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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2006.

A Tale of Two Wikis: Techniques for building, managing and promoting collaborative communities

Laurence 'GreenReaper' Parry

Abstract

Introduction

For those of you who just dropped in – despite the track title, this presentation is not about Wikipedia, nor is it about a Wikimedia project. It is intended for people who have decided that there should be a place outside Wikimedia for their community, and who are preparing (or have begun) to build one. You may also be a member of such a community who wishes to take on a bigger role in guiding its future development.

But why would you want to build such a wiki in the first place, and why would such wikis be successful? The answers are simple: the wiki provides (in most cases) a persistent storage for community history, while at the same time the community provides a ready pool of eager, knowledgeable contributors for the wiki. Prominent examples of successful topics for community wikis include Star Wars/Star Trek, Transformers and the Muppets. Indeed, such wikis have been far more popular than those on generic topics.

Why can these people not be happy on Wikipedia? Hands up anyone who’s had an article they worked on deleted from Wikipedia for non-notability, or because it relied on material that hadn’t been “reputably published”? OK, now, hands up anyone who’s voted for an article to be deleted from Wikipedia for the same reasons? Do you really want a complete listing and description of all four hundred unofficial additions to a computer game last released in 2001? Some people do, to be sure, but most would argue that shouldn’t be in a general-purpose encyclopedia.

I myself would prefer to have universal access to such information, but there is another reason to separate it – it is easier to focus on a topic when you have an entire site dedicated to it, and allows the creation of more in-depth articles that can be reintegrated at a later date. It can also remove a large source of arguments from the Wikimedia projects.

There is a personal factor to it as well. For those of you who chafe under Wikipedia’s policies, this is your chance to make a wiki the way you think it should be, about something you’re really interested in. Of course, you may find that some of those restrictions were there for a good reason . . . but at least you’ll have the chance to find out for yourself. And, who knows – perhaps you’ll find a better way of doing things along the way?

Why listen to me? Well, I’ve done it – twice. At the end of December 2004 I became the main contributor and de-facto founder of the newly-created Creatures Wiki, one of the first wikis hosted by the service then known as Wikicities. This wasn’t my first introduction to wiki editing, but it was close. I worked on the site for over six months, doing much research into past events. Given the state of the Creatures Community, which had languished for several years, I suspected it wouldn’t really get that much traffic, but didn’t want to lose its history. As it happens, people are still playing the game, and the site gets 200 visitors a day. I’m not actively contributing to it anymore, but it lives on through others. More about that later.

In July 2005 I moved to Michigan to work for Stardock. I found I had a lot of time free in those long, summer evenings. Naturally, I did what any wiki fan would do – I started a new project! At the time, Wikipedia had maybe forty or so articles on the furry fandom – the community who enjoy the genre of anthropomorphic art and stories. Earlier in the year, I had noticed that long arguments over relevance and had broken out on pages related to the furry fandom. I also noticed that there was no central information point for the fandom – there were many art archives, link lists, and the like, but no one place where you could go to look up the name of the guy who founded Anthrocon, or find lists of furry people, media and LiveJournal communities. So I decided to do something about it, and WikiFur was the result. You can too.

The things I about to suggest here are just that: suggestions. They may not be the only way to do things, but they’re the way it worked out (or, in some cases, didn’t) for me. Your mileage may vary! If you’re interested in learning about other perspectives on community management, look for Meatball Wiki – it’s a fine place to start.

Starting the wiki

Hosting the wiki

If you’ve not chosen where to start your wiki, now’s the time. The main question is whether or not to use a specific wiki hosting provider (also known as a wiki farm). There are many options, and the one you choose will depend on your technical ability, intended licensing and how much (if anything) you are willing to pay for it. The good news is, people will inevitably criticise you later for whatever you choose, so go with the solution that works best for you. After all, if they cared that, much, they should have founded it themselves!

Wikia worked for us. I won’t say that there weren’t times when it would have been convenient to have more direct access to the servers. On the other hand, zero hosting costs for a website that gets 10,000 hits/day and rising isn’t at all bad, and having an expert to handle the server side can leave you to manage the community, which is ultimately more important for its success.

Names and branding

WikiFur logo
Creatures Wiki logo

Names are important. Keep it simple. If people cannot figure out what your site is about from the name, you probably want to reconsider it. Try not to reuse someone else’s name, either. Wookieepedia is a good one – but note that it was initially known as the Star Wars Wiki, which worked well enough well to start with. For the wikis I founded: Creatures Wiki seemed like the best choice, though we had many suggestions (Creaturepedia, Wikicreatures, and CWiki). Conversely, WikiFur seemed the only appropriate choice – FurWiki just seemed odd, while Furry Wiki sounded generic, and most of the other names I considered were not obviously furry.

After a name, you can try thinking up a few slogans. “WikiFur: By Furries, For Furries, About Furries”, for example.

You need a site logo, too. You may not have the skill to make it yourself, but you can usually find someone in the community to make one for you, maybe for free (competitions are great for this). Choose something distinctive and meaningful to your community. Keep it simple – ideally, someone should be able to look at it from ten feet away and say “oh, that’s [Wiki X]”. It should be obvious, but make sure you have the rights to use the image, and not just on the site. Who knows what you may want to do with it later?

Leadership

In the end, a lot of it comes down to the founder – who I’m assuming here is you. You must have belief in yourself – you must think that founding a wiki is the right thing to do, and you are the best person to be doing it. At the same time, you must believe that it is important (nay, essential) for others to contribute as well. After all, you would not be making a wiki if you thought others had nothing to offer!

In a way, it helps if you are not already a full expert in the topics that your wiki covers. That way, you can avoid the temptation to meddle too much and imposing your opinion on others. It can also make researching the initial articles more fun. However, I would not recommend trying to run a wiki on a topic that you are not personally interested in, and could not ever see yourself being interested in. Even if you’re getting paid for it, you may find it hard to get sufficiently motivated, and if not you’ll probably find you get bored and wish to leave before your task is complete. Passion about the topic is a good thing.

When I said initial articles, I mean a lot of initial articles. Make no mistake; you will be doing a lot of writing in the first days, weeks, and probably months of the wiki. This is known as seed posting, but it’s far more than just seeding with information; you’re also laying down the foundation of the wiki’s style and content guide. Future contributors will look at what you have written and write more of the same – so if you have a particular layout in mind, now’s the time to implement it.

Mission

The Project:About page is the first page I write. Why? Because you must have goals to work towards, otherwise you have no mission which others can join in with! There are literally hundreds of dead wikis out there that have no focus, and no contributors.

The goals you set can be optimistic, but they must be measurable and achievable, otherwise you will lose any sense of progress.

Condensed examples:

  • Creatures Wiki: "A complete listing of all Creatures breeds and addons"
  • WikiFur: "Be the most comprehensive site for furry fandom information"

You must also make some attempt to define your audience and contribution pool. If you do not do this, then people will not feel empowered to make edits, nor will they know what they should be writing about.

I believe it is best to be inclusive, especially in the early stages. You don’t want a promising contributor to go away because they feel that their contributions will not be appreciated.

Initial policies

The best advice I can give on policies is to avoid writing them until you’re sure what they are. For a few, you may be able to decide straight away how you want them to be – indeed, they may be so obvious as to seem implicit, though what is obvious to you isn’t necessarily obvious to others. One that springs to mind for most sites is “no personal attacks”. Others are trickier. For example, your community might be sympathetic to a particular point of view, such as belief in a certain deity. In this case, a “neutral point of view with exceptions” policy might apply.

One thing you should also specify at this time is your license. Some choose Creative Commons licenses; others prefer the GFDL, particularly if compatibility with Wikimedia projects is desired. Some wiki hosts have their own policy requiring you to use a particular license. Write a page explaining what it means to contributors and those wishing to use your content: what their rights and responsibilities are, and who they can go to for more help. Once you come to a consensus about other policies, write them down.

It’s important to strike the right tone with policies. You have to write on behalf of everyone, but without sounding too stuffy – unless your community is like that!

Maintenance and expansion

Attracting and keeping contributors

The most important thing to remember when attracting contributors is that you are trying to create a relationship between visitors and the community. That starts the moment they arrive on your site. Most people form an impression within the first few seconds of their first visit. You want the first thing they see to be “Welcome!”, and the next thing to be a reason to stick around for a while.

Welcoming users and making them feel at home and part of your community as quickly as possible is perhaps one of the most critical reasons for monitoring recent changes. Put simply: welcomes are not minor edits. I have always resisted the urge to template the welcome – for non-anonymous users, anyway – because I feel that it is important to type out the welcome and personalize it to the user’s contributions. You can never tell who will become your next star contributor.

One of the features in the newest version of MediaWiki is the MediaWiki:Anonnotice, a site notice shown only to anonymous users – which will including most new visitors to your site. If you have such a feature available to you, consider using it to guide them to your featured content, help, and community portals.

On WikiFur, we use the MediaWiki:Anonnotice like this:

Welcome to WikiFur! Check out our Featured articles, the Comic of the Week, and our Did you know? section!

This is mostly in case they don’t come in at the front page – most people come into most wikis from deep links or search results, so you cannot guarantee that they will ever see it). Of course, you should make the front page. Name it something relevant for search engines (e.g. “Creatures Wiki Homepage”, “WikiFur Furry Central”) and head it up with a site map of quick links that lead to rapid access of large amounts of content. Search engines love links to large category pages.

Users, on the other hand, may like their hands held, especially if you want them to become contributors. Give them all the assistance you can with custom help pages written to their expected level of expertise, and in a friendly example-heavy style. For the details, direct them to Meta/Wikipedia, which does it far better than you will be able to. Just remember to warn them that not all Wikipedia policies apply.

After you’ve shown them around, give them somewhere to work out of, and something to do. The community portal is the best place to start with – it probably isn’t as visited as some would like, but you can often tempt new editors in there to give them a good idea of the options available to them. Fill it with useful links to news, policies, tasks to be performed, wiki projects to be a part of and the like. Make sure they know where to turn to for help.

The last thing you need to do is let them talk to one another and form social relationships with their fellow editors. Forums, LiveJournal, chat channels, mailing lists, offline meetups – they all contribute to a sense of community. For the times when private conversation is desired, offer , particularly for yourself. You need to be reachable. I’ve personally had people email me, private message me, IM me (through every client possible), even phone me up once to warn me of a vandal attack. I’ve also had long chats at conventions. Different people prefer different methods of communication, so try and offer them all.

One of the benefits of running your own wiki for the community is that usually the group of contributors is small enough that it is a true community where you can get to be familiar with just about everyone else. It rarely reaches the point where you have no idea who people are. Of course, the downside to that is that you will probably encounter situations where editors have past issues. Make it clear that you expect them to shelve these issues while editing and you should be OK.

Customization

Small touches make a big difference

You may (nay, should) choose to customize MediaWiki to your community. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to give your site a unique flavour. In particular, altering the images used in the site interface will add a touch of the community to your wiki. MediaWiki and other wiki engines are very configurable. Play with them.

Due to my almost complete lack of graphics skills, I tended to restrain myself to little touches, like incorporating greyscale images into the MediaWiki category bars (insert examples from Creatures, WikiFur, Wikia), but if you have access to someone with the ability to do major customizations, consider using that. Be careful to ensure that usability is maintained, though. For example, for various reasons many people dislike dark backgrounds on websites and may complain if you implement one. You can, of course, choose to ignore them, but you risk losing their contributions. Your site’s content should not be overshadowed by the framework.

Remember to check what resolutions your users are using and ensure that your main pages at least work for them, on a variety of browsers. It’s not good if 10% of visitors think your site is broken because they’re using 800x600 and you require 1024x786, or if you make use of a feature that causes half the page to disappear on Firefox or IE.

WikiFur front page
Creatures Wiki front page

Dealing with problems

MediaWiki provides numerous tools to aid you in dealing with problem users. Learn how to use them, and make sure your fellow administrators know how as well (you do have fellow administrators, right?)

Find others to help you

Actively seek to promote contributors who know what they are doing and who are familiar with how your wiki works. If you place trust in people, you will generally find that they honour it. There are exceptions – but the reward you get from the rest is worth it.

Note that you should try to avoid promoting anyone to a long-term admin position on technical ability alone. Usually by the time you are considering it they will have participated in conversation with other contributors. It should be clear whether or not they understand “the wiki way” and agree with the community’s policies and guidelines. If in doubt, it is probably best to wait a little longer and see.

Vandalism and spam

Most wikis are subject to some level of what is termed “vandalism” – defamation, obscene text or pictures. For many, this may be limited to people “testing” the wiki (or its administrators). There may be cases where someone has a personal grudge and decides to take it out by editing a wiki page about the topic (which could be a problem if the topic is someone who can sue for libel). On the other end of the scale you may have a controversial topic (such as politics, abortion, or furries) that people have widely differing views on, and which attracts a large number of editors who are not willing to work with those from other viewpoints. Some people just like attention.

A situation that can be particularly devastating is when someone at a large, popular website or forum puts up a link to your wiki and says “go mess this up”. Depending on the technical ability of the visitors and persistence of the message you may find that you need to exercise vigilance for several days following the posting.

Of course, a crisis can turn into an opportunity. A few days after I first started promoting WikiFur in August 2005, we started getting a mass of edits from a variety of IP addresses from around the English-speaking world. At first we thought we were getting hit by someone with access to a list of unblocked proxies, but the highly varied nature of edits made it clear that this was not the case.

Something Awful: One edit every 45 seconds. What would you do?

A short while later, we figured out the source – a link to WikiFur had been posted on the Something Awful forums, and within hours it was featured as the site's "Awful Link of the Day". Now, this may not be what you might consider an ideal promotion. However, the way we saw it, we had two options:

  • Lock the wiki down tight – no anonymous edits, possibly no new user accounts or no non-admin edits at all, and wait it out
  • Meet them head-on – welcome the new users, encourage them not to vandalise, and deal with the people who would inevitably ignore that

We chose the latter option. I promoted a few more of our better users who had already been trying to revert the vandals to administrator status, and we brought in a few more temporarily from Wikipedia. Several of our current admins have told me that they became involved with the site defending it from attack.

Spam is a lesser problem, but one which affects everyone sooner or later. There may be server features or extensions that you can use to help with this, either by filtering out spam, blocking known spam hosts, or adding a captcha system to editing. Your best defence is an active base of contributors available to block and revert spammers.

Internal conflict

Most wikis involve disagreements now and then. As the founder, you are the default arbitrator, and if you’ve been doing your job, you will be seen as having some authority. Expect to be looked to for a solution, and try to make decisions that have something in them for everyone to agree with. You should however encourage people to help you out in deciding – you don’t want to be the only one making the calls, and you need some to back you up (or to tell you when you’re doing something wrong). Prefer discussion over voting, at least to start with; you can always call a vote when you have several options available to you.

If in doubt, look to Wikipedia’s guidelines. If your decision makes policy (likely for most of the difficult ones), write it down, but try not to over-generalize it otherwise it may be misapplied.

Promotion and advertising

To many people, promotion is a dirty word - just one step away from the dreaded advertising. However, the simple truth is that unless you promote your Wikia in some way, it will have no visitors; nor will it gain regular contributors. Your wiki needs these contributors. They will not appear by magic. Someone needs to lead them there.

To attract attention to your well-written seed postings, you need to create interest in the wiki through targeted promotion. Unfortunately, this is one area in which recruiting others does not appear to do it for you; as the founder, you are viewed as the official voice of the project and therefore you are expected to write the official “press release”. At best, they may check over what you’ve said or help you distribute it, maybe make some graphics if you ask nicely.

Not everyone is cut out for this role. I certainly wasn’t when I started. However, even if you’re not a natural speaker you can (and should) give it a go. Consider it an exercise in role-playing! If you don’t feel up to it right away, the best way to start is to concentrate on the seed posting – then at least you have something to show to people.

Communication

Forums. LiveJournal. IRC. Whatever already exists, go out there and establish a presence. Hopefully you know where the people are since you’re a member of the community. If not, find them. Get in contact with major community leaders and discuss the project with them. They may be in a position to help you out. Give presentations at conventions and other meetings. Leave messages on notice boards.

Ways to promote your wiki

There are many avenues for promotion, most of which take very little effort. Most existing communities have forums on which you can post, and you should include links to your in forum signatures as well. The foundation of your site alone may count as front-page news for smaller communities. Once you’ve got going and are clearly a valuable resource, ask major community website owners to consider adding a link to your wiki. If you have a page about their sites, so much the better! Chat rooms, newsgroups, user groups and vendors may also be valid targets for promotion depending on your situation – I even modified the main Creatures community chat client to convert wiki-links to links to the Creatures Wiki.

Furry fandom has many forums – too many to really have an impact posting in one of them. However, we had a good response from posts to the many furry LiveJournal communities out there. Again, you go to where potential users and contributors are.

You should never stop seeking opportunities to promote your community’s wiki. You might think that after a while you get to the point where you have “enough” contributors. However, people do leave, and you need promotions to encourage new users to come in to replace them, as well as to remind older members that you are still around. You may also decide that you want to cover more topics, and so need to expand your base of contributors further.

Wikipedia

A special note about promoting on Wikipedia – it can be a good source of contributors, but tread carefully. Try adding links in article sonly to prevent articles being created on Wikipedia for generally non-notable topics that are relevant to your site’s topic. Use interwiki links, if possible – it looks better. Don’t go spamming links everywhere, especially if you don’t have good material at your end. If you notice something relevant being voted for deletion at Wikipedia, consider offering to transwiki it to your site. Finally, if you have articles that are generally notable on both sites, do port back and forward as appropriate . . . but keep the non-notable details (for example, biographies of the people involved in a convention) on your copy.

Creating promotional material

Flyers can be a great way to promote your wiki.

There are two main sorts of promotion you can do – promotion to attract contributors, and promotion to attract users. You can combine elements of both, and indeed it is probably a good idea to do so.

Contributor-oriented promotion involves inspiring others to join in. You are asking people to make a significant investment of time and effort in your project. You must therefore explain why they should do this. What problems will your wiki solve, in the short and long term? What is your vision for the site? You should have brief answers to these in the material, and back them up with longer answers on the site itself.

You should also describe how they can help, remembering that each potential contributor has different skills and talents. Appeal to their sense of worth by explaining that only they can provide the information you seek (this may well be true, especially if you’re looking for personal information).

For the visitors, you have a slightly easier job – explaining why they should bother looking at your site in the first place. Emphasise the breadth of topics that you cover within your specific focus. Tell them a story, and include interesting links as you go. Just make sure that you’re sending them somewhere good – stub pages are not good advertisements.

For example, I set up a forum thread on Gameware’s community forums entitled From the Creatures Wiki , refreshing it with regular updates over the first few months of the site’s lifetime. My posts were long and link-heavy, written in a conversational style. The thread was cross-posted to several other forums, including major German and French community sites. Not only did we manage to get the company to sticky the post on their forums, we also won endorsement (and a few edits) from the game’s creator, Steve Grand. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

Writing promotional material can also be a great opportunity to give your contributors some recognition for their efforts. While contributors are often very altruistic, many contribute at least in part for the recognition of their work by others in the community. Seek out your best contributors and reward them by mentioning their efforts. You can find this information through the use of a statistics package, the standard one being Eric Zachte’s Wikistats.

Remember, the best promotional tool is excellent content. Sites will link to it, search engines will index it, and people will come back for it again and again.

Advertising

AdWords is one fairly cheap method of advertising

There are many ways to get visitors to your website. One of these is paid advertising. Some sites may never need this. For others, it may be a critical part of the process of gaining visitors and contributors. You can get a lot of attention very quickly if you’re willing to spend a lot. Of course, there are some things that are worth more than any amount of money . . . but for everything else, there’s Mastercard. ;-)

The big question is, is it worth it? The answer: It depends. How much can you afford? How cheap is the advertising on offer? Is it possible to focus your adverts to those who will be most interested in them? Can you get a community-specific deal?

This isn’t a search engine optimization tutorial, but a few simple pieces of advice are to use specific phrases rather than general ones and to carefully monitor their effectiveness. You can burn up a lot of money to no good effect if you are not careful. In my view, Google AdWords is better than its main competitor, Yahoo Search Marketing. They get a lower rate of clickthrough per impression, but they provide more impressions, can have lower rates, and from my experience the users that visit go on to view more pages. However, they still go on to view fewer pages than those who arrived by searching and clicking on a content link in the search results.

Remember that just because your site is online doesn’t mean that’s the best way to reach your contributors. WikiFur placed paid advertisements in convention books and distributed flyers, because that was the easiest way to reach large numbers of people.

Monitoring

Analytics is a good method of monitoring a wiki

You want to know how you’re doing, right? The best way to judge success is to measure it, whether by wiki-specific stats like the number of active users, articles, edits, links or images, to website statistics regarding visitors, page views, referrals and search engine rankings, to the general reputation of your site and its mention in publications. All of these pieces of information can be used to plan further improvements, and they can also be very useful for constructing promotional material.

Monitoring your site’s reach and popularity is a tricky task, but there are tools available to help you out. If you want statistical measures, you need a log analysis tool like AWStats, Analog, or Webalizer, or an online version like Google Analytics. The most critical feature is the ability to track referrers, so you can see what other people think of your site when they link to it (if you get a link to a forum home page, do a search for the name or URL of your site). You should also consider a Wiki-specific tool – for MediaWiki, the standard is Erik Zachte’s script. LJSeek and other topic-specific search engines.

You can find some interesting things through referrer tracking. I have found unsolicited praise, interesting questions, unanswered concerns (which I attempted to answer) and what are best defined as “hate group” sites planning to attack us. You can also find such things through search engines, both generic web engines like Google and more specific searches, like LJSeek for LiveJournal. You can also just try asking people what they think – the results may surprise you!

Keep in mind that popularity is not everything. Don’t expect to be the number-one site in your community within a month – or a year, or ever. Set appropriate targets, look for steady growth and you will not be disappointed.

Wikistats gives you a detailed view of your wiki

Policy

As for the features of Wikipedia, you can afford to pick and choose. Many of the social aspects of Wikipedia are inappropriate for a smaller, closer community. However, most of the features that enable visitors to access the content (such as featured articles and the did you know? system are very useful. Similarly, most templates and layouts are readily usable piecemeal. There is little reason to pass up the opportunities provided by Wikipedia in this respect, unless you have an incompatible license (in which case ideas but not implementations should be used)

In particular, avoid implementing systems that require a high level of technical competence from your users to contribute. You are unlikely to have that luxury. Even if your contributors are generally competent, they are unlikely to be able to do that.

To take a specific example, I attempted to implement the Wikipedia featured article candidate system on WikiFur in order to devolve my control over that portion of the site. The candidate system is optimized for Wikipedia’s high throughput and puts a significant burden on the proposing user, who must create a separate sub-page, justify their proposal on that page, and then use template syntax to include it on the featured article candidate page.

Put bluntly, it didn’t work. The system failed to attract any significant contribution, although (judging from complaints over controversial topics) there was clearly interest in which articles were featured. A few months later, I implemented a “Comic of the Week” section which had far simpler rules, in part due to the above failure. It has generated regular edits. I believe this is because of the low cost of entry.

Offer your contributors tasks at every range of technical ability – then they will always find something that they can do. Do not expect them to do something you haven’t asked them to do or shown them how to do – but congratulate those who do.

More generally, understand that just because another wiki does something one way does not mean you have to do it the same way. It may be a good idea to have something similar, but the ideal implementation for your community will only become apparent through experimentation – so be bold and try things out, while making it clear that the policy is not yet final.

Policies are tricky, too. Some have wide applicability – for example, “no personal attacks” is a generally accepted standard on most wikis. However, this does not extend to the neutral point of view, Wikipedia’s “absolute and non-negotiable rule”. Indeed, all three of Wikipedia’s content-guiding policies can be inappropriate for some wikis; it may be impossible to verify details of a convention with anyone but the people involved, and “original research” may well be a stated feature of the wiki.

Both Creatures Wiki and WikiFur have, for now, tried to adopt the neutral point of view, while at the same time accepting that certain topics may never be verifiable or may only consist of original material. Unlike Wikipedia, we feel that we "equipped to judge whether their particular synthesis of the available information is a reasonable one" , because a significant proportion our body of contributors are composed of experts in the field. Whether this applies to your own wikis is up to your community.

Personal information

The neutral point of view is most often applied in reference to articles about people. Why? Because this is the information that is most often challenged! One thing that we’ve learnt is that even in generally friendly communities, some people don’t like other people. Sometimes they don’t like them enough to write up nasty information about them. Often some of this is true, just not the whole story, but usually it’s just unsubstantiated opinion.

We sometimes have to deal with the reverse – people being overly complimentary towards themselves or (more often) their friends.

Personal information is probably the leading cause of arguments between contributors. Why do we continue to include it? Because people are community! Both the Creatures community and the furry fandom have individuals who have done interesting things. It makes sense to record their contributions. However, it also encourages people to write about themselves and their friends.

Someone once told me that they considered WikFur to be a “stalker site”. WikiFur has already been used to find links between people and characters that they might not have wished to be apparent , though for the most part this information is available elsewhere. On the other hand, several other people have said that they found it useful to be able to look up a person on the site. We might get concerned if people started posting other people’s addresses and phone numbers, but this hasn’t happened . . . yet.

We actually ended up deciding to allow most people to remove the articles about them, or to restrict them to their own editing, as long as this was clearly indicated at the top of the article. There are always going to be exceptions to such a policy, and sometimes they are valid - for example, should people who have committed crimes be allowed to hide that information? In cases of disagreement, like everything else, try to work towards a compromise that everyone can live with.

Importance of community

WikiFur contributor card front
WikiFur contributor card back

I think a continuing community is vital to the success of any group endeavour. So what happens when you start out with a reasonable base, but don’t actively seek out a long-term community or take steps to continually add to the mix of users? I tested this (accidentally) by creating the GalCiv II Wiki just after the release of the game. I was actively there for about a fortnight, laying down some structure and the format of the front page, and then I left it to its own devices. I still welcomed people, if I happened to be passing, and I remained open to help requests on my talk page, but I didn’t make a habit of visiting every day, and I didn’t write any new articles.

The result? It was rather like a slow nuclear reactor – it ticks over, with random bursts of activity, but it’s just not got the right material to start a chain reaction. There are edits every day, but maybe just one or two of them, out of 500 visitors and 5,000 pageviews. There are a few who take the time to add content – but they remain few, and when they leave, they are not easily replaced.

The Creatures Wiki has done better. It consistently has over ten constructive edits a day, sometimes far more, with less than half the number of visitors. It has a group of people who care for it. While not all contribute regularly, they will drop in every few weeks to make an edit or two. There are leaders who actively help others without being asked, and combat the inevitable spam. It is a small yet stable community in itself, and ultimately, that is what is important.

Individuals matter. Wikipedia has 25,000 regular users – you have 5 to 50. One good contributor can make or break the site, and they won’t join you if there’s nothing for them to join in with. Without community, all you have is a static page database which people visit now and then when they’re looking for something. That’s no wiki.

Therefore, encourage users to become part of the group, through LiveJournal posts, forums, talk page discussions, etc. Offer help, if they need it; don’t wait for them to ask. Do what you can to keep people on the site – but, if they are determined to go, let them. Nothing spoils a wiki more than a user that does not agree with the site’s mission or philosophy.

One example of this philosophy in action: WikiFur’s contributor cards. They are simple but distinctive, contain personal thanks from WikiFur’s administrators, and provide a sense of community to their bearers. They act as a reminder for people to edit every time they look at it. They are relatively cheap - $70 or less for 1000 cards. They can also be worn in the same way as convention badges – free advertising!

Conclusion

What should you take away from this?

  • Community wikis are a good thing.
    • They permit thousands of people who might otherwise never have tried wiki editing to join in, in a less formal editing environment than the official Wikimedia projects
    • They provide a place for information useful only to a relatively small number of people, rather than forcing it to be deleted
    • They allow a deeper understanding of the topic that can be ported back to Wikimedia or potentially referenced from it at a later date
    • They are a great expansion of the mission of free information for all
  • No problem is insurmountable
    • Vandals? Find quality contributors and empower them to deal with it
    • A lack of contributors? Gather more from existing community areas
    • If there is no community, you can build one – it just takes time
    • Personal disagreements? Look to Wikipedia for tools and policies for dispute resolution
    • Too successful? Consider managed wiki hosting, ads, or donations
  • Anyone can start a community wiki
    • The most important factor is passion for the topic
    • Be prepared to spend a lot of time starting up
    • Devote a significant amount of time to attracting other contributors
    • Delegate power and responsibility when feasible (but no sooner)
    • Don’t take things too seriously – it’s meant to be fun, after all! :-)

Copyright

Laurence "GreenReaper" Parry is the primary author of this work. Permission is granted to reproduce and modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 and the GFDL 1.2 licenses.