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Wikia and the Commercialization
of Open Source Communities
Why study Wikia?
• Largest and earliest for-profit Wikis.
– Big attempt to monetize lessons of Wikipedia. Did
Wikia learn right lessons? Face new challenges?
• An example of so-called Web2.0. Illustrates
numerous general themes:
– Challenges building installed base.
– Challenges monetizing user-generated content.
– Choices b/w narrow/broad platforms
– Lessons learned putting together all the pieces
General history
• October, 2004. Wales and Angela Beesley co-found
for-profit Wikicities. Eventually change to Wikia.
– Free hosting site for wikis, using AdWords.
• March 2006 – $4 Million Series A financing
– Additional participation
• June 2006 Gil Penchina become CEO
– December 2006 Amazon invests. Soon thereafter start the
Search Wikia project.
– March 2009, shutter the Search Wikia project.
• August 2009. Case setting. How to continue growth?
Steady Growth (Exhibit 7)
Let’s examine Wikia
• Look and feel familiar?
– Navigation
– Editing
– What else?
• Some guidance for users.
– Big wikis
– By category
– What else?
• Ads
• Type
• Location
High traffic Wikia wikis
• What is there? Let’s look…
• Star Trek, Harry Potter, Muppets, 24, Doom,
Transformers, Lost, Lord of the Rings, Smallville,
The OC, Wookepidia (Star Wars), Linux wiki,
unofficial mozilla community wiki…
• Also music lyrics….
• “Wikipedia is the encyclopedia and Wikia is the
rest of the library.” – Jimbo Wales –
• Building an installed base.
Opportunities and constraints?
Narrow versus broad installed base
• “In the perfect Web 2.0 story, you build a fairly generalized application that
can be used for many purposes, and you try to do it without closing off the
possibility of making it do other things later. Think of the difference
between us and Yelp; we have a restaurant wiki, and it blows. Yelp has
been so focused on building that vertical that they are the killer app in that
space. Unfortunately, they’re so customized for that particular vertical that
they’ll have a real problem expanding into any new verticals, and while
their answer is that the Yellow Pages market is $20 billion, that’s a big
enough win, that’s just not our approach. It’s easier to win when you’re
focused, but the win tends to be smaller. Most of the winners are an inch
wide and a mile deep, but most of the money is made on the billion dollar
exits. Go big or go home—that was our philosophy.”
– Gil Penchina –
Why do users come to Wikia?
• Likely user motivation?
To write/write as part of a community.
To find answers to particular question.
Search engine directed them there.
To view ads and get leads for purchases.
What else?
• What can the site do to attract users?
– Free hosting.
– Easy to use software.
– What else?
When does a particular discussion
within Wikia work for users?
• Same community norms as Wikipedia? What differs?
A shared belief in Linus’ law?
Neutral point of view. NPOV?
Not original research?
• Same approach to encouraging good behavior?
What differs?
– Contributors committed to effort?
– Wiki etiquette?
– Consensus & monitoring?
Is the whole of Wikia greater
than sum of its parts?
• Same virtuous cycles? What differs?
More users  more eyes  more content  more users?
Personal satisfaction  teamwork  new projects?
Reinforcing with Google? With Wikipedia?
What else?
• Does the management gain experience from
managing one group and taking lessons to another?
– How to design a site?
– How to monitor a group?
– What else?
Can management make investment
and take action to help?
• Action
• Benefits/risks?
– Seeding topics by paying
– Fostering entertaining framework &
let users choose topics
– Managing participation to limit
vandalism & disruption
– Building new groups on existing
– What else?
Competition from alternatives or
contributor of new users?
• Alternatives?
• Effective substitute or
not? Why/why not?
– Facebook & general community sites.
– Specialized wikis (in how-to, in longdistance running, etc)
– Firm-sponsored wikis (e.g.,
– Wikipedia
– What else?
Winner-take-all? Or a fragmented
supply? Different considerations.
• Why doesn’t online wiki activity online just fragment
into a wide series of specialty sites?
Switching costs, network effects
First mover advantages
Setting de-facto standards
Open-source culture
Cooperation w/Wikipedia
Finding a framework for participation?
One group encourages another.
What else?
Lesson of Wikia search: Can’t build
an installed base for just anything.
• Began in late 2006
– More than 65K
– Little traffic
• Shuttered in March
• What is the lesson?
Summary: Wikia’s challenges
building an installed base
• As with Wikipedia, Wikia succeeds if site accommodates both
insiders & tourists & virtuous cycle keeps growing.
– This grows one group at a time. Does same framework apply to all?
• Inherently difficult to get right.
– Wikipedia positioned itself as an encyclopedia, then defined the
norms for that effort, then extended the norms to other reference
categories, such as quotes, dictionaries, news, science, etc.
– Wikia positioned as location for community development of other
topics, tried to borrow same norms, manage the developments, and
extend to a wide variety of topics that do not fit in an encyclopedia.
• Facing a narrow/broad issues.
– Looking for economic links across groups.
– Looking to gain share, not lose to fragmentation online.
• Monetizing the user base
through selling ads
What kind of ads can a site sell
with user generated content?
• Pinchina: A platform must do three things.
– A. Easy for users to create attractive hi quality content.
– B. Content must be desirable  others want to view it.
– C. Content must be attractive to a demographic that
advertisers will value.
• Most sites do two, but have difficulty w/ all three.
Facebook does A & B, but not C…users not there to buy.
Shopzilla does A & C, but not B. Few want to view.
YouTube does A, but sometimes not B & C.
Wikia??? Has A & B, but what about C???
What type of advertising?
• Type of ad
• Costs/benefits
– How platform must look?
– Tailor verticals to ads?
– E-Commerce site ad
– General brand ads
Narrow versus broad – how
does it shape ad revenue?
• All things to all people,
generic frame, many
• Small specific niche
application with limited
growth outside niche.
– Pro
– Pro
– Con
– Con
Narrow versus broad
demographic reach of site
• Which deserves more
– Healthcare
– Sports
– Gaming
– “How to” category.
– What else?
• Benefit/risk of this
Repeat users versus new users
• Which deserves more
– Repeat contributor for one
– Repeat contributor for
multiple topics.
– Occasional contributor.
– Who else?
• Benefit/risk of this
Mix of new and repeat users: More
of the same, or change the profile?
Demographic profile: more of the
same or change the profile?
Summary: selling ads.
• Topic selection: manage or not?
– Strategic choice letting users decide or trying to nudge it
towards an lucrative ad base?
• How compatible is Wikia with lucrative advertising?
– Not all forms of advertising work with the activity on the
site. Does the site have any choice?
• Will one ad base help develop another?
– Should investment target existing demographics or try to
build new ones?
Investment priorities: How
to continue to growth?
• Options
• Benefits/risks?
– Seeding new topics for
underrepresented demographics
– Growing size of existing groups 
more participants
– Trying to find appealing ways to
increase time online of users.
– Let users choose topics and go with
whatever they start.
– What else?
Managerial cool down
Wikia’s challenges provides a
window into online communities
• Building installed base
– Looking for a framework to mix the repeat visit with the
occasional visit
– Generate a whole greater than the sum of its part,
competing against fragmentation.
• Monetizing an installed base
– Must be compatible with the user behavior on the site,
and their motivation for returning.
– Advertising is opportunity, but constrains how the pieces
all fit together.
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