It was an internet nerd’s worst nightmare. On July 10, Archive of Our Own (AO3), a beloved, nonprofit fan-fiction platform, was plagued by DDoS attacks, rendering it inaccessible for over a day. It makes sense that this community would turn to Downdetector, a website where users crowdsource reports of web outages and can communicate information about outages to one another. What doesn’t make sense is that AO3 has been back online for a week, yet some people are still using the Downdetector comments like a massive group chat. They’ve even started calling themselves “the Downdetector fandom.”
I started drafting this story on July 11, because I thought it was funny that people were writing romantic fan fiction in the Downdetector comments about the relationship between AO3 and Downdetector itself. I didn’t finish it because…what can I say, things have been busy. But I checked back in on those crazy kids, and they’re still kickin’ it in the Downdetector comments! It’s been over a week!
I’ve joined in on comment threads where we all try to count to 69420 and create oodles of spam in the process, but the comments on AO3’s Downdetector page are not like that. These aren’t people trying to just keep commenting on the Downdetector page because it’s funny to make the number go up. People are having actual conversations about asexuality in fan fiction, the pitfalls of Wattpad, and managing mental health conditions. They’re also talking about Homestuck and sometimes bullying each other, which is not so great, but this is what happens on the internet.
As of publication, there are 117,325 comments (and counting) on AO3’s Downdetector. For comparison, Facebook’s Downdetector page has a total of 1,751 comments, and Google has 261 comments (all of the Downdetector comment sections seem to only go back about 7 months).
Why are these people turning the Downdetector comment section into their new digital home, especially if AO3 is back, anyway? The user interface of the Disqus comments section kind of sucks, since you can only load a handful of comments at a time. But the novelty of this is that there’s absolutely no good reason to create a de facto internet forum in the comment section of a website about which websites are offline. These people — probably only a few dozen recurring posters, but they’re going strong — continue coming back because it’s such an unintuitive use of the technology, and that makes it fun.
Even as AO3 upgrades to a “shiny new Cloudflare setup,” the fan-fiction haven will likely crash again one day. By then, these eager commenters will likely have lost touch, returning to their usual internet routines, happily reading their fanfic like they wanted all along. But when someone logs onto Downdetector to report that they can’t read their favorite Supernatural fic, they’ll see over a hundred thousand comments waiting for them. I think that’s beautiful.