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My meeting with Sannse

Fandyllic December 17, 2010 User blog:Fandyllic

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See Forum:My meeting with Sannse for the full post.

You can leave comments here also, but I won't check them as frequently as the forum post.


16 December 2010

I met with Sannse today in person and she was fine with me relating a version of what we talked about. I'll probably end up being vague, partly because I don't want to give away too much about what Wikia is working on and partly because I don't remember everything in exact detail, because we talked about alot. We talked for over an hour, so I gained alot of insight. Not all I heard made me happy, but alot of it did.

This post will be a work in progress, because I'll probably remember things as people comment. First I'll start with why the meeting happened and then I'll followup later with some things we talked about.

The meeting was partly precipitated because I was being a jerk. Here on the forum and in talk pages. Please don't take this as a way to get a meeting in-person with Wikia staff, but I do honestly think it was one of the reasons. However, the main reason was because I've been involved with Wikia, albeit as mostly an outsider, for a long time and have met with Wikia staff a couple of times and visited them at their HQ in San Mateo and San Francisco. Sannse wanted to meet to work out the differences between us, in that I've expressed many concerns about Wikia's direction (much of it in a snarky, unpleasant way), but have been very helpful to Wikia in the past and they wanted to know if I was worth continuing to work with or we should part ways. My guess was that there would be more of an understanding and I could put the whole situation between Wikia and experienced users and admins in perspective. I don't pretend to speak for all experienced users and admins, but I can speak for some and more likely speaking for those who were less pleased with Wikia's recent changes than those who work more closely with Wikia (like VSTF and admins that have become helpers).

I apologize for what may start to appear like a wall of text, but I want to try to be clear and cover a good chunk of what we talked about.

Here is a summary of the points I tried to present (without knowing anything about Wikia's internal workings):

  • Wikia has changed from the past in both how it has changed shared functionality on Wikia wikis and how it interacts with its users.
  • The Monaco transition was not as comparable to the Oasis transition as Wikia thinks.
  • Wikia makes its money off volunteerism and the leaders of wikis are generally admins who are possessive of their wikis and how the content is presented. You can't attract new users and alienate experienced users at the same time. These efforts work at cross purposes.
  • Admins don't like surprises. Even a little foreknowledge of functionality change coming in the future will go a long way to reassuring admins and giving time to at least psychologically prepare to adapt. Even if you don't like the change, if you can think of how to work with it or around it before it happens, you'll be less mad. Admins need somewhere to go for change status, even if it is very minimal.
  • The Rich text editor (RTE) doesn't help new users add content as much as Wiki thinks. The Rich text editor creates significant barriers to adding content beyond mostly just "typing". The Rich text editor also hides lots of content from new users and makes it impossible for them to edit, but easy to screw things up.
  • Wikia is not taking enough advantage of help from admins. Admins helped alot with the Monaco transition because there was less change and they were more allowed to update help pages and were given more access to the inner workings of the skin.
  • It's not always better to release newer stuff fast, if it is poorly tested and poorly or not at all documented. Users will probably be willing to wait for new features, if they know they'll work better.
  • The help pages are awful (which Wikia knows), but redirecting most of them without updating them or even asking for help updating them was probably not a good idea.
  • A bug with a workaround is better than a bug with a fix that comes too late.

Here is a summary of what I remember Sannse relating as Wikia's perspective:

  • Wikia is small and has limited resources to serve all the needs of what it sees as a small, but vocal minority group of users (like admins and those who visit this forum). This also means that they can't devote a single person's time to even the biggest wikis.
  • Wikia underestimated the negative response to Oasis, but were too far into the process to make a dramatic change of direction and still believed it was necessary for their business.
  • Wikia has gone through alot of change in the past year and many problems are part of growing pains.
  • Wikia is very concerned about the experience of new users and is constantly working on ways to engage them, sometimes over the benefits to experienced users. She admits that they may not always make the right choices.
  • Wikia likes pushing out changes fast to get feedback, but they admit that they could have a much better process around pushing changes.
  • Wikia would like to give more status, but they're not exactly sure how and where to do it.
  • Wikia has plans to improve the Rich text editor. Most are longer term and very ambitious.
  • Wikia doesn't think updating the help pages is worth the effort, because studies show that not alot of users ever look at them. However, they know that the way the dealt with help pages during the Oasis transition was not done well.
  • Some decisions at Wikia are made based on knowing what is coming out in the future. They may decide not to respond to requests to change something based on the idea that something better is coming out that they'd rather make changes to instead of making changes to the current version.
  • Special:Contact did have a 24 hr turnaround before, but the turnaround time has gotten worse in the last few months. They won't be repeating the claim of 24-hr turnaround time going forward, but not because they don't want to improve it.
  • Wikia is working on many projects to give admins more input and better ways to test new features before they get rolled out to wider Wikia, but they will probably not come out until the beginning of next year due to holiday travel and finalizing of details.

Sannse also made an appeal to try to be nice, even if you disagree with Wikia's direction, you're frustrated and mad about how it affects you. She pointed out that some people can tune out the facts of your position based on the tone alone. My counter was that there are another group of people who ignore the tone and respond more to the accuracy of the points. We are both right, so trying to strike a happy medium is best, if you can do it. The short answer being, try to be correct and the less you piss off the reader the more likely they'll read it.

Sannse also told me about some current resources for admins that I didn't know about like w:c:communitytest and w:c:themedesigner. She'll try to get out more information like this via blogs, forums, or talk page messages.

We did talk a little about WoWWiki specifically, but I won't say anything here about it because their are lots of other things to talk about. There are also a few guesses I made about how Wikia works, some that turned out to be correct and a few that were wrong, but aren't really useful make our wikis better.

If you want to know the specific advice I gave in response to a particular topic, just ask.

Any questions? -- Fandyllic (talk · contr) 5:49 PM PST 16 Dec 2010

Here's some followup that I remembered after the original post.
  • Wikia shouldn't try so hard to shield new users from Wikitext, because it gets in the way of changing things the users want to change and should be able to change. My main example is how templates are collapsed into a little green puzzle piece in the Rich text editor and can't be edited at all. I guessed this would be frustrating to new users.
  • Although Wikia may know great things are coming in the future, I used the analogy "Don't prevent users from climbing the hill, because you want to give them the tools to climb the mountain." What I meant was, Wikia may decide not to make small changes to accommodate complaints because they have big plans for change. Some of those big plans change dramatically by release or even get killed. Also the time until the big thing gets release is almost always longer than planned. Continue to focus on the smaller tools and workarounds, in case the big tools take too long or get killed.
-- Fandyllic (talk · contr) 9:23 AM PST 17 Dec 2010
I was reading over Forum:My letter to wikia about the new layouts and it reminded me of some other things Sannse mentioned.
  • Wikia is considering a test wiki with new features to test and evaluate by admins before rolling out to a wider audience. Maybe something like a rolling beta test wiki.
  • There was supposed to be a sticky section for this forum, but it fell through the cracks. If it doesn't happen in a week or so, I will create a sticky section of the Community Central Forum. An admin-only help forum may also get created, but the details were not worked out when we talked.
  • Something called a Community Council to advise Wikia on matters that will affect admins the most. Not sure how membership will be decided. Again, Sannse didn't go into much detail, because we were going through topics pretty fast.
-- Fandyllic (talk · contr) 3:12 PM PST 17 Dec 2010

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