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Why I'm disappointed in Wikia/Fandom/Fandom powered by Wikia/Wikia, Inc./etc.

AgentMuffin September 26, 2016 User blog:AgentMuffin

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Hello, it's me, AgentMuffin. I have something to say today, not exclusively about the Fandom powered by Wikia rename, but inspired by it.

I've spent several years now on Wikia. It's no secret that this website is the largest entertainment fan site in the world. But the website's landscape is changing, and Wikia staff have forgotten that a larger service doesn't always mean a better service. Allow me to explain the specifics of my opinion and experiences. You might not agree with me off the bat, but I hope you will come to change your mind based on the following silly anecdotes.

For people who are deeply "into" a particular concept, the idea of a wiki farm can be very appealing. Wikia's SEO has to be a salient reason as to why the service is so popular, as with a basic search for a topic you love, a Wikia result is often just there. Getting used to the concept of editing as part of a tight-knit community could be daunting at first, but after a while, you and your peers could come to own a rather personal database that you had to build up with new knowledge, protect from spam and vandalism, and learn more about the internal workings via exploring wikitext, Special pages, and similar. There was so much to learn about the history and the innards alike of your wikia subdomain. That's the way it was for many people until last year, when the Wikia staff started tightening control.

Venus was the warning before the storm. I think it was my first indication that something was going horribly wrong over at the Wikia, Inc. headquarters. Out of left field, Wikia announced they were planning to supersede the quirky Oasis theme most people had grown to love with an overly-minimal, ad-laden layout where infoboxes and article content became second banana to commercial endorsement. I daresay Wikia has learned from this mistake, but note that subsequent updates have largely followed the Venus theme, aiming for mobile-friendliness and jarringly bold iconography.

The community of Wikia users who cared about the service, hereon Wikia fans, were very unhappy with this threatened change, and we spoke up—some, myself included, not using polite or concise language, but still speaking up nonetheless—and made our voices heard. Because of the huge fan backlash, Wikia cancelled the Venus project altogether, and we were certain that they would never try a stunt on this level again.

It wasn't long until they tried a stunt on this level again.

Introducing Fandom. Wikia made a new subdomain of their website to highlight rather clickbaity articles, which were also forced into the rail on most or all communities. The old Wikia homepage redirected to the brand-new Fandom site, which I still don't feel was the best move. I stand by my opinion from January, that rerouting the homepage of the site to (what then seemed like) a spinoff news hub instead of showcasing randomly selected wikias betrayed Wikia's main purpose. Fandom didn't seem too bad at the time. Little did we know that it would come to consume all of Wikia. Perhaps the fact that Fandom hadn't just been made as a separate website should have been a tip-off?

Wikia's unique features are what have been keeping me on the site up until recently. Lately, we have been flooded with new features that range from worthless to undermining. Maybe I was naïve, but until the past few months, it seemed like the users were truly in control of their wiki and community content. Staff were only contacted for large problems, and other than that, they stayed out of the way to let the editors make their own changes. With these recent rollouts, Wikia has lost that feeling. A feature I take major issue with is the community page, which can scarcely be edited and puts a lot of words in the mouth of all wikias' administration, as well as undermining existing pages for help and rules in favor of an exclusive feature. Wikia seems to assume that all subdomains on its site fit the same open-community collaborative model that earns them the most revenue, which is not the case for wikias like Fantendo that are focused on individuals making their own content and not editing others' pages.

Discussions fits that same bill, and it seems to be an old idea for Venus that the Wikia staff are intent on including. Discussions will be rolled out whether the Wikia fans like it or not, probably because the more social media-esque format is profitable. This is a bold claim to make, but I think that Wikia has become increasingly profit-oriented over the years instead of caring about their own fans, the ones that use their services excessively. Why else would they brag about advances in SEO and convince us to optimize our own work for search engines? Why else would they push an alternate syntax for certain templates so aggressively and ask us to categorize the thousands remaining? Why else would they brag about a disconnected, non-MediaWiki-based, neutered side-feature superseder drawing in so many new users, despite the fact that many people new to Wikia tend to have a hard time integrating into communities at first and that Discussions will only worsen this issue? Why else would they stop serving the longtime, expert Wikia fans in favor of appealing to all other people? Why else would they ignore Monobook users during this whole process?

And the Fandom powered by Wikia rebranding is the final proof that this is what Wikia cares about. Developing the wiki aspect of the site is now the job of only a single team out of many more being created. Wikia is trying to redefine the experience they provide completely, to spread out and lose their specific focus, and it really feels that the wikis they have created are being shifted to the side in favor of other unconventional means of communication.

Myself, I don't care much about the rename, but I fear it means something huge is in store, whether for better for Wikia, Inc. or for worse for the Wikia fans.

In the end, we don't know what Wikia has planned for the future. It could be more of the same. It could alternately allow for more focus on the wikia aspect of the site. Honestly, this rebrand probably means nothing, as it's based on features that have already been worked on and announced. But I could certainly see this news becoming a larger warning before a larger storm. Wikia is becoming measurably more corporate, and the way I personally believe they see it, attracting users of other platforms will generate a more popular service than focusing on the Wikia fans. And further, those same Wikia fans are finding it harder to trust the staff that now govern what appears on their subdomain, and that have made it clear that they can replace core functionality across the website with the click of a button. It wasn't always that way. And that's why I'm disappointed in what Wikia has become. Fandom powered by Wikia is so far from the initial vision for Wikicities.

As a side note, I think it feels like Wikia is making it even harder for communities to move to another host or domain. Comments and blogs have been rather indispensable from the start, but with these new features, exporting and importing all page data will probably only result in a fraction of content being available elsewhere. If this is the case, then Wikia feels that holding existing editors hostage is a better course of action than appealing to them directly, which is a cause for concern.

This blog was all over the place. I hope you could still get something out of it! If you have comparably large points to make, I recommend making a blog of your own so these comments don't get super-cluttered. Thank you for reading.

Hoping for the best and expecting the worst,

~AgentMuffin:)

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