Fifteen years ago I started editing my first wiki and it’s been a fun journey ever since - contributor, administrator, code developer, and for many years now FANDOM staff. Wiki coding now comes as naturally to me as breathing (and even easier than breathing today, when I have a cold!), but there was one thing that took me a long, long time to understand - bots.
For the first few years of wiki editing, I heard people use the term “bots” a lot and it was unclear to me what that meant. Were there literally robots sitting at an office somewhere editing wikis? Were bots set up once and then run forever? Did they take breaks to dream of electric sheep? How did I get a bot for my wiki? For that matter, why did I need a bot for my wiki?
Today, I'm going to lay out a simple explanation of what bots are, why you might need one for your wiki - and very well might not - and how you get a bot running on your community.
What Is a Bot?
On FANDOM, “bot” is a general term referring to any piece of software controlled by our users to do a task semi- or fully-automatically. FANDOM itself does not offer or host bots for communities to use. Instead, each contributor keeps the software on their device and then programs and executes it whenever the need arises.
Bots are most often used to make repetitive edits to many pages, such as moving a group of pages to a new category, fixing links to disambiguation pages, or to search for misspelled words and replace them with correct ones.
There are two main bot packages currently used by many FANDOM users - AutoWikiBrowser - commonly called AWB - and Pywikibot. We would suggest users start with AWB for their first bot as it has a well-designed user interface that makes it easier to understand exactly what you are about to do and then actually view the revision diffs as they pass through the software.
Pywikibot - the “py” is for the Python programming language - lacks a slick interface but is an efficient command-line tool that has a few extra built-in scripts AWB does not and allows you to write your own scripts if you learn Python programming code. For my personal wiki botting, I actually use both programs - you are not constrained to using just one.
If you have a small community or are just starting out on building a wiki, we’d strongly advise you avoid using a bot until absolutely necessary. Bots are powerful editing tools that take time to learn how to run and program. If there are simply no pages needing bulk edits or you only need to change a link on two or three pages, there is no need to program a bot. You’re creating more work for yourself to get a bot to do such small tasks as opposed to manually editing a handful of pages yourself.
Best Practices For Bot Usage
Now that we’ve explained what bots are, let’s outline some best practices and policies for using them on FANDOM.
First, if you are going to operate a bot, we suggest making a separate user account specifically for it. This helps separate your manual edits from your bots’ edits and will help identify any problems with your bot.
Secondly, get community permission to run a bot, even if you are an admin on that community. Bots are powerful pieces of software and any account making mass edits on a wiki might alarm others checking on the wiki. It’s best to ensure everyone on the community is aware that a bot is working on the wiki and what tasks it is expected to perform. Also be sure that the user page clearly indicates this is a bot account and link to your (the bot owner’s) page, so that any questions about the bot can be given to you directly.
If you are using AWB, you will also need to have your account added to what is called a “Check page”. We detail how to do that here.
Lastly, once you have permission, write into Special:Contact requesting a botflag be added to your account. A botflag is a user right that clearly marks your account as a bot. This hides the bot's activities from RecentChanges and WikiActivity. This prevents any mass edits the bot will perform from filling up these important administration pages. Spoiler alert: We will also be adding a “bot” flag to user profiles in the coming weeks, similar to those that appear for “admin” or “staff”.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t link two excellent blogs posted here on Community Central by longtime volunteers that go in depth about using either of these programs on FANDOM. RansomTime has a graphic-heavy tutorial on AWB at this link and TyA goes in depth to pywikibot here.
Lastly, if you feel you need a bot task done but don’t feel the time is right for you to take the plunge and code it yourself, you can also request help in the Community Central Forum’s Getting Technical board. When I first started, some kind users were willing to run their bots on my wiki for me until I got the hang of it myself.
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