Wikia co-founder on the good, the bad and the ugly of collaboration

Wikia co-founder Angela Beesley shares her thoughts on Wikia, wikis and Wikipedia as well as their place in the enterprise.

Wikis could take a trick or two from Facebook and social networking sites in order to draw more contributors in the new year, says co-founder of Wikia, Angela Beesley, one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming linux.conf.au. She shares her thoughts on wikia, wikis and wikipedia as well as their place in the enterprise with Computerworld.

What will your talk at linux.conf.au be about?

I will be talking about the future plans of both Wikipedia and its parent organisation, the Wikimedia Foundation.

Where are Wikia and Wikipedia heading?

Both Wikia and Wikimedia will be very focused on usability in 2009.

The Wikimedia Foundation was recently awarded a grant of US$890,000 by the Stanton Foundation to make Wikipedia's editing interface easier to use. Wikia has recently launched a rich text (or WYSIWYG) editor for MediaWiki, the software that both Wikia and Wikipedia use. This means that new users can instantly get involved with editing or creating new pages without needing to learn complex markup. At the same time, we have retained the option for editors to switch to the traditional editing interface. Wikia has also introduced a new skin making the site easier to navigate, especially for new users, and we will be refining this over the coming year, ensuring that people know they can edit and we will be making it very easy to add new content.

How has Wikia created a viable business model around wikis?

Unlike other tools, a wiki is not owned by a single person, so the model of selling something to the customer doesn't work here. The sort of public community-based wikis that Wikia hosts rely very much on group ownership, and we think that providing hosting or premium services via one person who is paying could upset that by implying that the individual is responsible for the site which decreases the motivations of others to build and maintain it. Instead, Wikia is focused on the advertising-model, where we display ads from a variety of networks and directly from companies. This frees the community from being reliant on the person who pays the bills, and allows all members to have an equal stake in the success of their wiki.

Technology-wise where do you see wikis heading in a few year’s time?

The next step for wikis is to become more usable. They've developed out of a very geeky culture in which people were happy to put up with complicated markup and sites that were hard to navigate, but to reach a mainstream audience, they need to be as easy to use as blogs and social networking sites. The barriers to entry on many wikis are low, in that anyone is invited to edit, but the learning curve is still too steep to get more than a tiny percentage of the readers involved in contributing content themselves.

We're also starting to see integrations with social tools that give authors more incentive to participate, and help to recruit new editors by using the same viral methods that sites like Facebook use.

The growing importance of video on the Internet will also affect wikis. Right now, the editable part of a wiki is usually limited to the text. Even where a wiki allows you to embed images or videos, that embedded content is an add-on rather than an integrated and editable part of the site. Work is going on to apply wiki principles to video-based collaboration.

Do you think wikis will play a greater role in the enterprise in the future?

Wikis are already playing a role in many enterprises. They're an increasingly important part of any corporate toolset as they're so easy to implement and can bring immediate improvements to working methods, as well as in aiding collaboration, and saving time by reducing email flow.

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