Without context, fanworks may not seem worth saving, a problem that predates the Internet. Many fanzines and other collections were lost forever; How Fannish estate planning In a public wiki article, Fanlor writes that family members of deceased fans often “don’t know what they’re looking at, and unfortunately much of the fan material ends up in the trash and other inglorious places.”
When AO3 was created a decade and a half ago, many of the site’s creators had already lost their fandom friends – and as a result, they also lost their friends’ fanworks. “FNOK was brought up very early when they started discussing what kind of things they would like to see in the terms of service,” says Heather Smith, co-chair of AO3’s policy and abuse committee and FNOK’s main coordinator. “People also had a question about how their own work will be treated after it disappears, so OTW [the Organization for Transformative Works, AO3’s parent organization] wanted some kind of arrangement that would benefit both the creators and the fans.”
While installing FNOK is easy, only a small fraction of the site’s millions of users have installed it. “We hope the FNOK agreement is something users take seriously, that both people in the agreement have a lot of trust in each other and have talked together about a possible future of incapacitation,” says Smith. But, she adds, “I think most of our users will never decide to install it.”
Smith herself created it when she joined the FNOK team in 2020, a year in which the number of requests has increased significantly. “It seemed that Covid-19 made everyone think about this possibility,” she says. “For me, it helped ease the conversation. Everyone thought about it at least once that year, and it was a small relief for me to know that someone I trust would be taking care of my existence in the Archive.
FNOK mechanisms are one of several ways that AO3 users’ creations can be saved regardless of the user. Nearly half a million of the site’s more than 10 million entries were “orphaned”, remaining online but detached from the account that posted them. Orphanhood is an act of persistence in a web full of broken links and abandoned profiles, deliberately placing work in the hands of the Archive itself. Both features create the feeling of the platform as a shared space designed to outlive any person.
This contrasts with the increasingly insecure feel of many of our digital platforms. From the slow, sometimes chaotic decline of Twitter to the ever-expanding wreckage left over from earlier Internet eras, the connections we make online and the places we host our creations can seem ephemeral, at the whim of corporations or the super-rich. .
Even with his AO3 business, Carpenter is keenly aware of this in the rest of his digital life. “I constantly fear that Automattic will suddenly decide that Tumblr is not worth it and shut it down overnight, and my last 11 years on the site will be erased with the flip of a switch,” she says. “It’s like losing my diaries and photo albums, letters from friends, scrapbooks, souvenirs and the like in a fire.”