November 30, 2012

Wikia Raises Deka-Million More For Digital Sharecropping

Wikia, the for-profit start-up described in a Trader Daily article as one Wikipedia co-founder's "effort to take the success -- and, indeed, the underlying philosophy -- of Wikipedia, and commercialize the hell out of it.", has now raised over $10 million in more venture capital funding. I've written about Wikia a while back, e.g. in a column "How will Wikia cope when the workers all quit the plantation?". There's many issues surrounding the company - its ties to Wikipedia (it's a legally separate organization, but there's a been a long history of various connections), the reaction many contributors feel to being used for digital sharecropping, whether its model is even profitable or if so how much, etc. None of this seems to be discussed much, sadly.

Some time ago, I tried to figure out a rough estimate of Wikia's valuation, based on various pieces of public data. Unfortunately I was never able to come up with anything that I wanted to publish (that might have been a mistake in bogospheric terms, where one saying is "the editing occurs after publication"). I wish someone who was more skilled than I am at making ballpark corporate valuation estimates would try it. For all the advantages Wikia has, most notably a "halo effect" from the immense success of Wikipedia, it never struck me as a doing especially well. Obviously it hasn't gone out of business. But it seems sort of like an idiot cousin of a megastar. Enough comes its way indirectly from the big earner that it does OK. But that minor success is far more due to the "family connection", than any innate talent or ability.

I believe the crucial factor is that Google hasn't blessed Wikia in the way it has blessed Wikipedia. That is, Wikia pages do not dominate search results like Wikipedia pages do. That hasn't been for lack of trying on Wikia's part. But the almighty Google, gatekeeper of attention to web sites, has not changed "partners".

Perhaps related, one often hears during Wikipedia fundraising the idea that Wikipedia is trustworthy because it doesn't have advertising. If the speaker is also associated with Wikia, I wish a reporter would ask if that means the "commercialize the hell out of it" company Wikia is therefore untrustworthy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
October 03, 2010

Mass Escape of the Digital Sharecroppers - "The Anti-Wikia Alliance"

I've written about various communities, such as Transformers and "WikiFur" which "escape from being digital sharecroppers on the electronic plantation, err, wikifarm company Wikia, Inc. Remember, that's the company co-founded by Jimmy Wales to, in the words of one article (they said it, not me!), "take the success -- and, indeed, the underlying philosophy -- of Wikipedia," and "commercialize the hell out of it"."

Evidently more remaining unpaid content-generators are planning a break for freedom, having formed the "Anti-Wikia Alliance. The main grievance seems to be yet another extensive graphic redesign that apparently favors the company over the creators:

While change to a website is necessary when a time comes, change must be beneficial to the development of a domain and not detrimental to the well-being of a community of Wikis that has thrived for years. Wikia's latest decision to apply a new ultramodernistic skin that is so bland and flavorless does absolutely no benefit the Wikia community other than drive away editors and contributors that have made Wikis of this site rich and informative.

There are many practical issues here. One key aspect is what Google will do to any new site. That is, whether it will bury the escapee with a "duplicate content" penalty. I'm actually a bit less pessimistic about that these days. I just checked today, and not only had the independent Transformers community site survived, it was beating the Transformers Wikia site on Google, ranking #18 vs #20, for the word "Transformers". Granted, they're a relatively small community, but it's heartening.

Now if only there were some sort of nonprofit organization which had grants to host wiki software ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (5)
August 28, 2009

"WikiFur" Escapes From Wikia, Inc.

The "WikiFur" community has finished its escape from being digital sharecroppers on the electronic plantation, err, part of wikifarm company Wikia, Inc. Remember, that's the startup co-founded by Jimmy Wales to, in the words of one article (they said it, not me!), "take the success -- and, indeed, the underlying philosophy -- of Wikipedia," and "commercialize the hell out of it".

As put in a statement:

Why did WikiFur move?

Our current host, Wikia, is a for-profit company funded by venture capital. They have been able to expand rapidly as a result, and provide both technical and community support. This has usually been beneficial to WikiFur.

However, there comes a time when every business has to start making money. To increase revenue, Wikia applied new adverts which intrude into the content area, pushing aside existing content. We believe this significantly detracts from the design of these pages. To date, WikiFur readers have been spared the worst of these - see Wookieepedia (without an ad-blocker) for an example of what it would be like.

Wikia also imposed major changes to the user interfaces of hosted wikis, in a deliberate trend towards a branded look. They wish to be seen as an integral part of the site, rather than the providers of a hosting service to separate communities.

The changes mean that Wikia's service no longer met our needs, so we decided to part company.

Hat tip: Fan History’s Blog, which has this interesting additional aspect:

Since the move, we've seen a drop in traffic (Google was our number-one referrer), but editing has remained active, so we're happy. From our past experience with other language projects, we know they'll find our new location soon enough.

Good luck, folks. Let's see how Google treats you in the future.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4)
July 24, 2009

Last vestige of Wikia Search is gone, also "Wikianswers" trademarked

[Original reporting! Not an echo!]

Oh, how far the mighty imagined Google-fighter ("killer" was overhype) has fallen. The late, only slightly lamented, Wikia Search project (Wikipedia-style search) shut down months ago. The URL was redirected to another site of Wikia Inc, a question-and-answers wiki. But there was at least a paragraph on the front page indicating Wikia Search had existed. However, on June 17, even that paragraph was removed. All that remains about Wikia Search on that page now is a tiny icon, a virtual puff of smoke, into which it has vanished.

Speaking of "Wiki answers" sites, in the name dispute between's "WikiAnswers" site and Wikia's "Wikianswers" site, has recently gotten a trademark registration on "WIKIANSWERS". Though the argument may possibly turn out to be academic. Even many months after launch, Wikia's site is getting less than 1% of the traffic of's site.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
May 22, 2009

"Wikia Search" site ends up pointing to Wikia Wikianswers site

In a final coda to the sad saga of Wikia Search (the overhyped Wikipedia-model user-generated free labor search startup, which crashed and burned into being a Yahoo front-end before imploding completely), the site now leads to nothing but Wikia's copycat wiki answers site. There's a little section on the homepage there:

Wikia Search

The Wikia Search project has ended. redirects here. Find out more:

* What was Wikia Search?
* What happened to Wikia Search?
* Where can I get the source code for Wikia Search?

A while back, just before the announcement of Wikia Search's shutdown, Walt Crawford wrote in his Cites & Insights publication the following thoughts:

I have nine printouts and lead sheets, mostly related to Wikia Search, Wikia's odd effort to take on Google by crowdsourcing search ranking itself. But I notice an oddity similar to the CZ cluster, and maybe it shouldn't be surprising: All the items are from a single blog, in this case Seth Finkelstein's InfoThought ... Searching that blog for "Wikia search" yields a lot of results; he's covered it in depth.

Why is all my Wikia Search stuff from one source? Maybe because, despite lots of praise when Wales started talking up the idea in 2007, the reality has been... tepid. When the public availability began in January 2008, SearchEngineLand called it "really just yet another crappy search service." The more you read of the whole basic idea, the less it seems to make much sense in the real world.

Sadly, there's a market for hype, but not for skepticism.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:21 PM | Comments (1)
April 15, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on Wikia Search's Failure

"Shutdown of Wikia Search proves empty rhetoric of collaboration"

"The shutdown of Wikia Search - an attempt to apply Wikipedia-style ideas to create an open source, commercial search engine - came as no surprise to informed observers"

I didn't suggest a title, leaving to the editors what they wanted to emphasize, and this one is fine.

I have some good turns of phrase in this article - calling Google the "Great Search Satan" (looks like nobody ever used that phrasing before), and talking about "mining user-generated discontent". And I close with "a taint of half-baked dilettantism and corporate exploitation.".

An open search engine is a great idea, and I support the concept in general. But Wikia had too much of a conflict of interest in term of corporate motives to be right for it.

Blog bonus: I wanted to use this old joke I've mutated, somewhere, but it was too long for the column:

Two entrepreneurs are in the woods following the trail of a ferocious predatory Google. All of a sudden, the Google crashes out of the brush and heads straight for them. They scramble up the nearest tree, but the Google starts climbing up the tree after them. The first entrepreneur starts taking off his heavy leather hiking boots and pulls a pair of sleek running shoes from his backpack. The second entrepreneur gives him a puzzled look and says, "What in the world are you doing?"

He replies, "I figure when the Google gets close to us, we'll jump down and make a run for it."

The second guy says, "Are you crazy? We both know you can't outrun a full-grown Google."

The first one replies: "I don't have to outrun the Google, I only have to outrun you!"

[Wikia Search did not have to be a "Google Killer". It only had to outrun its costs, using digital sharecroppers as bait, to make a profit (though it couldn't even do that)]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:28 PM | Comments (2)
March 04, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia Inclusionism vs. Deletionism (vs. Wikia)

"In the end, it's actually about money"

"One of the perennial debates about Wikipedia is 'inclusionism' v 'deletionism', which revolves around what topics should be covered."

The title isn't mine, but it does capture the ideas. I do hope people grasp that the "money" part is meant to be a multilayered observation, connecting the two concepts explored - an examination of the costs that every article creates, and the pressures of commercialization. Not something silly, like a potential strawman of deletionism being a plot to enrich Wikia's digital-sharecropping gains.

I quote with attribution and permission two very active Wikipedia editors being critical of Jimmy Wales. So it'll be interesting to see how that affects the article's perception in Wikipedia cabals, err, circles. I've been derided as a "media troll", but I've sourced some of the criticism here to "insiders", so maybe that'll matter (or not ...).

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein |]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:18 PM | Comments (2)
February 11, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on "wikianswers" conflict

"What's in a name? Everything, when you're talking wiki value"

"A question of confusion has no simple answer, as shown by an argument over the names of wiki-based sites dedicated to providing answers to questions"

I didn't pick the title, but it's OK. I didn't even make a suggestion. I would have tried for something clever like "Wikianswers sites raise questions", but maybe that would be too cute.

The column is about how both and Wikia (the start-up company which is not the commercial arm of Wikipedia, understand, it's an entirely separate entity which is just trying to "commercialize the hell out of it" conceptually) now both have sites with a capitalization variant of "wikianswers".

Money quote:

In my opinion, Wikia's relaunch of its site using the name Wikianswers is sleazy and unethical in the face of the far more well-known and successful [site].

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:48 PM | Comments (9)
November 03, 2008

Catch-up: Google column soon, Digital Sharecropping, Wikia CEO tale

["Life Trumps Blogging", but some collected notes]

1) The obligatory pontification about the Google Book Search settlement, a topic on which all Google interested pundits must write about, will appear in my next Guardian column, in a few days.

2) Briefly noted: The Economist Innovation Awards and Summit

Business Process: Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikipedia for public collaboration as a form of product and content development.

I have yet to see a more blatant business jargon way of saying "for electronic plantations full of digital sharecroppers".

3) Amazing story from an unreliable source of "Why Jimmy Wales got booted from Wikia's top job". I wouldn't have believed it, and it's been denied, but a reliable source confirmed to me that it's true. There looks to be some very strange backroom politics going on within Wikia (the company aiming to "commercialize the hell out" of Wikipedia concepts and success, though having no significant financial connection to the Wikimedia Foundation).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
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.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:27 PM | Comments (4)
September 15, 2008

Google effects as Digital Sharecroppers leave Wikia's Electronic Plantation

The Transformers (shape-changing toy robots) fan wiki-community, which I wrote about in my Guardian article concerning Wikia digital sharecroppers leaving the electronic plantation, has now completed their site emigration away from the mandatory ad-farm that forms Wikia's business plan. I wish them well. Now one interesting question is what happens in terms of Google rankings for the two sites.

Notably, the process of moving the site involved stripping out automatically inserted backlinks to Wikia in the pages generated to move the site, as explained in the post "The last helicopter out of Wikia (filtering page text)"

Wikia has inserted an extra link back to itself! in the exported text! Don't believe me? Check it out! How obnoxious! That's at the bottom of every page! ...

But gosh, it sure makes it harder for us to leave, doesn't it? And when we do - why there's millions of links from us back to Wikia's near-identical content! Links that improve their Google ratings... and harm ours. (Google looks down on re-presented content.)

[That "millions" is definitely an over-estimate, since all the history versions of wiki pages are not indexed, but the main idea still stands]

Anyway, does community win over inertia and cross-promotion? This is a fascinating test. Good luck climbing Mount PageRank ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)