Behind the scenes at the AO3: Coding prompt memes
Published: 2011-06-05 17:12:34 -0400
We've seen some conversation recently about cool possible features for the AO3 (we love conversations like this!). Brownbetty made a post about kink memes and AO3 - some of the features suggested there are things we've been working on for a while, so we figured this would be a great time to give people a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. Coder Cesy has been working hard to develop our new prompt memes functionality - coming to the AO3 in the next release! - so we asked her to chat a bit about the issues involved.
I've been coding the new prompt memes feature for the AO3, which is due to go live "soon". It's now reached the next stage of testing (ready to be deployed to our test server again), so I figured it's a good time to post about it.
So, essentially, prompt memes will allow you to run some sorts of comment-fic challenges on AO3, though not a full traditional kink meme. They have the structure of lots of prompts and then works posted in response to prompts. They have the ability to mark prompts as "semi-anonymous" - I deliberately called it that because it isn't true anonymity of the type some people want. A semi-anonymous prompt is still owned by your account, you can still edit it and do everything with it that you could with a non-anonymous prompt, but it will show up to other people as "Anonymous" rather than your name.
The reason I've distinguished it is because there is a key problem with this - the link between the prompt and your name has to be stored in the system (in order for you to edit it), which means a couple of things:
1) There could be a bug in the system that would reveal your name to someone else. We've tried to eliminate them all, (ask me sometime about the joy of writing and refactoring cucumber tests,) but there's always the possibility we'll miss one, or introduce a new one.
2) Someone could guess which one's yours by looking at the id numbers and comparing when you posted prompts under your real name. It would take a little bit of knowledge of the system and a little bit of close watching, and for you to post non-anon prompts in the same batch as semi-anon prompts, but it's possible - if you posted prompt 17143 and 17145, it's reasonable for someone to guess that "anon" prompt 17144 is also by you. We can't hide all of those numbers from users without introducing accessibility problems in the process.
So I'd still like to think of a way to do truly anonymous prompts, where you relinquish control and editing ability in exchange for it being more securely anonymous. (Though that actually only eliminates point 1, not point 2.)
At the moment, prompt memes have the standard AO3 challenge ability for a mod to make all responses in the whole challenge anonymous, but that brings with it the modly power to reveal who wrote which fic at any point. So, there's still scope for a new type of anonymous posting for responses, where it's controlled by the author instead of the mod.
Again, here, you could have a semi-anonymous option where the author can still edit, etc. but it carries the risk of bugs. Or you could have an "instant-orphan' option, but then people would click it by mistake, which raises lots of problems of its own. We're still thinking about other possible approaches!
The AO3 "Accessibility, Design & Technology" committee (which I'm a member of) gets to debate issues like this - if you're interested, we always welcome more volunteers - just let us know you're keen.
Cesy's work on prompt memes will be featured in our next code release!