Tutorial: Tags on the AO3 \o/

Published: 2011-09-08 11:40:51 -0400

The information in this news post is out of date. It is being kept for archival purposes. The Tag Wrangling Committee is working on new documentation that represents the current state of tags. You can view our current wrangling guidelines for more accurate information.

The tag system on the AO3 is an attempt to balance two needs that we feel are important:

  • Users should be able to apply any kind of labels they want to their works and bookmarks.
  • Users should be able to find, sort, and filter works according to tags.

"Tag wrangling" is the behind-the-scenes work that makes both of these things possible at once.

The first thing to know about tags is that all the fields at the top of the "Post New" form, everything before you get to the title of the work -- all of those are tags. A few of them have set values you can choose from (the Category, Warning, and Rating fields); all the others are free for you to type in whatever you want. Fandoms are tags, characters are tags, relationships are tags, additional tags are -- as the name suggests -- tags. The Archive software handles them all the same way.

Screenshot of the tags section in the 'post new' form, indicating that Ratings, Warnings and Fandom are required tags, while Category, Relationship, Character and Additional are optional tags

Since they're free-form text boxes, there's a lot of variation in what people put in, even when they're talking about the same thing. We encourage that variety! You're always welcome to use whatever form you want on your tags. But while other fans are likely to know that "Gurren Lagann" is the same series as "Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann," or that "SPN" is an abbreviation for "Supernatural," the Archive software doesn't know that automatically. This is where tag wranglers come in!

The tag wranglers' job is to look at all the new tags on the Archive, figure out how they relate to each other, and link them up behind the scenes so that somebody looking for works about a specific thing can find all the works on the Archive without having to look separately for all the different variations. Wranglers have guidelines to make the standardized forms of tags that show up in the auto-complete and the filters, but you should always feel free to use whatever forms you like best: the point of tag wrangling is that users shouldn't have to use any standard forms. For tag-filtering to be possible, the Archive requires some kind of standard form; the forms wranglers have worked out are intended to be as clear as possible for as many users, and are adjusted the more tags we get, as we see how users create and use tags.

Tag wranglers make three kinds of linking. The first kind, synonyms, is pretty self-explanatory; it's hooking tags to the standardized form of the tag, so "Snarry" and "Harry/Snape" are both synonyms of "Harry Potter/Severus Snape". Clicking on any of those tags will bring up the same list of works.

The second kind, metatags, can get confusing (and sometimes leads to users asking "Why does this tag show up in the filters?"). A metatag looks the same as any other tag, but it can call up other filterable tags. You'll see this in fandom tags like "Batman - All Media Types," which is a metatag for "Batman (Comics)" as well as "Batman (Nolan movies)" and all the other kinds of Batman canon. Clicking on the "Batman - All Media Types" tag displays works that use any of its included tags -- so if you've posted a story tagged "Batman (Comics)," it will turn up in filters when somebody is looking for just comics-verse Batman works and also when somebody is looking for all Batman-related works of any kind. Unlike synonyms, metatags only work in one direction, so someone looking only for comics-verse Batman will not see works tagged for Batman movies.

The third kind is currently not visible to users, though as our fabulous coders keep working on improvements, that should change: behind the scenes, tags in different categories get attached to each other, making a map of how they all relate. The Archive knows, for example, that the relationship tag "Zack Fair/Cloud Strife" is related to the character tags "Zack Fair" and "Cloud Strife," and that the additional tag "Community: badbadbathhouse" belongs with the fandom tag "Persona 4." Right now that's just back-end information that the wranglers organize, but we're looking forward to the upgrades that will let everyone use this information for browsing.

All sorts of tag linking are trickier in the Additional Tags field, because it's more debatable what things should be attached to each other, and it's harder to see what other related tags might already be floating around the Archive (as of July 2011, there are over 25,000 not-fandom-specific Additional Tags -- that's a lot to keep track of!). The tag wranglers do their best, but if you find tags that aren't connected where you think they should be, or something that is connected where you think it shouldn't be, please submit a Support request and the wrangling team will investigate.

If making your tags filterable is important to you, here are a few things you can do to make that easier:

    1. Use commas appropriately – use them only to separate your tags and not within the text you want as your tag, as the Archive treats a comma as the end of a tag. If you want to use more than one tag in a category, use a comma between them, including the names of fandoms in a crossover (enter each fandom separately).
    2. Use the tag categories as described above: fandom names in the fandom tags field, relationship tags (either pairings or platonic relationships) in the relationships field, character tags in the characters field. For anything that doesn’t fit into those other categories, use additional tags.
    3. Spell-check your tags before posting – you proofread your works, why not your tags?

For more information on tags, please see the Tag FAQ. If you're interested in Tag Wrangling, we welcome Volunteers!