MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And now we bring you the story of a different kind of online community. It's the fan fiction site Archive of Our Own. It has millions of users and was created out of deep dissatisfaction with ad-based social networking. This weekend, it is up for a Hugo Award, one of the biggest awards in science fiction. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The Archive of Our Own, AO3, is all about people, mostly women, writing fan fiction. And if you want to write off fan fiction as women writing love stories between TV characters, how about showing a little respect?
FRANCESCA COPPA: Fan fiction writers are some of the oldest denizens of the Internet 'cause we're geek girls. And as geek girls, we were on Usenet back when the Internet was two cans and a piece of string.
ULABY: That's Francesca Coppa - geek girl, university professor and an architect of the Archive of Our Own. That reference to a room of our own by Virginia Woolf is not accidental. Coppa says women, generally speaking, are expected to be useful. Making up fiction about characters you love is beyond not useful. It's subversive. It's fun.
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ULABY: Historically, fan fiction has been about big, imaginative leaps. Imagine a hot relationship between "Star Trek's" Kirk and Spock. What if they met up with Doctor Who, or Sherlock Holmes, and started solving mysteries? Or...
(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC TO "WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME!")
ULABY: ...What if NPR's Peter Sagal broadcast Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! during a zombie apocalypse?
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Reading) Hello, everyone. We're going to be cutting our show a little short today because, as you may have heard, there is an apocalypse happening.
ULABY: If you want to hear people having an absolute ball with their imaginations in podfics like this one - stories, videos - the Archive of Our Own is where to be. Or, if you care about who owns and who gets to tell stories, says Lynn Munter. She lives in Duluth, Minn., delivers newspapers and contributes stories to the Archive of Our Own.
LYNN MUNTER: Stories tell us who we are and what we're trying to become in our lives.
ULABY: The Archive of Our Own is not for profit. It was built for fans, by fans. It's one of the most visited websites in the world, and it accepts absolutely no advertising or grants. It's funded entirely by donations, which means, says Munter, you don't have to buy your way in.
MUNTER: It results in a very egalitarian sort of community where everybody is in there on the same footing.
ULABY: A community that created the space when they realized huge corporations were trying to monetize and track their fandom. It's what the Internet was supposed to be, says Francesca Coppa. Here's what she said when I asked her who uses AO3.
COPPA: I don't know because we built it not to collect your data. We don't care how long you stay. We don't care when you come or go. We don't tell you, if you liked this, you might like that.
ULABY: The Archive of Our Own has more than 2 million registered users around the world. Millions more drop into appreciate fan stories and podfics, like this one about a hapless woman who works doing public relations for Marvel Comics superheroes.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Reading) Here's my destiny, to stand at a podium in a blazer and say, sorry half of Manhattan got smushed (ph). Promise it will somehow - somehow - never happen again.
COPPA: The frustrated PR person having drinks after work is the part of the story that Marvel doesn't give us.
ULABY: And it's the part interesting for some fans to fill in. Francesca Coppa says the Archive of Our Own makes it easy to find stories about stuff you care about and stuff you'd rather avoid.
COPPA: So there might be a time when, you know, when you're up for a really kind of sexy story about a vampire who's going to take you and tie you up and throw you on the bed. A different person is like, I don't want to read any stories about any vampires doing anything to me.
ULABY: Hundreds of people volunteer to make this website work - coders, data administrators, and lawyers, like Betsy Rosenblatt, who deals with big companies who might not be thrilled that the vampires in these stories might be copyrighted characters from "Twilight" or "The Vampire Diaries."
BETSY ROSENBLATT: One can understand how a rights holder might not want to have their characters put in these situations.
ULABY: And that real people, like Kim Kardashian, might not be excited when they show up in these stories, too.
ROSENBLATT: But none of those are legally valid claims. They're just things that people don't like.
ULABY: This weekend, the Archive of Our Own is up for a Hugo, one of the most prestigious awards in science fiction and fantasy. This nomination was a big deal, says Francesca Coppa, because fan fiction has been so dismissed for so long. She says what's powerful about the Archive of Our Own is that anyone gets to be a published writer.
COPPA: It's about dance like no one is watching, write like no one is watching, and have fun with it.
ULABY: There's room on this literary dance floor, she says, for everyone.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.