I've seen at least one person puzzling over what this is all about, so maybe a brief explanation.
If you were around in 2007, you may remember the Fanlib controversy. That was a company that set itself up as an online archive for fanfic that would come out of the shadows and treat it as a legitimate artform, with competitions and deals with publishers and everything. However, it immediately ran into trouble because of a crass and tacky advertising campaign (which also seemed to assume that men, not women, were the main readers and writers of fanfic). Then concerns were raised that Fanlib was a for-profit company - which meant, in effect, that fic writers were being invited to provide free-of-charge content for their website so that Fanlib could profit from its sales of advertising space on the back of that content.
At about the same time, there were also the
In answer to this, a group of fans on LJ (who included several published authors and academics among their number) came up with the idea of starting a fic archive run by fans for fans. It would be committed to the idea that fanworks are legitimate under Fair Use principles, so it wouldn't give way to pressure from copyright owners to ban things. It would be not-for-profit, supported by volunteers, donations and possibly memberships. Its Terms of Service would be written by people who actually understood fannish concerns - so, for example, the section in the rules on fic involving underage characters in sexual situations would specifically deal with the issue "what about immortal aliens, or vampires who are 200 years old but have the body of a 12-year-old"?
As a result, the OTW (Organisation for Transformative Works) was set up and registered as a non-profit company. In 2008 they made around $20,000 in donations and memberships, which was used to finance setting up servers to host the Archive. (Plus legal and accounting fees and so forth). They are involved in other projects as well as AO³, incuding a peer-reviewed academic journal and a wiki.
The Archive Of Our Own - a name chosen in honour of Virginia Woolf - has been coded and developed as an Open Source project to include features which would be most useful to fans and writers, rather than using off-the-shelf packaged software. It's been in closed beta for about a year, and has just today been opened up to general users as an open beta. (Which obviously means there are still going to be flaws that will need sorting out.)
My initial impressions are:
Uploading my existing fic is as easy as pasting in the URL of the LJ page into a text box and pressing a button. You can even batch up to ten fics at once. \o/ Well, I then have to edit it to delete the introductory blurb that appeared above the LJ cut in my journal originally, but that only takes a minute.
The tagging system works like a dream. Start typing in 'B' 'u' into the 'fandom' box and it autocompletes 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' with an option to click on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie)' or 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer (RPF)' instead. Entering the characters and pairings works the same way. Once you've posted, click on a tag and it brings up a page showing every fic about that character, which you can sort by writer, date, rating, or whatever.
There are a few glitches when you try to edit fics, but nothing that makes it unusable.
There are features for bookmarking and reccing fics and leaving comments; I'm not sure if these are active yet. (I've seen a few bookmarked fics, but the menu option seems to be disabled - presumably the feature's still being tested).
So far the most popular fandoms, after one day in open beta, are:
Stargate Atlantis - 632 stories.
Harry Potter - 428 stories.
Supernatural - 362 stories
Buffy - 353 stories.
Due South - 328 stories.