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The Values of Fandom: Collaboration

Tedgill November 21, 2016 User blog:Tedgill

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Ted Gill is the Chief Product & Innovation Officer at Fandom powered by Wikia and has been with the company since 2014. He co-wrote this post with Andrzej Swędrzyński, Senior Vice President of Engineering, who has been with the company since 2010.
Collaboration Value

When Fandom—then-Wikia—was founded over ten years ago, the entire point of the company was to bring people together around their passions. So as we created our company values, it became obvious that we wouldn't be able to say who we are at our core without Collaboration.

Wikis are based around collaboration—we've talked about that before, and it's ingrained into the site's DNA. Wikis were popularized because one of us can never know as much as all of us combined. That started with Wikipedia, and it evolved into the many thousands of Fandom wikis we have today. That's how we were able to grow into the largest entertainment fan site in the world.

What's less obvious is how Fandom staff collaborates on a daily basis. Ann Watson, our Vice President of Human Resources, touched on this when she introduced you to our values. In that intro, she mentioned how remarkable it is that the way we operate mirrors the way a community might run itself. We all come together with different ideas and different backgrounds and use those to inform our approach to problem-solving and decision making. Even writing a blog like this one is similar to editing a wiki page. It's never looked at by just one person. There's always someone to review and edit a blog that goes out to make sure it's the absolute best it can be.

One of the best examples of staff collaboration in recent memory is when we decided to hold our first Community Connect event in 2015. The idea was simple: let's get a group of 20-30 users together in our San Francisco office and hear what they have to say about our product, our goals for the future, and what they want out of the site. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems. There are a lot of logistics that go into planning an event like that, so it was up to all our teams to collaborate on getting the job done. The Community Team had to invite all of the users. Our Executive Assistant booked their travel and hotel rooms. Our Office Managers had to prepare the offices to host an event. Product, Marketing, Community, Design, and more all put together presentations and feedback sessions for the attendees. The list goes on and on. Everyone had a hand in pulling it together.

Community Connect 2016 Attendees

The attendees of Community Connect 2016.

Community Connect's inaugural success gave us the opportunity to expand it even more. This year, we held one event in San Francisco and one in Poznan, Poland, where the bulk of our Engineering team works. We also added focus groups and user testing into the mix, which meant that additional groups were added to the collaboration mix. Plus, having an event on two different continents brings interesting new logistical challenges! It means there are additional flights and hotels to book (for attendees and for staff), so our incredible Office Managers had even more work to do. The events went swimmingly.

We've had a lot of admin visits in San Francisco before, but we'd never brought a group of users to Poznan before 2016. Our Polish Engineers loved getting to know users in their own office, and it was obvious from their interactions that the users were thrilled to get to know them. Admins and power users tend to be more tech-savvy than most, so the opportunity to actually talk in-depth to the people who build and maintain the site was a rare treat.

It's impossible to overstate just how important that sort of in-person collaboration can be. We've always collaborated with and talked to users virtually, whether it's in blogs, forums, or chat, but the virtual world isn't a truly interactive experience. Being able to actually see the person you're talking to removes a lot of barriers; you don't have to wonder what someone's tone is or if they're being sincere. There's a human connection that lets you speak both more honestly and more comfortably. That's why we introduced user product testing to Community Connect, where we brought users into testing sessions so they could provide input to our new products and ideas. It’s an invaluable process.

There are users who, throughout the years, have gone above and beyond when it comes to collaborating with Fandom staff, and their collaboration even shows the value of Balance in action. Take Volunteer Developers, for instance. They work on bug fixes around the site and even develop new tools. Not only does that let them develop a personal hobby, but also their professional skills and interests. A number of users who have worked with us in the past have gone on to intern with us or even become full-time staff.

None of that incredible collaboration would be possible without Community—and that's the value we'll be talking to you about next week when our values series continues with a post from Jen Burton, Vice President of Community, and William Schulze, Senior Vice President of Business Development.

In the meantime, what are some examples of how you collaborate on your community? Why do you value collaboration? We've told you our story, now you tell us yours!

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