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Constructing Alexandria II Quality Online Anthropomorphic Fiction In the 21 st Century RFC version 1.2 (8/18 2009)

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1 Constructing Alexandria II Quality Online Anthropomorphic Fiction In the 21 st Century RFC version 1.2 (8/ )

2 Constructing Alexandria II Problem Opportunity Alternatives Alexandria II Goals Attributes Implementation Evolution? Monetisation? Roadmap The current state of furry fiction. Possible evolution of fiction. How do we solve the problem? One possible concept. Conceptual roadmap.

3 Furry Fiction: Problems There are two separate classes of issues dealing with online furry fiction, from the perspectives of both the reader and the writer. The writer’s issues: Lack of a writing community Monetisation of work Public acceptance of work The reader’s issues: Lack of quality Poor signal to noise ratio

4 Furry Fiction: Problems for Writers Addressing issues in online furry fiction may begin with looking at the problems listed by furry authors or would-be authors. Any future developments, to be appealing to writers, should offer a solution or at least a position statement on these issues. Developing furry fiction without keeping the priorities of writers in mind will do little to change the status quo.

5 Furry Fiction: Problems for Writers Lack of a writing community Science fiction writers outside the fandom who have fulfilled certain requirements are eligible for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. The SFWA is a professional organisation, offering its members: Advocacy and support in publishing and related endeavours Mentorship and education A community of writers Although there are furry writing circles and groups, there is no single body with the established legitimacy and respect of the SFWA. Furry fandom is only a subset of the broader SFF community, but with somewhere 100 and 250 thousand members* could reasonably support an entity of more limited reach. * Extrapolation from Alexa search rankings and 2009 Furry Survey results, coll. August 2009

6 Furry Fiction: Problems for Writers Monetization of work Although making a living as any sort of author isn’t especially easy, there are specific concerns about the monetisation of furry literature. ** $1/page, assuming 250 words/page Publication (Green: SFWA) Per-Word Rate Analog$.06-$.08 Fantasy and Science Fiction$.06-$.09 Strange Horizons$.05 Albedo One *$.004 Bad Dog Books **$.004 Sofawolf Press$.005 * 3 euros / 1000 words This puts furry publishers roughly on par with low-pay sci-fi magazines. However, common furry distribution venues like FurAffinity, Yiffstar, etc do not compensate authors.

7 Furry Fiction: Problems for Writers Monetization of work (continued) Another issue that emerges from the online nature of most furry writing is the complication of publication. Most publishers discount their rates for previously-published stories, or do not accept them at all. This may differ for furry publishers. For example, Bad Dog Books explicitly says that “previously published stories will be considered”. The extent to which posting work online counts as publication is also disputed. However, authors should be aware of the complications of online writing. Online furry fiction repositories should therefore either: 1.Be able to compensate authors for submission, or 2.Exist explicitly outside a revenue model, with this understanding for authors prior to submission.

8 Furry Fiction: Problems for Writers Public Acceptance of Work Both the previous issues, the lack of an established writing community and the comparative lack of monetisation for furry fiction, relate to a third issue: the low public acceptance of furry fiction. It has been said that sci-fi editors “won’t publish furry”. Furry fiction is deprecated within the fandom, to the point that some conventions either lack or run extremely limited writing tracks. Commenting on something that “makes his blood boil”, Michael Bard relates: Michael W. Bard. “Fursuiting Arrives”, Anthro #13 I first found out about fursuiting by seeing a so-called ‘furry social tree’ which showed the relative ‘social ranking’ of various activities within furrydom... at the very bottom, were those who tried to write serious furry fiction. So, serious furry fiction is of less use to the fandom than people who actively hate it, and go out of their way to broadcast their hate.

9 Furry Fiction: Problems for Writers Public Acceptance of Work (continued) For authors, public acceptance (even as limited as that among friends or family) may also be hampered by a perceived lack of quality (this will be addressed shortly). Authors are looking for an environment in which they can stand behind the general extant body of work. Veritas, commenting on FurRag, “SoFurry.com: the next generation” On FurRag I could be reasonably assured that what they'd see on the front page is something of a quality that I can stand to be associated with - completely aside from how mature the content is or whether it's subject matter I enjoy or not. With Yiffstar this was and is not the case - what's on the front page is quite likely to be abysmal.

10 Furry Fiction: Problems for Readers Having looked at the issues of writing anthropomorphic fiction, we can now look at the problems faced by people looking to read furry fiction on the web. Any further development in furry fiction must be appealing to readers, or it will fail to gain traction. The inertia of existing online venues may also need to be overcome.

11 Furry Fiction: Problems for Readers Lack of Quality One key issue for readers and writers alike is the perception that furry fiction is generally of fairly low quality. A concern exists that, despite the existence of hard-copy publications like those edited and printed by Sofawolf or Bad Dog Books, furry writing online isn’t up to snuff. A tension in readership also exists between low-quality high-readership sites like Yiffstar (http://www.yiffstar.com), and high-quality low-readership sites like FurRag (http://www.furrag.com): Hollud Theodore Ng, commenting on KM Hirosaki’s “On Yiffstar” Even with the lack of publicity about FurRag, I still adore it because a majority of the works there are quality works, not mere fantasies hastily penned down like a crazed, oversexed imagination gone wild. Eldyran, commenting on KM Hirosaki’s “On Yiffstar” Five years ago Yiffstar used to be the best out there for actual stories, but now the site seems more like a depository for poorly written or poorly drawn Pokeman slash.

12 Furry Fiction: Problems for Readers Lack of Quality (continued) From a writing perspective, the lack of quality may be seen as having to deal with the readership base. Bladespark, commenting on FA, “Impossible for yiff stories to have an extensive storyline?” I'm not on Yiffstar because, well, not to be rude to anybody who goes there, but a porn site attracts a certain mindset... I have a hard time imagining that I could take part in the Yiffstar community on a regular basis without having to deal with those creeps fairly often, and it's just not worth it to me.... Frankly they are sometimes very close to making me leave FurAffinity too For both writers and readers, then, any evolution of furry fiction should keep in mind the need to balance stories that appeal to readers with high- quality writing. This has a self-evident degree of substantial, though not complete, overlap.

13 Furry Fiction: Problems for Readers Signal to Noise Ratio Another issue commonly raised in discussions of furry fiction is the inability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Consider the prospects of finding a high-quality story at leading furry writing website Yiffstar. Ratings for 100 randomly-selected stories, 1-5 point scale With nearly 50% of stories scoring the highest possible rating, a 5, the user rating system is effectively useless as a means of finding high-quality writing on the website (to the degree that it exists, see as before)

14 Furry Fiction: Problems for Readers Signal to Noise Ratio (continued) Even outside of rating metrics, the number of submissions at sites like FurAffinity and Yiffstar may make it hard to keep abreast of new submissions. One way around this is the ability to follow particular artists. This, however, poses two problems. Firstly, it runs the risk of turning distribution into a popularity contest. Secondly, it restricts the ability for intermingling and the discovery of new content. Ideally, any evolution of furry fiction would either present consistent, high- quality furry fiction or would permit easy sorting to be able to find the same.

15 Furry Fiction: Opportunity However, with the problems being identified, it’s also important to understand that there are significant opportunities for a florescence of furry literature online. Consider: yiffstar.com has.002%-.003% global Internet reach, representing unique users* stories at Yiffstar and at FurAffinity reflect interest in consumption of literature. * Extrapolation from Alexa search ranking, coll. August 2009

16 Furry Fiction: Opportunity (continued) Data also indicate a desire and respect for literary creativity within the fandom. Writing considered more favourably by furries than conventions or fursuiting. Consistent identification as “author”; 40.4% in 2008 and 41.8% in Only 52.5% of furries say they “never” write furry literature; 9% write daily or weekly. * 2009 Furry Survey

17 Furry Fiction: Alternatives As writings attempting to improve furry fiction and ensure its continued development, we have a few alternatives: 1.Working with existing websites 2.Evolving or changing existing websites 3.Developing a new website Each alternative has its own pros and cons.

18 Furry Fiction: Alternatives Working with existing websites Why should we reinvent the wheel? Websites hosting furry literature aren’t exactly uncommon; any one of them could develop into the nucleus of a strong writing community. Pros: Fairly simple, and doesn’t require the initial investment of any new time or other resources. Existing readership base Cons: Current sites are either too small (FurRag) or do not address concerns of quality (Yiffstar). Current popular websites FurAffinity and (particularly) Yiffstar carry a stigma that makes improving public opinion of furry writing difficult. Large websites lack a singular focus on writing; literature can become lost in the crowd.

19 Furry Fiction: Alternatives Working with existing websites (continued) Why should we reinvent the wheel? Websites hosting furry literature aren’t exactly uncommon; any one of them could develop into the nucleus of a strong writing community. Plan of action: Attempt to engage writers with writing community by broadening the number of critiques. We need to consider how to avoid the situation wherein a thoughtful, deep critique can be drowned out in a sea of “loved it write more A+++++” eBay-style feedback. Develop a circle of writers within a site that can improve each-other’s work without having to rely on the site itself (this may involve communicating off-site while posting all work on it). Widen knowledge of this circle to allow readers to follow work of a defined, consistent quality (RSS feed?).

20 Furry Fiction: Alternatives Evolving existing websites If we agree that the current format and style of popular furry writing websites isn’t enough of change, perhaps we can attempt to improve those websites from within. Pros: Allows the direct addressing of specific concerns about furry writing Leverages an existing readership base to get a jump start on ensuring the longevity of the endeavour. Cons: Requires that the management of the website be open to changing it Depending on the website, we may still have to contend with a stigma about the quality of the work or the nature of the readership.

21 Furry Fiction: Alternatives Evolving existing websites If we agree that the current format and style of popular furry writing websites isn’t enough of change, perhaps we can attempt to improve those websites from within. Plan of action: Develop, advocate and introduce specific, actionable ways to address questions of quality. Ideally, this may incorporate but should go beyond a reliance on “social media” methods (e.g. favourites lists, following authors) to making the desire for quality inherent in the website itself. Develop, advocate and introduce specific, actionable ways to foster a critique- friendly writing community where readers and authors can work together for improvement. This may involve moving away from an author-sensitivity-centric Yiffstar model (wherein authors can delete unfavourable comments or disallow review entirely). Develop, advocate and introduce specific, actionable ways to ensure that reading the material is as simple, involving as little distraction, as possible. FurRag presents a good example of this.

22 Furry Fiction: Alternatives Creating a new website If existing websites cannot be used or salvaged, it falls upon us to create our own. Knowing what we—and readers—want lets us start off on the right foot. Pros: Allows us to develop a new system drawing on the past five years of evolution at other writing websites, the successes and failures of each one, and the specific concerns raised by writers and readers. With specific goals and framework in mind, permits a streamlining of the development process. Cons: Requires a substantial investment of time and/or money. Where does this come from? How do we ensure a steady amount of traffic? What would differentiate this website from any other? Who is going to develop and maintain such a website? Who will edit it? Who will fix the code?

23 Furry Fiction: Alternatives Creating a new website If existing websites cannot be used or salvaged, it falls upon us to create our own. Knowing what we—and readers—want lets us start off on the right foot. Plan of action: Understand exactly what a furry writing website should do, and create a framework to ensure that this is what results. Make sure that people are on board with the concept, the development process, and the website after its creation. If we know that we are in this together, we can work on it more effectively. Establish a solid author base to serve as an anchor and attract new readers and contributors. Use this as the nucleus for your writing community. Know from the outset how to handle expansion, editing and moderation, complaints and other aspects of web development.

24 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II As an example, let’s consider the creation of a completely new furry writing website. In the absence of a better name, let’s call it “Alexandria II”, after the great library.

25 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Goals Alexandria II is intended to serve five functions: 1.As a repository of quality furry literature. 2.As a workshop for improvement. 3.As a writing community. 4.As a stepping-stone to publication. 5.As a means for improving the image of furry fiction. These certainly seem like lofty aims, but Alexandria II exists to “teach by doing”. Rather than requiring constant, hands-on tinkering, the website will be designed to organically achieve each of these ends. How? Well, let’s take each of them in turn.

26 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Goal: Quality furry literature Like a Yerf or Artspots of writing, Alexandria II requires that authors be vetted before they post. Unlike SFWA, membership in Alexandria II doesn’t require prior publication, but readers of the site will know that everyone contributing has met a standard of quality. This may seem like needless elitism. However, this mechanism provides three key positives: 1.It gives furry authors an objective achievement to aim for. Writers at Alexandria II aren’t necessary “elite”, but aspiring writers know that being accepted there, like publication, isn’t meaningless either. 2.It gives readers the ability to simply visit the website and know that what they’re reading will be good. Maybe not Pulitzer-quality—hell, maybe not even magazine-grade—but enjoyable and decently-written no less. 3.It serves as a clear distinction between Alexandria II and existing public-facing general furry websites (that is, as opposed to those that are explicitly closed or focus on niche markets).

27 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Goal: Online writing workshop Alexandria II is both an above-ground, public-facing furry library and an underground bunker for developing and perfecting stories of mass distribution. The website is designed to foster criticism and creative development by encouraging dialogue between authors and between authors and readers. How do we accomplish this? Perhaps we could: Allow authors to rate how helpful reviews are and easily respond to them, creating a two-channel feedback system between writers and reviewers? Allow non-authors to rate reviews, creating a sort of “review karma” system so budding writers can let people know what helped them too? Recognise prolific and helpful reviewers, like Amazon.com does? Require a certain number of reviews per story posted? ???

28 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Goal: Writing community Although Alexandria II isn’t a social networking site and isn’t designed around creating “buddy lists,” we want to get closer towards a SFWA for the furry fandom. Alexandria II is a writer-driven website, and authors should be encouraged to use it to develop contacts and networks for critiquing, advice and improvement. To this end, we want to encourage ownership of the website by the people who create content for it. If there are new ideas, artists should feel that they can voice them and develop ways to implement them. Writers should also feel that the website is designed to serve their goals. Alexandria II will do its level best to avoid “feature creep” or branching out into graphic art, videos or music—there are other sites that can handle those much better. Authors should feel that Alexandria II isn’t just a place where they post work, it’s something they belong to.

29 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Goal: Stepping stone to publication Beyond the online world, the ultimate goal of many authors is to become published. Even in the modern era, when online journalism and writing is becoming increasingly legitimised, people put a special emphasis on having their work in print. Alexandria II addresses this in two ways: 1.By providing a place where authors can workshop and develop stories without posting them for public distribution, circumventing first-publication issues for publishers who will not publish previously-issued work. 2.By providing a place where furry shops like Sofawolf or Bad Dog Books can easily find material to publish or authors to solicit. The nature of the quality- controlled archive mitigates the “signal to noise ratio” issue of existing websites and the focus on continued development and author critiques ensures that stories have already been through a first round of proofreading and editing.

30 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Goal: Improving the image of furry fiction The design and aims of Alexandria II culminate in a desire to improve the public image of furry fiction. After all, writing is the most enduring trait of science fiction: seventy years after the Futurians, Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight and James Blish are still household names for many sci-fi fans. We owe future furries a legacy of quality literature. By focusing on presenting high-quality literature, Alexandria II should be something a writer is proud to admit to belonging to. Alexandria II may not completely shun the erotic or pornographic works that make up much of the literary corpus, but erotica is not the focus of the site, will not adorn its front page, and is marked as such separately from clean stories. Indeed, the goal is for Alexandria II to be something you could link your mother or a coworker to without having to explain or justify it. The work speaks for itself.

31 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Attributes Alexandria II is a website: Where criticism is expected and desired. That could exist as just a writing circle, but is improved by allowing readers to assist in the writing process. That could exist as just a library, but is marked as an author-owned and developed initiative. You’d be willing to include in a portfolio. With as few distractions from the process of reading (or writing) as possible. It’s about creativity, not a chatroom. With a clean public face. That doesn’t try to be the next Facebook, just a simple source of good furry writing. That improves over time as its authors do.

32 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Implementation Alexandria II, with its defined goals and its focus on simplicity, should be implementable in a number of formats. The website needs to allow: Easy submission of new material and control (editing, release, etc) of that material by the author. Granularity of access (to allow workshopping without publication and to separate out objectionable material for those who don’t want to view it). Organic commentary—it needs to be as easy as possible to review or offer improvements to someone’s work. Community-building—the goal isn’t to make a chatroom or a forum, but it should be easy to create, inspire and continue discourse. Meeting these goals should be fairly simple. Existing content management software (CMS) and Wiki implementations meet or could be adapted to meet most of the above. A bespoke system requires a greater investment of time but could result in a more streamlined and efficient system.

33 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Evolution? Although we know (or should know) what we want before we start out, Alexandria II is a dynamic and evolving system. As new ideas are presented, and clear, actionable plans for implementing them are put forth, Alexandria II will allow its writers and readers to shape the form it takes. As long as Alexandria II remains true to its core philosophy, there should be no problem in adjusting the implementation to meet demands. However, the focus should always be on the creation and improvement of content, not on adding new features to the system used to display that content.

34 Furry Fiction: Alexandria II Monetisation? If the authors at even a small site like FurRag were to be compensated at the low rate of.4 cents/word, this would require $18,250. Anything lower than this would serve only as a token or gimmick; as such, Alexandria II will primarily be a volunteer enterprise, adding value for its authors through its writing circle aspects. The overhead for the site will hopefully be minimal, especially as the design is intended to strip out bandwidth and CPU-heavy activities (like serving large amounts of pictures). Initially, volunteers will be required to oversee the applications of new members. Long-term monetisation of the website relies on one of two things: the ability of the website to attract advertisers (and the willingness of the owners to permit advertisement), or the creation of some form of value-added membership sales. Neither is a short-term goal or expectation for Alexandria II.

35 Alexandria II Roadmap Initial draft of proposal Revisions for document Final draft of proposal. Initial draft of website specsheet Request for comments Revisions for specsheet Decision on platform Code website Final draft of website specsheet Solicit authors for launch Gather and prepare stories Launch! T+0 to T+1 mo.T+1.5 to T+2 mo.T+2 to T+4 mo. Request for comments


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