ficlets is going to the land of wind and ghosts. here’s how to save your stories.

AOL is shutting down Ficlets on January 15, and in their infinite corporate wisdom and understanding of how communities on the Internet work, they’re not providing any easy way to archive the stories you’ve written there beyond advising that you try “copying the text and pasting it into a plain text or Word document.” Right. That’s going to be really fun and easy for people who have written dozens of Ficlets. [::facepalm::]

Ficlets’ creator, Kevin Lawver, even tried to get AOL to do something with it other than just stick Christopher Lee inside it and set it on fire, but they refused:

I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know the day. I tried, with the help of some great people, to get AOL to donate ficlets to a non-profit, with no luck. I asked them just to give it to me outright since I invented it and built it with the help of some spectacular developers and designers. All of this has gone nowhere.

I don’t get this. I don’t understand what AOL has to lose by letting someone who wants to care for it take it over, and I don’t understand what AOL has to gain by simply destroying it, but that’s probably why I’m not in middle management at AOL: I like to actually nurture and support cool and unique things that don’t suck.

Ficlets was important to a lot of people. There are over ten thousand writers, thirty-five thousand stories, and eighty thousand comments. It was also important to me. On my author page, I wrote:

I am a professional narrative non-fiction writer. I’ve published three books, and write several geeky columns on topics like technology and gaming.

What I really want to do, though, is write fiction, and I figured Ficlets was the perfect place to find my fiction voice.

The 1024 character limitation, the ability to draw inspiration from quotes and pictures, and the collaborative nature of the prequels and sequels all worked together to help me create some super short stories that I’m still really proud of, like They Don’t Come Out at Night, Snowfall, and The Fifteenth. My story A Godawful Small Affair , inspired by listening to way too much Ziggy Stardust (as if there’s such a thing!), turned into a truly wonderful collaborative fiction project that branched out into dozens of multiple universes.

A fellow Ficleteer, Chris Meadows, wrote a Requiem for Ficlets that touched me in a way that, if Loretta touched me, I’d say, “Oh yeah, that’s nice.”

As a site, Ficlets did have its problems. (Some of which could have been alleviated by more development.) As a busy site that received hundreds of posts per day in its heyday, it never really developed a workable method for making sure that new ficlets weren’t quickly buried in the rush of more ficlets. There were lists of “popular” and “active” ficlets, but getting on the lists was a crapshoot that largely relied on whether your ficlet stayed in the “Most recently posted” list long enough for enough people to see and read it.


On the other hand, the site had a number of excellent innovations. The ficlet format itself was made for creativity … unlike cluttered competitor, the Ficlets interface was completely uncluttered, and it allowed infinite story branching instead of’s two-predefined- choices-only.

Another especially clever touch was the ability to search through Creative Commons-licensed Flickr photos and use them for “inspiration”. This was the sort of creativity that Creative Commons was meant to engender, and seeing it in action was a thing of beauty.

Chris came up with a way to save your Ficlets, using a tool called HTTrack. He’s included fairly simple instructions that shouldn’t be too difficult to follow, so you can create an archive of your work, as well as any prequels or sequels that it inspired.

Through extensive trial and error, I’ve managed to come up with a set of rules that will fetch all the stories I want and not too many that I don’t want. And as the doom of Ficlets draws nigh, I figure it would be best to get this slightly imperfect set out there now, so people can save their stuff right away, and perhaps worry about refining it later. If anyone who knows HTTrack better than I do can send me tips or corrections, I’d be thrilled to update this post with them.

I really loved Ficlets, and I get the feeling that a lot of Ficleteers discovered it because of me or Scalzi. I’m really sad to see it go, and I’m hopeful that something new is created to take its place. Until that happens, though, thanks for reading my stories, and even collaborating with me on some of them. Keep writing!

33 thoughts on “ficlets is going to the land of wind and ghosts. here’s how to save your stories.”

  1. Ah, yes…AOL. Let us wax poetical, and vitriolic about AOL. OK, good idea, let’s not. Suffice it to say that there are thousands of former AOL bloggers who, for some reason or another, missed the announcement of AOL’s “sunsetting” of their blogging platform, and lost blogs containing hundreds of entries representing years of creativity. Gone, into the ether, with a flip of a switch. Yes, we former AOLers would like to flip AOL something, that’s for sure.

  2. Real life got in the way shortly after I made my foray into Ficlets. Still, it is sad to learn it’s going away.
    And no idea that Chris Meadows was on there. What with him and Will Hindmarch, I should see how many other writers I knew back in the day who’ve been there.

  3. That is too bad to see something like that going away. There is something somewhat the same out there, called Quill Pill. ( The character limit is much shorter. Think Ficlets (which I am sorry I never discovered) mixed with Twitter. Might be worth checking into.

  4. I never wrote any of my own but I loved reading other people’s Ficlets. Sometimes I loved where the stories went, sometimes I didn’t. But if there were enough posts I could always try over. Sad to see it go.

  5. Kevin and crew are working on a “Ficlets 2.0″ to replace Ficlets. You can track progress on Facebook in the I Write Ficlets group.

  6. Well, no time like the present, I always say. Well, most of the time. As we know, time waits for NoMan, so, I submit to you, that you should be the guy to create the Web version of the service you just described….
    Or, I’m not, The Idea Master :)

  7. Dang. You and Scalzi both turned me on to Ficlets. I think I even got to add on or pre-quel one of your stories. Thanks for the httrack info. I’m gonna go grab my stuff. :)

  8. As much as I hated to hear that ficlets was dying… I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming. Fortunately I’d already backed up all of the stories that I’d cared anything about to my own website. And yes it was a major pain in the ass to do.
    Like so many of the writers on Ficlets I can thank Wil for turning me onto it, I only wish that I’d discovered it sooner. The 1024 char format was great as well as the community that gave truly helpful input and not snarky comments.
    Being a developer geek myself, I’ve toyed with the idea of creating my own port but… who has the time? Anyway, you should really let us know if you find anything comparable Wil. :)

  9. I’m going to miss ficlets a lot, and I want to work on a replacement, but my developer skills are a bit slow, so someone else is probably already way past me. Still going to try, though: maybe friendly competition (or integration) will be good.
    And you’re right: I did learn about ficlets from you (or, rather, through a friend who learned about it from you). :)

  10. I found out about Ficlets on this site (thank you, by the way, it was a great way to let loose some ideas that have been rattling around for a long time); the community was really nice and a good mix of ages. My favorite part, though, was the character limit. A story really has to be good when it’s short, or else it really…. stinks. But the short limit means you didn’t waste much time reading it if it did stink. And although I moved with a lot of Ficleteers to Protagonize, I can already tell I’m gonna miss the character limit most.

  11. Yep, Wil, I discovered Ficlets through you… and only posted my first two ficlets there in November. I was just getting into it, when I saw the notice about its demise. Sad for me, but at least I only had two stories there, and I don’t need to archive them because I still know where there are on my hard drive.
    We need another

  12. That sucks. I haven’t written anything on ficlets yet, but I was seriously considering it, having recently discovered that I enjoy reading and writing drabbles (fanfics of exactly 100 words). Initially, drabbles appealed to me because I don’t have much time to read/write longer fanfics, but I found that the severe length restriction actually improved my writing in a number of ways. Working with more general stuff on ficlets (which I heard about from you) seemed like a good idea.
    I hope somebody can get something going quickly (perhaps by customizing existing software like eFiction?). This would be a good project for one of the way-too-many laid-off techies out there.

  13. Wow. Thanks, Wil, for blogging my requiem and my how-to guide. You’ve officially made my week.
    I sure hope the guide helps people like me who had participated in so many ficlets there would have been no way to save them all by hand.
    I only wish I’d come up with it sooner, so more people might have had time to see it.
    —Chris M./R_M

  14. I coulda swore it was Edward Woodward that got stuck in something and burned. Hrm. Oh well, eventually it would have been Lee. Crops can only fail so many times before the townsfolk look to the leader for ‘better’ answers.
    Or maybe Ive got the wrong joke completely…
    The really really sad thing? Ive been reading this blog for effing years. 2000…01 maybe? And Id never heard of Ficlets. Okay, maybe I have in a brief mention. I do recall a couple of stories on your authors list.
    And, as it typically happens with me…I find something I like, and I just caught the tail end of the parade. I would have liked to take advantage of a site like that too.
    Anyone have any other similar suggestions?

  15. Corporations suck and they inherently screw everything up. That’s why I refuse to download any of AOL’s software onto my computer. When I surfed the Internet using their software, my computer would always f*ck up. I just don’t anymore….on principle.

  16. I’m a writer and one of the many readers of this blog, and among those who were pointed in the direction of Ficlets by you, Wil, and you have my thanks. I’m also among those who had the chance to sequel a sequel to a Ficlet of yours titled “Real Life” ( A fellow Ficleteer (Tony Mannor) and I actually took off on that string for several postings.
    In a farewell Ficlet I posted the other day (, I publicly thank you there, too, and plug your blog — a return favor for leading me to Ficlets to begin with.
    Of course, it sucks for all of us who enjoyed that site that it’s being so heartlessly destroyed. My Ficlets originals and sequels have been backed up at home, and I look forward to a new version if and when it is created by K. Lawver and others.
    In my brief Ficlets bio, I mention I was taking part on the site for “creative writing warm-ups”, and I did find it broke the writing block many times. It was great to log on and either jump into an original piece or sequel someone else’s piece that offered inspiration. The character limit was great, as it forced the author to refine and tighten the writing so it could be the best it could be. Many Ficlets I read were superb in their originality and story development in such a short space, and in their completeness in and of themselves.
    As I write in my farewell Ficlet, participating in that on-line community “was, to me, reminiscent of my college creative writing classes—writing original material, collaborating, sharing, critiquing. A lot of fun!”
    I hadn’t logged on to Ficlets in several months, until just last week, as I have been working on a major off-line writing project. So, it was certainly a surprise — and shock — to see that such a well-used site was being abruptly shutdown. It will be missed.
    I, too, was once among those who used AOL and have since dropped it. Is it any wonder why?
    In any event, thanks again, Wil.

  17. Thanks for writing this, Wil. The eulogies for ficlets keep pouring in, and while they’re hard for me to read, it helps to know that what we built was important enough to people for them to write about it. And as someone above mentioned, we are slowly working on a successor to ficlets (we being Jason Garber, me and some kind folks at Viget Labs), and I’ve got a ficlets “graveyard” almost ready to go so peoples’ non-mature stories will at least be preserved online in some form (I didn’t get a spider written in time to sign in and get the mature ones). Thanks for being a part of ficlets and for helping expose people to it. It was fun while it lasted…

  18. People keep asking if there is a replacement for Ficlets. I know I posted this yesterday, but I think Protagonize warrants a repost. It’s not exactly the same as Ficlets, but for those who are looking for interesting, creative, and community-generated storytelling opportunities, it is a great alternative.
    Seriously. Take a look at Protagonize.

  19. Okay, so how hard would it be to hack in and duplicate the entire Ficlets file server? That’s not in my repertory of skills, but it must be in someone’s… 😉

  20. I loved reading ficlets, although had never posted myself….hope that something else of the same calibre will evolve….
    And I love The Wicker Man reference!

  21. I was very disappointed to see Ficlets was being retired. When you originally pointed to Ficlets in one of your blog posts, I decided to take a stab at it, and became a very active member there. I made a lot of friends there that i chat with over the Internets every day!
    Many of the users at Ficlets have begun posting their stories at which is a good outlet for story-telling, but doesn’t quite have the same charm as Ficlets does.
    I’m looking forward to seeng Kevin launch his newest effort, and will Register with bells on, once Ficlets 2.0 (The New Name is still up in the air) comes online.
    In my goodbyes, I did mention you, however, as the primary reason for my having written over 200 stories in less than 6 months. So thanks Wil for always pointing us in the right direction…

  22. oh how sucky AOL! I can understand canceling the service if they want to, but not allowing Kevin to take it off their hands? Corporations are the suck sometimes.
    I’ve joined the facebook group, though, and hope ficlets 2.0 rises from the ashes. I quite liked that little site. I wish there was a way that we could revive it or a similar service for the magazine I run, but I doubt we have the server space, power, or programming skills to pull it off.

  23. I just wanted to say, “I’m sorry.”
    I never liked the character you played on TNG, so I naturally assumed that you, personally, were a tool. (I bet I was the only one that did that, though.) On the flip side, your mother (if I remember the story correctly) got Paramount to sue a deadbeat loser who was dating my sister. He got his comeuppance, and I smiled.
    So you can see how I was conflicted. Then I read your A Godawful Small Affair piece on ficlets and I thought it was damn, damn good. Therefore, in the interest of fairness or karma or something, I’d like to say, as sincerely as possible, that it was wrong for me to jump to conclusions about you. You might be a tool; but next time, I’ll be sure to gather better information before making that judgment.
    My bad.

  24. I’m about ready to give up on AOL. Their popups are extremely annoying, you STILL can’t alphabetize bookmarks (which would be of IMMENSE help to yours truly), keeps turning My Routine off, even when I’m still online, only allows one attachment per email (Yahoo can do up to 10, 10 MB total) and has this *really* annoying tendency to send my e-mails BEFORE I’M DONE TYPING THEM!
    I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but if there’s any AOL people reading this, you need to do what Kenan Thompson’s character on SNL says: FIX IT! I’ll tell you how. Three easy steps:
    1) Fix!
    2) It!
    3) FIX IT!

  25. As Blaine mentioned a couple of times above, Protagonize isn’t quite the same as Ficlets was, but we have a similar — thriving — creative writing community, and offer some features you guys may be familiar with. We’d love you have you; actually, we’ve had a huge influx of ex-Ficleteers over the last month and they seem to be enjoying themselves.
    As sad as it is to see Ficlets go, there are some other options out there. All I ask that you take a look and see what you think.
    -nick / protagonize

  26. I’m surprised nobody here has mentioned Ficly yet. is currently the site where the Ficlets Graveyard is hosted, but it will also be “Ficlets Mark II” in a couple months after Kevin et al have completed work on the back-end. You can leave your email address for notification when it’s ready.

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