Anatomy of a Change: Pairings to Relationships

Published: 2010-09-09 18:52:22 -0400

Our upcoming release includes a small change in the terminology we use in work headers. We'll be changing from referring to 'Pairings' to using 'Relationships'. If you're posting new works, you'll see this change on the work form. If you're browsing the Archive, you'll see it on individual work headers.

We've made this change in order to better reflect the diversity of romantic configurations (threesomes! moresomes! polyamorous relationships!), and to make it clearer that this field can also be used for friendships.

Friendship tags work the same as pairing tags have worked in the past and, once the wranglers have wrangled them, take the canonical form "Sha Gojyo & Cho Hakkai" - this is what your friendship tags will look like in filters!

We chose the term 'Pairings' originally because many fandoms use this in headers as a generic term for all relationships. However, in view of the fact that this does not apply across all fandoms, we think the new terminology is both clearer and more inclusive.

Like many of the decisions made about the Archive, this small change involved consultation with lots of people. We thought our users might appreciate a little glimpse of how different committees work together to develop the Archive:


  1. Our volunteer tag wranglers, always looking for ways to increase fannish inclusiveness, pointed out that 'Pairings' is not a universal fannish term. They also raised the matter that while friendship tags were already in use within the AO3, most users didn't realise that the 'Pairings' field was the place we intended to hold those as well. They discussed the issue on the tag wrangling mailing list and recommended that a change to the name of the field to 'Relationships' would make its use clearer.

  2. The Tag Wrangling Committee (who manage the volunteer wranglers) examined the recommendation and discussed it with Support and International Outreach to get their feedback on the proposed change.

  3. Support agreed that the change would increase clarity for users, and pointed out that 'Relationships' is a more inclusive term which helps to avoid privileging a certain type of relationship over others, giving equal value to different configurations of romantic relationships and to non-romantic and non-sexual relationships.

  4. International Outreach discussed the issue and agreed that 'Relationships' would be more neutral and easier to translate more directly into the many different languages we hope to introduce to the archive.

  5. The Tag Wrangling committee summarised this discussion for the Accessibility, Design and Technology Committee and presented the proposed change.

  6. AD&T discussed the proposal with reference to the technical issues involved. Even though this is a very small change from the user's point of view, it involved changes to more than 70 different files in the project - the kind of tricksy change that can easily lead to an error creeping in. However, AD&T agreed that the change was worth making and passed the issue to the team of volunteer coders to implement.

  7. Senior coder Sidra made the change for the whole site. \0/

This change ended up involving lots of our teams - the majority of Archive development only involves one or two committees and is correspondingly faster. We think this is an excellent demonstration of the value we place on our ability to discuss issues from diverse points of view, allowing us to draw on a variety of experience and expertise. Our diversity is our strength, and it reflects the diversity of our users and supporters. We wouldn't have it any other way.

We believe that paying attention to issues like this, that seem small but have numerous implications, helps us to make the Archive accessible, inclusive, and welcoming to everyone. We welcome user feedback on all aspects of the Archive - just drop us a line via our Support and Feedback form.