March 20, 2015

AO3 vs FFN: Battle of the Fanfiction


Archive Of Our Own

The newest upstart in the fanfiction world is big and bright and damn ready to take down the old guard. But really, how does Archive Of Our Own compare to the reigning champion of Fanfiction.Net?

Welcome to the Versus Series, a series of posts where I compare two things in a three round fight for supremacy! Have a match you want to see? Let me know in the comments!

In One Corner, We Have the Challenger

Created by the Organization of Transformative Works, a non-profit fan organization all about preserving fandom for future generations,  in November of 2009, Archive of Our Own is an open source archive of fanwork. At the moment it only hosts text but creators are encouraged to embed video and art. It's paid for by donations and maintained by a volunteers who are usually members of OTW. The archive is still currently in open beta but that doesn't mean it is without strength. It is very much an upcoming favorite with an extensive tagging system, the lack of ads, sitewide skins that anyone can make and upload and the fact that it is owned by fans who can become a member and eventually on the Board of Directors is a major plus. That said, there is a bit of flack for the invite list to actually get on the site, the lack of a private messaging system, tagging system that is a bit too loose [leading to a wall of tags by non-conservative tagging authors], the amount of focus on slash and no way to rate ficts leads one to know that AO3 has a bit of a way to go.

In another we have the reigning champ!

Started in 1998 by Xing Li, has been home to well over 4 million users, archived over 1 billion words and is for profit. It is not only home to fanfiction but also a message board, a dictionary and an archive of beta readers.FFN is continuously updated leading to the allowance of upload of cover art, filters that filter by pairing and removing stories from your search and a rather great story formatter. As that it's automated, it only takes a bit of time to upload your ficts. FFnet is the largest community of fanfiction writers and readers on the net so you never run out of anything to read. However, there is trouble in paradise. The site is in a constant state of breaking, the rules and methods to enforce said rules are a tad ridiculous [have any old person report a fict because they dislike it and have it taken down without warning? Yeah, nothing wrong with that], there is no kind of quality control, the filter system isn't the best it could be and quite unwieldy when dealing with so many ficts and the community, more often than not, is a bit batshit.

Battle On!

For each round I am going to use a fict. Each round is a different fict. The quality doesn't matter but the speed and ease of finding, reading and the comments on the fict - comment quality and quantity - matter the most.


Round 1: Search

I am going to search for a... complete Snarry fict with over 100k words and over 50 reviews/faves/follows/kudos [whichever is higher].


Off to a running good start, Snarry is one of the top written pairings on AO3 in the Harry Potter fandom section so it's easy to separate the sheep from the cattle. I often get confused as to why people say that AO3 has a hard search system but then I realize that they don't use the tags. Yes, AO3 has a hard to use search engine but the beauty is the tags and filters. Just go to your fandom of choice and filter out the tags you don't want.

Anyway I use a minimal filter after navigating to the Harry Potter/Severus Snape tag. I filter for the list to sort from high to low of word count and it must be in English.

Bada bing bada boom but ahh what's this? The highest work is a fem!Harry story. I am not a fan of that so I want to filter it out. Indicating M/M should work!

...or not. I have actually seen authors do this - tagging a work as slash even though one or both of the characters are genderbent. Also marking a story with both the friendship tag and slash even though there is no slash. Usually this is done because the author doesn't know that there are separate symbols for platonic [&] and romantic {/} but I have seen ficts where the author blatantly said that she has included the slash tag though there is no slash just for reviews. That's bad. Very bad. For now I just filter out the tag I hate.

Duly noted is that there is no way to filter out crossovers without filtering out any crossovers I see. Like I can't just isolate a fandom so that it won't be crossed with anything. Minor annoyance but sure.



I want to note that if you don't want to deal with FFnet's filter/search, you can use Scryer. It's an upgrade of a popular ffnet searcher that became popularized by the Dark Lord Potter forums. I;m not sure how well it works with the smaller fandoms but if you are into the larger fandoms [like Harry Potter like me] then it will be super useful. Anyway, for today, I am going to use FFN's baked in filter/search.

Unlike AO3, there is no unified tag for pairings. The fandom on FFN just uses whatever they like [which is expected for a site that has been around so long] but that makes finding things a bit more difficult in the bigger and older fandoms. A search for SSHP and Snarry returns different results. To be fair, I am going to use both. The filters on SSHP returns thus:


Also noted is that recent authors use the character tags to indicate the pairing but since this was only recently implemented [you have been able to indicate the characters in the story but it wasn't until REALLY recently that you can indicate pairings] the older stories don't filter properly.

Let's try the filters then. With some basic filters - language, characters, completeness and word count - I have narrowed it down to 130 stories.

What happens when I narrow it down to just pairing ficts?

Ah.... Yeah. /sigh

Anyway back to that 130, one beef is that the list it gives me doesn't auto sort from highest to lowest. Sounds petty but that feature is available on the FFN mobile site. Why isn't it implemented on the main site which is far more important.

Also there is no way to filter out platonic and romantic pairings. I like Severitus [mentorship!snarry that is usually platonic] as much as the next fangirl but when I am searching for one, I really don't want to get the other.


Winner: AO3

Though not perfect, AO3 has the better built in filter system. Though FFN implements a better separation of crossover and single fandom ficts, at the end of the day, you what you will read and frankly, AO3 gets me to the reading part far faster. I usually only read ficts on FFN if they have been recommended since I don't have the power to go through all that sludge to find ficts especially if they are not well known/improperly tagged. That said, the tagging on both is lackluster and should be improved.

Round 2: Reading

This time I am going to open a fict that I know is on both sites and read it. Fict in question is Accidentally Bound by Laurenke


Coming out the gate swinging, FFN has formatting options available no matter if you are logged in or not. You can choose serif and sans serif font on the site globally and on a fict-basis, you can change font sizes, the font, the contrast [the usual black font on white background or white on black, how much whitespace on the page and the line spacing. Very impressive.

The only gripe, as a writer, I have is that certain formatting -like line breaks - aren't perserved very well.


With AO3, your only choices to customize your view is to login and choose a theme. You can code your own - AO3 is open source ya know - but at the end of the day, the average user will default to the basic theme which is a blinding black on white. I personally use the Reversi theme.

Duly noted is that if you don't like the formatting of the site, you can always just download the fict in question and just read it in the format you wish on your e-reader of choice. But, of course, YMMV.

Winner: FFN

As someone who likes to do the bare minimum to make things easy, FFN caters to that far easier than AO3. I shouldn't have to login to read the way I want to. Granted, I do read mostly on my phone [which is always logged in to my AO3] but really I should be able to get on any computer and read my way. 

Round 3: Community

This round, I am looking at reviews both in quantity and quality. Again, I am going to use a fict that is the same on both sites. This time it's A Beast's Virtue by Arilene.


On AO3 ABV has 146 reviews [at the time I wrote this] and AO3 handles comments in a sort of odd way. If you are familiar with Livejournal [or DA or any other site that uses nested comments] you will recognize the style. The commenter reviews and the author [or another commenter] can reply to said review even if the original poster doesn't have an account. So if a random anon dives in with questions, the author can reply and have that reply viewable to all until they delete it [I think they can delete it, I may be wrong in that.]

On one hand this is great so that authors who are less than stellar dealing with their public can be held accountable and they have a way to answer questions without having to append author notes or starting a forum. On the other, this method can lead to spoilers if the reader is the type to read comments and the author is the type to hand out future plot points like candy.

Also, in terms of quantity, there is maybe a handful of reviews per chapter on AO3 [I may be wrong since I didn't go through all the chapters to check comments] but in terms of quality, there are far far less 'plz update!' or 'dis is good' so the quality is better than most.


On FFN, ABV has 333 reviews, a step up than AO3 but then I follow the author on tumblr and knows that she posts the link to FFN first then mirrors the chapter on AO3 within a day or so.

FFN is a bit cloak and dagger with their review system. Anyone can review [unless anon reviews are off] and authors have the moderating power to delete anon reviews. The only one who can reply to reviews that are from logged in reviews is the author Actually anyone logged in can reply to reviews but it is still sent as a private message to the reviewer. The conversation can continue via Private Message. Author Notes are discouraged - at least the review reply function is- so a few just make their own forum thread to do it but since not everyone on FFN uses the forum [I didn't for the longest and I have been on FFN for like a decade or so] so that is a moot point to reply to anon reviews.

The quality is a bit lower than AO3 since I saw more than a few that were just requests for updates. However every chapter, as far as I could see, as a review. There is no chapter uncommented on and that's a good or bad thing depending on how you see it.

Winner: AO3

Quality over quantity trumps and I like that it's far more open than FFN. Though if you are looking to get more reviews, FFN is the far better bet. Just know you will wind up with quite a few 'plz updates' than a full thesis about your story.

The Winnah!

With two out of three wins under it's belt, AO3 is the clear winner. Open commentary and a search system that works, AO3 is remixing what you know about fanfiction archives and doing it right. It's reading format could be better and not so hard for newbies to change it as they like but 2/3 is better than none. That said if you are looking for more stories, more comments [i.e. a bigger audience] and a less open commenting system, FFN is your best bet.

Fanfiction is a vast world and frankly, it would be great to have two behemoths to archive the stories that we have running through our heads.

Agree with my conclusions? Disagree? Tell me below in the comments. If you want more, subscribe via RSS or email!

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