- Note, nothing I write here is meant to be a personal attack! I have no issues with any of the wikia staff on a personal level, but I still take issue with some recent actions.
There has been a lot of controversy since wikia decided to make considerable changes to the search engine. I personally find the changes . . . distasteful and counterproductive.
I am making this blog to compile my thoughts on the changes to the search system, and to offer constructive suggestions with the hope that some of this reaches the ears of the powers that be.
What has changed? And why are people complaining?
What has changed is very simple, when typing something into the search bar it no longer takes you directly to the page, under any circumstance!
Instead the user is taken to a page of search results.
So the question is why this has upset people, there are a lot of reasons but these three seem to be the most prevelent.
- probably first and foremost was that this change occurred without warning (in fact many users believed it was a glitch at first).
- second is the fact that all redirects have been completely invalidated, many of which were critical in providing information to users.
- third is because the consensus amongst users is that the new system is counter intuitive (more on this later).
The biggest question has been "why were these changes made" there have actually been two reasons provided. In the initial announcement it was claimed that the changes were made for ease of access to new users, and to help provide data for some indeterminate reason.
- Why? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that taking a user to an article when they’re trying to run a search can be limiting. If someone is searching for term on a wiki, there’s a reasonable chance that there’s more than one page that might attract their interest. Search results pages give readers choices, and encourage them to explore.
- The other important benefit of this change is that it will provide us with significantly more data on what people are actually looking for when they search for keywords, and we’ll be able to use this data to continually improve the quality of our search results.
Of course people were furious about this, including myself! The assertions made in this blog had no relevent data provided to substantiate anything said. There is not evidence to support the idea that any user has ever claimed that being taken directly to a page was an inconvenience.
More reasoning was provided in another blog. This second blog seemed mostly a rebuttal to people complaining about the changed system. It also highlights a key issue, the people working on these things clearly do not understand how things work.
- This is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue we’re looking forward to having with you. One of the biggest challenges we’re working on is creating an experience that works for both advanced, highly skilled founders and new users seeing Wikia (or even wikis) for the first time. Everyone has something to contribute and search is a fundamental entry point into the wiki experience. Getting the discovery experience right, while maintaining mission control for advanced editors is what we’re committed to achieving.
This seems to imply that he believes there are only two types of users, users who are highly skilled founders, and new users that haven't used wikis before . . . this is a troubling mindset in my opinion.
there is also this troubling tidbit of information that literally makes no sense in the context of a wiki, and seems to be a shoehorned in pseudo-phylosophical statement.
- As far as our next steps, we know we have lots of work to do to ensure optimal performance, integrate with other content types, and continue tuning relevance (it’s a journey, not a destination). Some specific things we’ve heard about from you and which we’ll be attacking immediately are
There is a fact here that needs to be addressed, wikis are not journeys . . . there are no grand views and beautiful rolling hills in the search engine on the way to the content. The journey in the context of the wiki is about as exciting as searching a filing cabinet.
My personal opinion, they knew the search engine was broken but the current system meant that they could not acquire any data in sufficient quantities to repair the search. By disabling the feature that took the user to the page they wanted to go too it would force users to use the search thus allowing them to update the system.
And you know what! I would have been fine with this, I think most users would have been fine with this in fact I imagine a lot of users would jump on the chance to help wikia improve the system that they use.
A little bit of honesty with your intentions could have gone a long way, instead of alienating your fans you could have produced a group who wanted to help with it. Instead all that was produced was a group of extremely bitter people!
What can be done?
- If you have a suggestion for a solution to this issue leave it in the comments
Honestly the best way to fix it is to simply revert the system to take the users to the page . . . they want to go to!
I will break it down, there is a great moment of discovery when you type in something and are transported instantly to the world. I think the first search I did on a wiki was "Bantha", and it was very convenient to be taken directly to the page "Bantha" I was awestruck by what I read (about space cows).
By typing in Bantha, it made my intention known . . . that I wanted to know about Banthas! The philosophy behind this change (which I don't believe was ever their actual reason) implies that "I didnt know what I wanted". I did, I needed to know about Banthas!
The same reason people look for files in a filing cabinet, they dont want to look for things, they want what they are looking for!
Slightly more complex
But you know, I actually do find some logic in the reasoning . . . as did hundreds of other people . . . every person who has ever created a disambiguation page understands this reasoning at least a little.
Sometimes there are DOZENS of pages that share the same titled, and honestly creating disambiguation pages . . . is a hassle, and it artificially pads the page numbers of wikis.
My suggestion is simple, the search engine takes you to the page you type (re-validating redirects), but there be a notification on this page (lower left-hand corner) that simply says "Not the page you are looking for?" clicking it forces a search for the term.
It re-introduces the system that we are all upset is gone, but an additional element is placed which solves the problem discussed in the first blog. It also removes the need for roughly 70% of disambiguation pages . . . in effect it creates every disambiguation page that will need to exist, it may seem to have invalidated the work on disambiguation pages . . . but it would ultimately save time in the future.
Although if the (true) reasoning behind this search change is to gather data . . . then they might not want to implement this change for a while as it would slow down the process . . . And I understand that they would want their search-engine as modern as possible!
Many people have created their own personal little code-thing that basically makes life easier for themselves, ignoring the larger issues here.
First it is a fix that blinds wikia to the fact that there is an issue, and if the reasoning behind the change was for them to upgrade their search . . . then you are making their goal more difficult to achieve!
I encourage users to not incorporate these fixes, they are only self-serving and it blinds wikia to issues . . . I hate to say it this way . . . but it makes things more difficult for the staff!
I think until this whole situation is better sorted out . . . there is one fix that all advanced users such as myself can agree on. If I put a colon after a word (and before another) I want to be taken directly too that page.
Templates and categories
if I type in "Template:character" or "Category:Muffins" I need to be taken directly too that page, these type of searches are very directed and intentional by the user. There is no room for interpretation, if someone types in "template:character" they need to be taken to that template, they are not searching for superfluous content (or any content at all as templates are not really content)
And it is almost inconceivable that a new user would search for something in this manner, thus there is almost no chance of confusing them!
People just want this fixed, not everyone has time to search through pages and pages of content. People sometimes need information fast. That is why I am personally so upset about this situation, it has severely impeded the flow of information for the users.
But more direct honesty would have helped, if they had just come out and said "we needed to update the search engine and this was the best way to do so" it would have still caused some anger, but not as much.
Of course I am only speculating on the true intentions of wikia staff, but I would like to believe that this was motivated solely by the intention to update the search engine as the other reasoning provided is . . . well the cause of most of the anger amongst users.