well, I am more than happy to tell you just that, fellow shippers!
AO3, short for Archive of Our Own (get it, A and three O’s?) is basically like Fanfiction.net (aka FFN), a place for you to post and read fanfics. But why do we need another such site, you wonder, clearly fearing the new and unknown? Well, it’s also much more than that. You can embed podfics, videos, music, and art within a story- or post a graphic by itself, and you can link inside the work (I’m probably the only person who is excited about this, don’t mind me). And so. Much. More.
Just like FFN you can also ‘follow,’ subscribing on AO3, and ‘favorite’ fics, known as bookmarking. Subscribing will send you a notification email just like FFN when a new chapter is up, so you’ll never miss the latest addition to that awesome story. You can also subscribe to authors and series (no more searching profiles for sequels and continuations, folks!) as well as individual stories. But that’s not all! AO3 has a history section that tracks every work you visit while logged in. It’s ordered by date, so you can simply go back and look for that amazing fic you read last month whose name you forgot. You can also mark for later, which adds the fic to a list in your History so you can easily return to it later (sure beats leaving a billion tabs open in your browser or following everything in sight, doesn’t it?). And as far as bookmarking goes, AO3 allows you more ways to customize these than your browser.
You can add notes to a bookmark, you can add tags to a bookmark (more on the amazingly awesome tagging system later), you can make it so only you can see that particular bookmark, you can rec[commend] the bookmark, you can create your own bookmark collections to sort all your favorites, heck, you can even bookmark something from offsite! Let your inner organizational freak rejoice!
They also have a kudos feature, which is like a tumblr ‘like’ in addition to comments, allowing you to show you enjoyed a story without taking the time to leave a comment (which you should really be doing anyway if you can; show some love to those hard working authors!).
Another great feature is the ability to download a work. I have already managed to survive plane trips and long weekends with little to no wifi access with my sanity intact because of this feature. You can download an entire fic right onto your phone or other device in multiple formats so you can read offline later. And when you’re all finished reading, a link to reopen the story is right at the end of the document, so you can go back and leave any kudos and comments to show your appreciation when you have internet access again. AO3 is all about accessibility, and creating the option of being able to read offline is just another way they strive for this.
Now let me fangirl for a moment about my favorite feature on AO3: Tags. Like hashtags on twitter or tags on tumblr, you use them to narrow down your searches/categorize your posts on AO3. When you post a work you have the option of adding tags (which you should definitely take advantage of). Of course, some tags are required, like the rating of the work, the fandom, and warnings (you can choose unrated and “choose not to use archive warnings” though). But it’s the optional tags that I really enjoy.
Everyone expects to be able to filter fics by characters and hopefully relationships, right? That’s what you can find on FFN, for up to four characters and two relationships, anyway. On AO3, not only can you add as many characters and relationships into your work’s tags as you wish, you can add other things as well. Writing an angsty story with a side of humor and mystery? Tag it. Writing a High School AU? Tag it. Writing a post-apocalyptic drama where cyborg unicorns have taken over the Earth and are now our cruel and sadistic overlords? Well, that’s… something, I guess, but yeah, you can tag that too! Premade tags will generate for you as you type in the box, or you can just create your own. Any tag you use can then be searched for using keywords and voila! The days of frustratingly googling keywords at random as you search for a certain type of fic in vain are over!
And if you’re the type who enjoys leaving commentary in your tumblr tags, you can do the same on AO3. Tags are only limited by your imagination, and the inability to use commas in them I suppose, so you can add comments to your heart’s content (though I advise against creating a mass wall of tags, those fics tend to get bypassed by people who are too impatient to read 50 tags for one story)!
Tags are also great for helping those with triggers avoid certain topics. Default archive warnings include rape and character deaths, but you can expand on such things in your tags. If you want to include a warning about suicide or dub-con, you can put it in your tags and even add an explanation if you want. The length and specificity of your tags is completely up to you, but the point is that they’re easily viewable and less likely to be skipped over than an Author’s Note, which, by the way, AO3 has separate entry sections for available at both the beginning and end of your work.
AO3 also has a way to distinguish between romantic ship and platonic friendship tags. All ships are tagged by full character names, so it’s “Caroline Forbes/Klaus Mikaelson” on AO3 if you want Klaroline. But if you’re also looking for some Steroline friendship where Stefan is Caroline’s BFF who helps convince her that Klaus is no worse than them and maybe she should take a trip down to NOLA, you’ll want the “Caroline Forbes & Stefan Salvatore” tag. It’s a great way to add more details about your fic right off the bat without having to worry about anyone getting worried because Stefan and Caroline are in the same story. Easy, right?
Now that you are aware of the wonder that is the AO3 tagging system, you might be wondering how exactly you can use this as a reader. This brings us to the glorious filter system! Once you open up a fandom page, which works like FFN (choose a broad category like TV Shows and then pick TVD, for example), on the right side of your screen, or the ‘filters’ button on mobile, you’ll see all the ways you can narrow down what works you see. Currently you can filter by ratings, warnings, categories (F/M, Multi, etc.), fandoms (for crossovers), characters, relationships, and additional tags (commonly used tags like angst or alternate universe). You can also search for tags by typing them in the ‘other tags’ box and letting options populate or use the ‘search within results’ box to search keywords. If you’d like to search for works that don’t include something, like a character, just type in “-Damon” for example and every fic where Damon is listed will be thrown out of the results.
And of course you can also select finished or unfinished works and language as well as sorting results by author, title, date posted, date updated (the default), wordcount, hits, kudos, comments, and bookmarks.
Well, if endless tag possibilities and enhanced search functions don’t get you going, maybe this will: AO3 loves smut. How much do they love it, you ask? They love it so much they have two rating categories for it! Mature and Explicit are generally considered to be likely to contain some degree of smut (or graphic violence, but you can tell what you’ll find from the tags and summary), though AO3 does not police the content in the way FFN theoretically does. Ratings are up to creator’s discretion, so you will find varying degrees of different things in General, Teen, Mature, and Explicit, but the same can really be said for FFN. AO3 will only step in if something is pointed out to be in a too low rating for the content inside. So if you’ve ever hesitated to post something on FFN because of the ‘no mature content allowed’ clause, have no fear, AO3 is here (couldn’t resist the rhyme)!
And a side note for you Jodice lovers out there, AO3 allows real life pairings on their site, so there’s no more need to hide your fics under Klaroline.
Some more lovely features of AO3 include how you don’t need to jump pages to do most things. You can comment, kudo, subscribe, and bookmark all on the same page as the story you’re reading. There’s no new page loading, no jumping around hitting the back button. The page just expands to show a comment box or a bookmark box. Easy peasy.
Speaking of not leaving the page, you can also choose to read the entire work on one single web page. That means no hitting the ‘next chapter’ button. You can just keep scrolling down until you reach the end of everything that is posted. It’s certainly a nifty feature if you’re planning to binge read!
Now for the part those of you who are authors will be interested in: Uploading your work. I’m sure you are painfully aware of the lengthy and annoying process that is posting anything on FFN. For those of you who aren’t familiar, let me enlighten you:
Everytime you post a new story, you have to ‘read’ and agree to the site guidelines. Every. Time. Then you have to go back and reclick the ‘new story’ link, choose your categories and create a summary and all that. But then you remember, oh wait, I have to have a chapter waiting in the doc manager before I can actually create this, crap, and then you exit out of everything you just did and lose it all because you have to go upload a chapter first. So you head to the doc manager, cursing yourself for forgetting yet again, type a label, which you had better love because there’s no way to change it after that, and paste or upload your chapter. Then you can open that for editing if you need before you head back over to ‘new story’ and start reentering everything again. You choose the chapter you want to be first and hit ‘publish new story’ because you can’t preview it at all, and you’re finally done. Until you want to add a new chapter and you have to add it in the doc manager, then pick the story from your stories list, then click a few different things to get to where you add the chapter in and once again publish without previewing.
Surely there is a less complicated way to do that, you ask incredulously?
Damn straight there is, and it can be found on AO3.
From anywhere on the site the Post link is always visible to you. If you happen to have your work already published on certain sites, not FFN unfortunately, you can just import it straight from there. Otherwise you’ll click on ‘new work.’ Then you get taken to the one page where everything is. All your options, from categories and characters, to tags and notes and the actual content, is on one single page. You add everything on that one page and AO3 actually saves drafts of it periodically for you while you’re working! I was in the process of adding a new chapter on AO3 today, coincidentally, and left my computer (for hours) with the posting page still open, my computer turned itself off (*eyebrow twitch*), and when I turned it back on and reopened my saved Chrome pages, my information was still all there waiting for me, just as I had left it.
And not only does AO3 save those of us who are lazy and forgetful, they also let you preview before you post. This preview shows you what anyone who opens your story will see, not just the writing content. And you can continue saving it as a draft if you need as well.
There are also different ways for you to categorize you works, like in series or collections. If you have a bunch of different fics that are related or take place in the same universe, but they wouldn’t fit together in one multi chapter fic, you can create a series for them. This links them together and allows people to easily switch between them. This is much easier than the FFN way of authors trying to cram this information into a tiny summary box or adding it to their profile and hoping people will read it.
Collections are a group of works collected under a single heading, such as a ‘Klaroline Christmas’ collection. Individuals can create collections which other people can add to, so if, for example, in the future for Klaroweek the mods wanted to gather all the contributions into one easily found group, they could create a collection and open it up to allow others to add their works to it. Then everyone would be able to find and check out everything from Klaroweek in one place.
As I mentioned before, AO3 is not just for fics. You can embed videos, images, playlists, podfics, etc., so if you’d like a new way to share your work and writing just isn’t for you, you’ve found your platform. You still need to host your files elsewhere, but that’s still a much better option than FFN’s, which is no option at all.
If you’re a frequent mobile fanfiction reader like myself, the mobile setup of a site is very important to you. I have to say I much prefer AO3’s setup to FFN. You can access just as much on the mobile version of the site on AO3 as you can on an actual computer, which is not something I can say for FFN. The aesthetic in my opinion is also more eye pleasing on AO3, and I enjoy the way I don’t need to load new pages every time I want to leave a comment. Oh, and did I mention that on AO3 you can actually tell if a story is completed on the mobile version without sifting through reviews or skimming the last chapter to try and figure it out? Because honestly, I would switch to AO3 if that was the only thing it had going for it.
And of course I would be remiss if I did not add a little bit about one of my new favorite features, challenges. You can do various things with these, but the one I am most familiar with is using this feature for gift exchanges. Many of you may be familiar with the various holiday-themed secret-santa-type exchanges that occur on tumblr throughout the year (though none have taken place during July or August… yet). AO3’s challenge feature makes this whole process immensely simpler for the moderators (ask me how I know this). It does the matching for you, automatically posts the gifts anonymously until a reveal date is set, and then it reveals the gifters’ identities, among other things. It’s much nicer than trying to work things out on a spreadsheet and hoping tumblr doesn’t eat anything. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to explain this feature more in depth in the near future… (yep, that was subtle, they’ll never suspect *satisfied nod*)
As you can tell, I am quite a fan of AO3 (as should you all be!), but I can admit that it’s not perfect. While the FAQ section is quite helpful, it does leave a lot to be desired. You can only use the search bar for searching for posted works, not within the help section. Occasionally the notification system can be a bit slow or alerts can disappear. You currently need an invite to register as a user on the site (though you can still read and comment/kudo as a guest), and the wait time to receive one is roughly three days at the moment, though you can get access instantly if a current user directly invites you. And the TVD fandom is still underdeveloped on AO3. At this moment there are only 721 works categorized Klaroline on AO3 as opposed to 994 with ‘pairing’ selected and 6.1k without on FFN.
But you know why I still prefer AO3, even with these, and surely other, issues?
Because it’s beta.
AO3 is not a finished website. For those not in the know, beta means the website is still in a trial run. Meaning this is currently not the finished product. They are still fixing bugs and changing things and taking user input into account. FFN is a finished product, one I have been using for the better part of fifteen years now. Do you know how much it has changed since I first discovered it? Not much at all (besides the great lemon purge *moment of silence*). And it’s not going to change noticeably in the future either.
But AO3 will. It can only get better from here. And the number of Klaroline fics can only increase as more of us come to see the pluses of switching to, or at the very least also using, AO3.
So come be a part of the new wave of Klaroline! Help us take over another fanfiction site like we did with FFN. Let’s show people browsing AO3 for a new ship to read that ours is the one they should try. Let’s get those numbers up and make our presence known (*waves Klaroline flag while singing ‘Give Me Love’*)!
I hope this convinces at least some of you to give this site a try. We must never stop spreading our Klaroline influence across the net, and AO3 is just ready and waiting for the next Klarapocalypse!