What’s the difference between a Wikia and a Wikipedia? Trivia, mostly – but also, Gil Penchina (pictured below). Penchina has spent eight years running eBay as a general manager and told me it was “like a whole career with any ordinary company, and I want to stop.”
So Gil has started his own gang. He’s the new CEO of Wikia, which is (at first sight, anyway) exactly like Wikipedia, right down to being founded by the same guy – Jimmy Wales – but it’s designed to relieve the pressure on the main site to cover trivia like soap TV shows.
The company announced itself in a Wiki entry on its own site saying: “Wikia enables groups to share information, news, stories, media and opinions that fall outside the scope of an encyclopedia.”
But it’s not all Star Trek, as you might deduce from that. Try “Archaeology” for example: “The archaeology Wikia is for any archaeology related content, and for the archaeological community to share ideas on this topic.” Why isn’t that on Wikipedia? or “Astronomy”? – “The astronomy Wikia is for all astronomy topics.”
But a little roaming around exposes the difference: it’s a “community thing.” According to the Astronomy Wikia, “The wiki was started with a focus specifically on topics related to the Mid Atlantic Star Party and will include reports from MASP attendees.”
Is there a real need for this? Gil thinks yes, definitely – but the way he talks, it’s not altogether clear who exactly is needing it. For example, try the “Buffyverse” Wikia which was founded on 15 October last year.
That’s got to be a goodie, right? Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff, Angel, are two of the most cult-like of cult-media TV shows. It’s not only got meaningless violence by cute, tight-busted teens, but also supernatural demons and Powers That Be – and any true Buffy fan will also assure you, a line in wry comedy that rivals anything the best of British TV comedy could offer.
And despite all that, there’s nothing there. Hit the button “article” for and all you get is: “You have followed a link to a page that does not exist yet. If you are here by mistake, just click your browser’s back button.” And off you go, kid; you’re effectively going to found the Buffy Wikia.
Why would you do that? In Gil’s view of the future, of course, it would be to prevent the more serious Wikipedia from being cluttered with Buffy trivia. Too late, surely? – but even if it isn’t, is “good for Wikipedia” the same as “good for Wikia?”
Out in the real world, of course, people run fan sites without feeling any need to use a Wikipedia entry. If they think a Wiki is a good way to do a fan site, the software for running a Wiki is available – many are free. All you need is a nice URL like (say) BuffyGuide or BuffyWorld and in that case, the “community” can create advertising and subscription and screensaver revenue – and you get to keep the money, not give it all to Gill and Jimmy.
Gil accepts that the financial success of Wikia isn’t yet assured. He’s not pouring cash into it. It’s not flooded with expensive staff; it’s going to grow as it grows, he says.
On the other hand, lots of people have made lots of money out of supporting groups and communities. And a lot of people have been pouring scorn on the trivial content of the Wikipedia – and saying “it’s not a Real Encyclopaedia, is it?” in mocking tones – a criticism that deeply offends Jimmy Wales.
If the Wikia concept does catch on, it looks like it may be slow. As one disappointed visitor to the “Doom” Wikia complained: “wow, I just came to the main page of this wiki and got excited to read about Doom, it’s got coverage of the games, the mods, everything I’d want to know. Then I got to the end of the paragraph on the main page, and had no idea how to access any of this cool content. how about a link or two on the main page to get people started? a table of contents or something perhaps? there’s just nothing there.”
Doom isn’t the only empty cupboard. There are some obviously promising Wikias, but far more that are not yet.
Gil just nodded and smiled. “I’m not looking for instant frenzy,” he conceded. “I was really thinking of retiring, but Jimmy said this needed doing, and it may suit me after the stress of eBay for the last eight years…”