October 22, 2008

Chasing The Wikia Layoffs Story (30%? 10%? Legalism?)

A few days ago, the tech-gossip blog "Valleywag" published an item that the digital-sharecropping ad-farm, err, excuse me, "communities" wiki site company "Wikia" had laid off 30% of its staff. Recall, Wikia is the company Jimmy Wales started to, in words of one article (not by me!), "take the success -- and, indeed, the underlying philosophy -- of Wikipedia," and "commercialize the hell out of it".

So, the story started metastasizing through the relevant bogosphere organs, and Wikia then issued a denial ... or so it looks. However, as a question I asked Jimmy Wales via his Wikipedia user discussion page observed, the language was ... interesting.

Jimmy, speaking as a journalist, I hate to bother you over this story, but it's necessary for me to do "due diligence". I figure since it's all public statements, I'll ask it here rather than emailing you (also some protection for me!). I've read the denials of the Valleywag story about Wikia laying off around 30% of its workforce. However, to nail things down on the record, when Wikia says - "as part of a reorganization, Wikia recently let go less than 10% of its salaried employees" - that raises an alarm bell for me in terms of legalistic language. To wit: 1) Did Wikia let go others who were not SALARIED EMPLOYEES? (as in, for example purposes, but not meaning this mention to be exclusive: contractors). To be precise, 2) If X people received pay for work in September 2008, and Y people are projected to receive pay for work in January 2009, then X - Y is ... (3? 12? what? - note the phrasing is meant to cover the loophole of people staying on for something like just stock options, so not formally "let go"). Thanks for your time on this matter.

The only reply from him was to remove the question with a note "wrong place for this question".

I did some other checking without much result. I was going to let this all pass, since it didn't seem worth the effort, but then today I had occasion to email Jimmy to check out another story, so added it on. We'll see.

It's always unclear how far to push things like this. Wikia could be telling the truth. It's possible. If they claim they simply don't want to talk to me, because I'm an idiot conspiracy mongering FUD'er, I shouldn't go to the wall over minor stuff. On the other hand, if they play it wrong, they can come off looking like vindictive weasels. It's a complicated game.

Oh yeah, I also have a blog, I'm sure they weight that with all the influence and power it commands.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia | on October 22, 2008 07:27 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Seth, blogs are kind of like opinions... or is that not how the analogy goes? At any rate, don't pretend that Jimmy is evading you because you asked in the "wrong place." The "right place" to ask him is in a strip club over drinks where it can't and won't be on the record.

The simple answer here is that the advertising industry is going to get murdered by this economic, uh, thingie that's happening. There will be /huge/ layoffs in organizations that require advertising dollars to keep running (I'm not even sure GOOG, YHOO, and MSFT are safe from this), and Wikia is one of the least-financed, most-poorly-conceived, and least-legally-innocent advertising-revenue-desperate ventures out there. Just wait until the IRS gets hold of the notion that he's using a non-profit to shield development costs for a for-profit company. Demagogues "work both ways," too.

Jimmy, if he has enough sense to admit maybe right now ain't the time for Wikia, may go back to selling porn on Bomis or some other venture. It worked for Andrew Edmund when he realized the lycaeum was not going to (ever) be profitable.

It's kind of too bad for Jimmy that there are already peer-reviewed, social-network-style porn sites out there. He might have had a chance there if he'd just, you know, stooped low enough.

Posted by: Alex J. Avriette at October 22, 2008 10:51 PM

Wow, somebody other than me bringing up the infamous "wait until the IRS figures it out" meme. I'm sure that David Gerard and Nihiltres will be along soon to persuade us all of the very good and thoughtful intentions that Jimmy has, so we should just drop this line of questioning and come help with "the project".

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at October 23, 2008 12:07 PM

All is vanity, Seth, and the little people are going to get stomped however you look at it.

Nice blog, though. Although we fought a battle last year over whether Kathy Sierra's harassment was alleged, it seems like you understand that Wikipedia is a cult with what C. S. Lewis called the curse of Babel on its head.

[No, I'm not a Christian. I just like Lewis' grownup stuff.]

Look up my video on "Wikipedia's Racist Bullying" at YouTube if you like.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Edward G. Nilges at October 26, 2008 12:04 PM

BTW, I don't use the word "troll": I don't use its gerund "trolling".

I first saw the word in Santa Cruz in 1986. It was on a T shirt with a slashdot through a cartoon tramp, and it was made by a "grassroots" organization of Santa Cruz homeowners who thought the "problems" with SC were renters and the homeless.

I then heard it on LANs and BBS systems in reference to pranksters who would deliberately post things they didn't believe.

Today, however, the word is meaningless because it means "anyone anyone doesn't like". That phrase grammatical but it means that the word has no fixed denotation. It expresses an emotion and not a thought.

Furthermore, "troll" is based on Nordic racism since the "trolls", like the fairies and the elves, are in the strongly Nordic psychology of the typical Internet male, a subconscious reference to the peoples that were pushed west in Europe by Germanic tribes during the middle ages.

It is excessively authoritarian whereas as you seem to be aware, the problems in Wikipedia are caused by a self-appointed cult leader: authority.

Mike Godwin doesn't like the way in which my texts converge on a comparision to Hitler as if I'm gonna follow his Law. But the convergence occurs because Fascism is indeed what you get when you assemble too many American white males in one place.

In my opinion, access to the Internet could be simply controlled by means of competitive examination.

Posted by: Edward G. Nilges at October 26, 2008 10:00 PM