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2012-10-17 15:43:32 -0400

We've made it another year! As part of the OTW October Membership Drive, we thought we'd share some of the stats and growth over the last two years, and a breakdown of the tags on the Archive.

Warning right up front: this post is very graphics-heavy.

Overall tag growth and canonical growth

Overall, our growth has (inevitably) been nothing but up. There has been proportional growth between the number of works and number of unique tags over the last two years. In October 2010, there were 107,430 works on the Archive and 105,750 unique tags; in October 2012, there are 459,655 works and 395,099 unique tags. The number of canonical tags (the ones which come up in the autocomplete and filters), however, scaled up much more slowly: from 55,697 in October 2010 to 140,306 in October 2012. This reflects the fact that the AO3 tagging system is designed to give creators as much freedom as possible in how they tag their works, so while the arrival of a new fandom on the Archive might generate only a few new canonical tags so the fandom name and characters can come up in filters, there might be a whole host of non-canonical synonyms reflecting the different preferences of creators.

a multiple-line graph showing three lines for the number of works, unique tags, and canonical tags over the last two years by month


For these next few categories, we don't have a historical comparison.

The greatest number of our works - just over 31% - are tagged "Teen and Up", with "General Audiences" close behind at just under 30%. "Explicit" works make up roughly 18% of the Archive, and "Mature", 16%. Roughly 5% of the works are "Not Rated".

a pie chart showing the percentages of works using each Ratings tag.


Unlike Ratings, Warnings are non-exclusive: a work can have multiple warnings. The vast majority of works on the Archive - almost two in three - are tagged "No Archive Warnings Apply". Around a quarter of the works are tagged "Author chose not to use warnings." "Major Character Death" has roughly 18,000 works; "Graphic Depictions of Violence" has 17,000; "Underage" has around 10,000; and "Rape/Non-con" is tagged on just over 8,600 works.

a horizontal bar graph showing the number of works using each Warning tag.


Like Warnings, Categories are also non-exclusive. Roughly four in nine of the 460,000 on the Archive are tagged "M/M", making up the largest Category by far. "Gen" has roughly 125,000 works, and "F/M" has just under 100,000 works. The other three categories are much rarer with 23,000 works or fewer.

a horizontal bar graph showing the number of works using each Category tag.

Tags by type, 2011 - 2012

All User-generated Tags

The following two graphs show the month-by-month growth of total unique tags and canonical tags on the Archive, with the vertical bars broken up for each type of tag.

The unique tags have a linear growth from the 105,000 tags on 01 October 2010 until around December 2011, then they start showing a slight upward curve to their increase, to a current total of just under 400,000 unique tags on the Archive. Characters and Relationships are almost as large a percentage of the total tags as Freeforms (aka Additional Tags).

a stacked bar chart showing the increase in unique user-created tags, stacked by type, over the last 24 months.

The canonical tags, on the other hand, are maintaining a roughly linear increase, from 56,000 in October 2010 to today's 140,000. Proportionally, characters comprise the majority of canonicals, followed closely by Relationships. Freeform canonicals are roughly as common as Fandom canonicals. (Reasons for this can be seen in our Freeform Wrangling Guidelines.)

a stacked bar chart showing the increase in canonical user-created tags, stacked by type, over the last 24 months.


Fandoms have had a very consistent growth, with a notable bump in unique tags in May 2012, when many new users imported existing works from other sites. The number of canonical tags roughly follows this increase, but has been slowing down in recent months. 50% of the 14,000 Fandom tags were canonical in October 2011, decreasing slightly to 43% of the 23,000 unique tags in October 2012.

a vertical bar graph showing the increase in unique and canonical fandom tags over the last 12 months.


We can see a similar pattern with the Character tags - a linear increase in unique tags, and a slowing down of canonical tags. The increases aren't proportional, however: while almost 74% of the 72,000 character tags were canonical in October 2011, only 57% of the 114,000 tags are canonical in October 2012. This may reflect a greater diversity of fannish terminologies being contributed by newer users of the site.

a vertical bar graph showing the increase in unique and canonical character tags over the last 12 months.


Relationship tags also show the same linear growth as the other two, with a slight decrease in the number of canonical tags. Due to the ever-climbing number of combinations, these increased more proportionally: in October 2011, canonicals were 47% of the 68,000 relationship tags; in 2012, they're only 44% of the 118,000 tags.

a vertical bar graph showing the increase in unique and canonical relationship tags over the last 12 months.


In what should not be a surprise, the majority of growth in unique tags comes from the unique Additional tags (also called Freeform tags). The number of freeforms has increased along an increasing slope from 43,000 last October to 138,000 this October. However, as the vast majority of freeforms entered are not intended for searching and indexing, far fewer have been marked canonical: there were just under 9,000 canonical freeforms in October 2011, and there are only 11,500 canonical freeforms in October 2012, as most freeform wrangling consists of glancing at a list and picking out the ones that would be useful as canonical tags (for example, common terms such as 'Angst').

a vertical bar graph showing the increase in unique and canonical additional tags over the last 12 months.

Last Words

We always enjoy taking a look at stats, and tags are particularly interesting because they often give a snapshot of different fannish communities or traditions. We love the way different communities of users on the Archive take advantage of our unique tag system to tag in all kinds of different ways!

The growth in tags reflects the massive increase in the number of users on the site. If you're enjoying using the AO3 and you'd like to help with our running costs, please consider donating to our parent Organization for Transformative Works. Donations help fund the AO3 and all the OTW's other cool projects!

A note on tag filters

In any post about tags, we know people will want to ask about tag filters. We know that the Archive is much harder to browse without this feature, and we're sorry it's taking us a long time to restore it - the rewrite is a significant piece of work. The good news is that we're so close now we can almost taste it - the new filters are on our Test Archive and if testing goes well they should be rolled out to the main site in a few weeks time. Wish us luck!