FanFiction Sites: A Comparison

FanFiction Sites: A Comparison

For this week’s post, we are instructed to find a website within our discourse community with “significant written content.” As a casual writer and fandom geek, I thought to myself, “Why not choose the site where you post most of your written work?” That website, dear readers, was FanFiction.Net (FFN).  

But then I got to thinking about where I post my fanfic writings now, Archive of Our Own (AO3), and started to think about the usability and the interface of both websites. FFN was once upon a time the place to put your fiction on the internet for fans to read and interact with. Now it is almost-defunct. So what happened?

Well, let's first look at the face of each website: The Homepage.

Here is what you see when you first open up AO3:

You have to agree to this TOS before you can look at the website and read content. They act as a catch-all for the website’s privacy statement. It also works as a consent form acknowledging that because the website hosts fan content, you are acknowledging by accepting the terms that you are in-charge of the fan content you consume.

Once accepted, you are directed to the main page of the website:

The heading banner has four drop down menus to choose from. A blurb is front and center-right to tell you what the site is for: “A fan-created, fan-run, nonprofit, noncommercial archive for transformative fanworks, like fanfiction, fanart, fan videos, and podfic.”

Now lets look at FFN's homepage:

Immediately, the first thing your eye is drawn to is the ads at the top and on the sides. There is no message to tell you what this website is or how to find works to read. Like AO3, there is an X/Twitter banner at the bottom, but the last time it was updated was September 2022. And while first visit to AO3's website has you accept terms and conditions, a first visit to FFN's website prompts you with this:

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An Ad.

One difference that I believe contributes to the usability and interface of the sites is that while FFN relies on website ad revenue to pay the bills, AO3 runs theirs by crowdfunding every few months. Like Wikipedia, AO3 relies on donations from users to keep the site ad-free and the fan works created by writers legally free.

But the biggest difference between both sites is how they allow writers to tag and filter their works.

While both sites allow you to find works by fandom and by type of fiction, FFN's filter system is pretty limited. Let's say I wanted to find a fanfic that contained three characters from the show Supergirl:

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Choosing these three characters brings up 678 fictions for me to choose from. However, if I wanted to read fictions with all three characters and the pairing Kara/Lena as a romantic relationship, then this is what happens when I click the pairing box at the top:

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678 fics become 0 because the filter system is interpreting the checked box as me wanting a fic with all three characters in a relationship pairing. Additionally, while I can choose a genre of fic to read like romance or hurt/comfort, I cannot look up specific tropes within a fic that I would want to read like "friends to lovers" or "Argument/Make up."

Now look at AO3's filter system:

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Not only am I able to choose characters, relationships, and fandoms to filter through, I can also add in tags for stories I want to read and exclude things I wouldn't want to read. So, to do the same thing, if I wanted to look up a fic for the show Supergirl using the same three characters, I get this result:

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When I want to sort through those to include all three characters and the pairing Kara/Lena, the results drop, but it does not go to zero like FFN:

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AO3 also has a system for content warnings in a fic, something FFN doesn't have. I love a juicy hurt/comfort fic that is rated M because of lemons, but not if it contains nonconsensual actions between the characters. There is no way to know that on FFN unless the author states it explicitly before the chapter starts.

AO3 gives authors the option to include a warning for their writings using the system below and explains what they mean in detail:

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When comparing both and analyzing both, AO3 is the superior website for hosting fan content for a lot of reasons; Primarily because the filtering system is better, the website has a tagging system, and the content warning system is available for readers to look at and understand. Additionally, because AO3 is "fan-run," the language used by the website to explain things on the website is easy for readers to understand and interpret.

If teenage me had known what AO3 was in high school, I would never have graduated because I would have spent so much time ignoring my homework to read all the Star Trek: Voyager fics I could find.

Erin Byington

Erin Byington

I am a graduate student at Middle Georgia State University. I am working on my Master's in Professional and Technical Writing.
Warner Robins, GA