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Why Wikia Evolves

Wikia’s a big place with a big platform underpinning it. Have you ever seen a list of all the extensions that exist on Wikia? It is impressively long, and I’ll admit, somewhat confusing. I remember seeing it on my first day working here - I tried to parse it, but instead made a face and pouted.

An easy explanation for this is that we want the community to have access to as many curation and development tools as reasonably possible, but there’s another reason, too: Wikia has been around for quite a while (in Internet Time, anyway) and the platform has never stopped expanding.

Between new coding techniques, updated user interface standards, and flashier devices, sometimes we have to make decisions about how to proceed from a product perspective. This happens to every company in every industry - imagine if we were still driving Edsels and listening to phonographs - but in a collaborative, community-oriented environment like Wikia, that can be controversial.

We innovate for a couple broad reasons. I’m going to talk about them here - if you want to discuss any of them specifically, let me know in comments and I’m happy to talk it out.

Evolution of an identity

When Wikia first started out, we were just a wiki farm. You signed up, you requested the creation of a community, and we created it for you. Wiki creation, customer service, and technical support was the extent of a user’s exposure to the company.

Over time, though, dedicated users and fans like you made Wikia into something more special. What started out as a simple wiki host is now The Social Universe For Fans, By Fans, home to the most passionate superfans on the planet. Wikia communities have become the most comprehensive and de facto sources of fan-authored content around a topic, which isn't something that an ordinary wiki host can claim. While our foundation was built from MediaWiki and the basics of a wiki host, Wikia has grown to include robust community, social, and publishing features that make it much more expansive than how it began. That’s why it's important that Wikia continue to grow as a community and offer the best product for users and readers, in recognition of our unique place on the web.

Not everyone is going to agree with every change, of course. Some folks wish we were a simple wiki farm. What Wikia’s done, though, is find the intersection of wiki hosting and social networking. That puts us in a great position to own all types of fandom and to be the best home for superfans on the web.

Software gets stale

This kind of goes without saying. As user needs and site needs change, sometimes solutions that worked in the past won’t work anymore. An easy example is the new global navbar - Wikia has grown by leaps and bounds, so users and readers alike can only benefit from having an easy way to hop from one part of the site to another. Same with talk pages and Message Walls - as much as we love the flexibility of our classic talk pages, we’ve seen a lot of engagement with Message Walls, and they’re much more in-line with what people expect for online commenting and discussion, so they’re easier for people to understand. Those are the kinds of small-but-significant steps we take to keep the site fresh.

Feature overlap

Sticking with the global nav: after we released it, we had many users ask why we couldn’t make it optional. The problem? If local and global searches are going to be in the nav now instead of in the body of the wikia, where would search be for those who “opted out”? Would having the classic nav bar revert it to being on the wikia itself, and what effect would that have on the local JS and CSS?

Tiny problems like that compound very quickly in a complex environment like Wikia. Every option we add to user preferences adds a new element to the site that always needs to be tested against, developed, and maintained. So when we make these decisions, we have to carefully consider whether or not it makes sense to invest the development and maintenance time that comes with flagging them as optional. Same with old features - if we’ll need to spend 300 hours per month maintaining an extension, we have to think hard about whether that time and effort could be better-spent elsewhere. Do we continue to innovate and keep things fresh, or do we continue to maintain every little preference to ensure that a small group of people, as important as that group of people is to us, has an unchanging experience?

“Innovate or Die”

That quote is popularly attributed to Bill Gates, but it was actually in use long before Microsoft came along. It’s also 100% true in software development. If you don’t keep up with the times, and if you don’t create and properly execute on new ideas, then a company more adaptive and more clever than you will swoop in and replace you.

Product releases and changes are always a risk, even when we're incredibly confident, because change can be scary for anyone - even us! How will the community react? Will our products and changes work as intended? Doing nothing, though, is an even more significant risk. It's understandable to believe that “sticking with what works” is the safest option, but what works now can always work better. And unless Wikia makes it better, fresher, and easier to use, someone else will do it for us. Changes are a pain sometimes, but they’re in the long-term best interest of Wikia’s communities.

As admins and contributors focus on their own wikias, it’s easy to forget how interconnected Wikia and all of its communities are. We as a company are nothing without you, our passionate and dedicated users, which is why we value our relationship with you so much. It's why all of this is a balancing act - we have to keep Wikia fresh and modern for new users and readers, but we also need to make sure that those of you who have been around for a long time always feel welcome. That's why we always talk to you about new releases, engage on Community Council, and continue to be open and honest about our changes.

On the flipside, communities need Wikia. We provide the platform, the resources, the advertising, the marketing, the community support and development, and the technical teams who help keep Wikia running as consistently as it does and who help you make your communities as successful as can be. It's what keeps Wikia free to you, the user, it's what helps your great content rise to the top of search engines, and what lets you have a home online to create, collaborate, and be original.

That’s why we keep Wikia fresh. If we weren't welcoming and easy to use for as many new contributors and readers as possible, then we wouldn’t be keeping up with the lightning-fast pace that the web operates at.

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