whyareyoulikethis: by <lj user="meganbmoore"> (girls)
[personal profile] whyareyoulikethis posting in [community profile] fangasmic
Has this ever happened to you? I was strolling through the recs page of someone I trust, humming along, mainlining Psych fic like it was my overworked/unpaid job, and then I was linked to a story that instantly made me hit the back button.

Did it have a terrible manip banner? Or, worse, hideously formatted bright pink text on a neon yellow background? Was it written by someone whose fic always makes me want to claw my face off and scream, "WHY IN THE NAME OF GOD IS THIS STORY HAPPENING?"

Nope. The fic was- prepare to shudder- hosted on ff.net. Yeah, I practically broke a finger clicking the hell away.

Fanfiction.net occupies an bizarre place in Fandom. Despite being the largest fanfiction archive on the internet, the site is generally regarded as mediocre fic magnet at best, a Pit of Voles at worst. FF.net's infamous history of purging and censoring is certainly a matter of public record. It even has a number of hate communities devoted to it. But is fanfiction.net's reputation as a Fandom wasteland really deserved?

Like many people, I hadn't logged serious hours on ff.net in years and years. But in an effort to answer this question, I took a trip back down memory lane to see what had changed, and if my (negative) impressions of the site still held water. What I found surprised me.


The first thing that I noticed about revisiting ff.net was just how much easier it was to find what I was looking for than expected. The sheer volume of stories on the site is ridiculous, but there are a number of sorting features built in that lets you slog through the unwashed masses of fanfiction to get to what you want.


This was *exactly* the story I hoped to find when I entered those fields into the search filters.

There's no guarantee that the results will be good, but it's certainly not much more of a crapshoot than, say, reading every story posted to the MerlinxArthur community some days. (Note: not like I ever do that. That's [personal profile] thatneedslube's job.)

Even though it's not formalized, there is an implicit recs system built in to the site. You can publicly favorite authors and stories. In the same way that delicious tagging works, the number of reviews a story has serves basically the same function here in finding what's popular.

And If you're looking for a specific pairing, there are communities built into the site- a feature added largely after I'd migrated away- where maintainers can bundle up fic together for easy, one stop reading.


Another feature that was added since I left was the beta reading system. It's frequently hard for writers just starting off to find a beta, but on ff.net there's a whole system in place where you can easily register as a beta or locate one for whatever fandom and kind of fic you're writing. Livejournal/Dreamwidth have communities set up for this sort of thing, but not with the laser-focused search functionality ff.net provides.


Six pages of results if I'm looking for someone to beta my slightly porny French Harry Potter romance! That's pretty cool.

Of course, it's a little harder to make sure you find someone who will be good at wrangling commas if that's what you need, or to tell you that the ending of your story just doesn't work so stop being so self indulgent and rip the entire fic to shreds already because you're going to have to start from the ground up and even though you're crying tears of blood now you'll thank me in the end I promise. Those sorts of betas are still hard to come by.

Moving on from my writing PTSD, the stats available on the author account page were also a lot more developed than I remembered- this was, by the way, after it took me five tries to even remember my login info. In a very user friendly format, I could instantly see how many people had read my shitty, epic-at-the-time Harry Potter fanfic written when I still wore braces. For the record, that would be 14 unique people in the month of April so far. (Booyah, bitches! I've still got it!) Livejournal and Dreamwidth also offer access to Google Analytics and tracking, but not without a certain minimum level of computer savvy and set-up effort. At ff.net, this info was just magically there at my fingertips.


First Australia, tomorrow the world.

Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty not to like about the site. I found the ads super irritating, for one thing. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the features and functionality built in to ff.net. It was so all so easy! And that, I realized, is part of the problem.

There are no barriers to entry on fanfiction.net. No html coding to learn. No popular authors to suss out. No community standards to grasp, because there's really no such thing as a community on ff.net; despite all of its trappings, it still is at its heart a large collection of stories, not people. So the Fandom learning curve that we've all had to trip up? Not really a problem over there. Its appeal and affinity for Fandom newbies suddenly made a lot of sense.

Looking back, I myself certainly had a lot of fun over there as a carefree and impressionable Harry Potter fangirl who had never heard of such terrible things as Demon Gangbang Fic and Supernatural Fandom. Clicking around my totally defunct author page was, more than anything else, like discovering a terrible yearbook photo from days gone by- one where I'd over-enthusiastically tweezed all my eyebrows off.


A for effort, D for execution.

With that in mind, the entire site suddenly seemed less like the first pit of the internet and more like a relic cum love letter from my past Fandom self- the person who unselfconsciously read filk and lived in a world where human beings were all referred to by things like "The Blond Haired One" and "The Dark Wizard" instead of you know, their names. The site as a whole even bears the markings of discourses from Fandom's past. (No porn? How quaint! They don't allow RPF fic? Pfft, who really cares about that silly issue anymore?)

So perhaps the problem is not that the stories on ff.net are inherently terrible- and largely, maybe they are. (My level of commitment to this piece did not extend to reading everything there.) But that feeling I got when I was linked to that Psych fic last week? That wasn't horror, it was an uncomfortable sensation of remembrance and recognition (and horror).

It's hard to look at the entire place and everything attached to it without the jaundiced eye of someone who only knows better now. I too once wrote the kind of stuff on ff.net that might well make me laugh if I stumbled across it today. (I have no idea if that's true. Despite my nostalgia trip, I am still physically incapable of re-reading anything I ever posted to the site.)

But regardless of what we think of fanfiction.net- or why- it's not like it needs our stamp of approval anyway. According to 2009 figures, there are currently 2.2 million users on ff.net; god only knows how many new fics were added just while you were reading this. A 2007 article listed it as the fourth highest site in terms of average time spent on the entire freaking web. (I would say this just proves the internet is for porn, but that's so ironically not true in this case.) It even has a facebook fan page; we all know that means it's not going away.

I'm willing to bet, long after we've moved on from Livejournal and Dreamwidth to whatever is coming next, ff.net will still be happily chugging along as a Fandom gateway and House of Dreck.

As for me? I'm perfectly content to let it. And while I will never go there on a regular basis, I might be less likely now to automatically hit the back button.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-13 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] asitor

I feel very much like you do--grateful that I ever discovered it, because it really was my gateway into fandom. And at the same time, not grateful enough to spend more than the time it takes to read (or not read) whatever story I've followed there from a link very far away.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-14 01:06 am (UTC)
elaran: signpost of fate (Default)
From: [personal profile] elaran
ahahahah i remember the god old days when i managed to read every completed sam/jack fic that was hosted there in the space of a 3 months or so.

i too used to back button away ASAP when linked there but now have come to realise that there is some good fic buried amongst all the horror and if people are linking x a lot at something on the site, i should give it a go and not back-button away hastily.

A 2007 article listed it as the fourth highest site in terms of average time spent on the entire freaking web.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-14 01:07 am (UTC)
elaran: signpost of fate (Default)
From: [personal profile] elaran
ugh i meant good not god

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-15 02:01 am (UTC)
xparrot: Donna: OMG! (omg (donna))
From: [personal profile] xparrot
(here from [personal profile] beckerbell) - I got an account on ff.net mid-2000, pre-NC-17 or RPF ban. I wasn't new to fandom or fic; it was just another place to post fic, and seemed interesting enough keep an eye on. For a while it was my main fic-posting place, bridging the gap between mailing lists and lj. Eventually I switched over to lj as my primary fandom access point, but I still upload occasional stories to ff.net even now.

While I know why it has the Pit reputation, and it's not entirely undeserved, it's also misleading; it really depends on the fandom and the authors. There always have been and still are some fantastic authors posting there (it helps if you're a gen fan; most of the good authors remaining on ff.net that I know of are genners, as we don't care so much about the NC-17 ban.) Many of them post on lj & such as well, but not all. And for some fandoms, ff.net is the main fic archive online - especially small fandoms that peaked in the early-2000s mid-years between Geocities Waning and the Rise of LJ. And sure, the percentage of young, inexperienced fans is higher, and the standards for grammar & spelling lower than on the average lj comm; and a lot of the stories are crap. But the diamonds are still worth it.

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