We're at a point where Wikia is going to introduce a major new feature, and once again we've got people complaining about it. One of the complaints is familiar: if you're gonna make a major change, it should in the Wiki Features menu so individual wikis can decide if they want it or not.

The reality is that that isn't always the best choice. The "why" will follow in a moment, but first the disclaimer.

If you look at my profile, it recently started saying "Wikia Star". That means a few people saw I was doing some good work and wanted to recognize me for that. What it doesn't mean is I'm going to automatically say yes to everything that Wikia does. Like everyone else, I might have a different idea about how to do something. But I am going to try and keep an open mind about things like the new features.

Part of keeping an open mind is realizing that making every update optional can cause a lot of problems. Wikia has said in the past that they can only support a limited number of skins ("layouts" in the Preferences). Anyone who provides support for Microsoft Windows knows the headaches caused by their different "skins" (versions).

The Windows headache

Right now, there's five versions of Windows primarily being used: XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1. I can tell you from personal experience it's oh so much fun trying to remember how each one does things. Those five different versions can have five different icons or names or steps or menus or what have you to do a given task. Some of that comes from Microsoft deciding to change it, and some of it comes from the user switching to a different mode, such as the Category view and the Icon view in the Control Panel, or when Windows is in a corporate setting versus a small business setting or a home user setting. And when Windows 10 is released, there will probably be a sixth way to do it.

Now, when a new version of Windows was released, if everyone upgraded to the new OS, that wouldn't be a problem. Support would be a lot simpler, more straightforward. But not everybody upgrades. Some don't because it would mean having to buy a new computer.

But what if when Microsoft released a new version of Windows, they gave you a new computer to run it for free? Would you reconsider upgrading?

Well, that's kind of what happens when Wikia releases a new feature and makes it active on all wikis. They're making it so they don't have to support umpteen different versions of the wiki, and the time and effort that would have been used for that support can go towards other things.

If you still want to leave

Let's take this a step further. Let's say you still don't like a new feature and because it won't be optional, you want to leave. That's a choice open to you, but before you did so, take a moment to think about what you'd have to find replacements for.

Here's what I see that you get from Wikia for free:

  1. Use of a wiki and if you sign up for an account, ads are minimized or can be removed.
  2. Technical support from the company and they state up front what the normal response time is.
  3. You don't have to worry about paying for what it takes to run a wiki server: electricity, replacement hardware if something fails, data and electrical backup systems, employees to maintain them, the monthly charge for an Internet connection (at the higher business rates due to the amount of data flowing through that connection), etc.
  4. The VSTF, a group of volunteers dedicated to help fight spam and vandalism.
  5. Some fairly robust anti-spam processes that means that whatever spam does get through is limited and easier to clean up.
  6. An improved Recent Changes list that consolidates edits made to the same page, which can help identify when vandalism is taking place.
  7. A group of tools for administrators that make it easy to make modifications to the appearance of the wiki and other features.
  8. A standard way to create wikis in other languages.
  9. A standard way to create links between the same pages on different wikis, even if they are in different languages.
  10. A video library with licensed videos that aren't going to disappear or may be exclusive content.
  11. A partnership with Rotten Tomatoes, so that when people go there to get info about a movie or TV show, they see information from wikis here.

Can you find those things on other wikis? Let's look at that. Here's what you have to consider if you left:

  1. Yes, there are other companies and organizations that will offer free use of their wikis. But do they have a way to opt out of seeing ads? Do they want you to have a subscription or make some other arrangement not to see ads? Are ads mandatory for everyone? If they don't have ads, do they have regular fundraisers to cover their costs?
  2. Find out what kind of technical support that other group may have. What is their normal response time when you submit a question or report an issue?
  3. Let's assume their expenses for maintaining a server are covered. Find out what their disaster recovery and redundancy measures are. If a server goes down, is there another that can automatically take over? What's their normal turnaround time for when there's a hardware failure? Do they have a backup plan for their data and has it been tested regularly? (These items bit several groups a few years ago when they left and the servers at their new location went down for months and the backups failed.)
  4. When your wiki is hit by spam or vandals, are you on your own to combat them, or will this other group provide resources to help you clean it up?
  5. What exactly are their anti-spam measures? Are you going to see dozens or hundreds of spam accounts being created every week, followed by you having to block dozens or hundreds of accounts every week?
  6. The Recent Changes list is standard to most or all wikis. Are the edits listed individually or are they grouped together for each article? For me, seeing two people edit the same page and there is a net zero change to the page is often a good clue that maybe the first person might have been vandalizing it. Without this grouping, the edit that undoes the vandalism may be listed quite a ways away from the earlier edit, making it harder to see the connection between the two.
  7. Exactly how will an admin make changes to the wiki? Will it involve a little higher technical knowledge like making modifications to CSS, or will there be tools for them to use?
  8. If you want to create a related wiki in a different language, how is that done?
  9. Likewise, if you need to make links between those different languages, how is that done?
  10. How many times have you put a YouTube video on a page only to find it gone weeks or months later because someone filed a complaint about the video or the company who made that video decided you didn't need to see it any more? Will another company/organization have something in place to help reduce that from happening, or will it be up to you to track down a new copy of the video?
  11. Will another company/organization have a partnership with a well-known and respected review site like Rotten Tomatoes? Will they offer more than a basic wiki?

If people decide to leave, that's the sort of thing they have to research and contend with before they go somewhere else.

The money angle

Another common complaint at times like this is "Wikia only cares about money". If Wikia was a non-profit organization or had a benefactor that could give them millions of dollars to cover their operating expenses, then money wouldn't be an issue. Well, it might be, if their fundraisers didn't bring in enough or the benefactor decided not to give them any more money. But Wikia is a company, so by definition, they have to care about money to some extent.

To say that they care only about money isn't accurate. It's the easy complaint. It's what you say when you don't like a decision they've made, so you pin an "evil company" label on them. You get a company that actually only does care about money and you wind up with something like Enron or Lehman Brothers.

Wikia wants to offer more than a generic wiki could, things that will set them apart from other wiki companies and organizations. This is the same concept that results in situations like when someone says "coffee", you might think "Starbucks", or when someone says "portable music player", you might think "iPod".

Wikia asks for our feedback when they want to make changes. They don't have to. They don't even have to announce any changes. They could just do it and catch everyone by surprise. But it's a standard and smart practice to get feedback and announce ahead of time what you're going to do. In-house testing helps. Adding external testing helps even more. Eventually, they have to make a decision based on that testing and feedback. If they don't, they risk a situation of paralysis by analysis or worse yet, design by committee. Going back to the Windows example, I don't even want to imagine what Windows would look like if it was designed by a committee. It's a handful as it is right now with its different versions and the different modes you can set it in.

Final thoughts

I have benefited from my time here. I choose to be here rather than someplace else like Wikipedia. I have voiced a few complaints about changes in the past. I may do so in the future. That's just being human.

I'm trying to keep an open mind and not imitate Mr. Horse by automatically saying "No sir, I don't like it" to any changes Wikia makes. I'm even going back and looking at old features I previously didn't think would be useful to see if they've improved and can be used now.

But I think one of the biggest changes on my own part and about keeping an open mind is realizing that if I complain about what they do, it's a little hypocritical. I get to use something for free, something I find really useful and enjoyable, but I complain about it? Uh, better rethink that, RRabbit.

If we all kept that in mind, it might make things easier. We don't have to give a blanket approval to all changes, but if we can at least provide thought-out answers as to what needs to be adjusted or improved for a change instead of reactionary statements that boil down to "I don't like it", we all have a much better chance to be heard and influence what happens.