Wikidot - Going Forward

by michal frackowiak on 11 Mar 2010 15:38

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Please forgive me for starting this post by saying that Wikidot is an amazing project1. It started with an idea to build a community - a social-oriented group of websites, using the wiki concept. Wikis for everyone. As advanced and fully-featured as we can deliver.

Later, Wikidot started growing, attracted early users and investors, and that helped to scale Wikidot from merely 20,000 users to the almost half a million we have now. But what is more important, is that we have successfully scaled from a one-man project to a scalable service operated by a small, but smart team, backed by a community of Wikidot users helping us to run the project.

After 4 years of working with Wikidot, it clearly is a successful project to me. I have been watching several attempts to build wiki farms, often backed by large companies or having millions of $$ in investment, that died without getting any reasonable traction. The ones that succeeded, including WetPaint, WikiSpaces and Wikia, are not that far away from us in terms of popularity as a measure of success.

On the business side, we have developed a scalable revenue model, based on subscriptions and advertising, that still needs a lot of work, but gives nice perspectives based on real figures.

We have also overcome most of the technical challenges in hosting and scaling the service, which results in very good reliability, performance and, most importantly, gives us a way to scale to millions of users and wikis.

What is the plan then?

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We have identified main areas we want to concentrate on as part of our medium-term strategy, and that we would like to share with you. There will be no large revolution, but rather a shift of focus and evolutionary changes.

User experience, optimization

After talking to designers, UI experts and our users, the conclusion is that our web interface exposes too many options and features, often in an unclear way. As an example, some of the options are almost never used (like "Edit page sections" or "Append" — only 20 times per day), while others are used very often ("Edit page" — almost 20 000 times a day). Having them side-by-side simply hurts the experience. From the very beginning Wikidot was a bit "geeky" — you could do amazing things with it, but you needed to learn how to do it first, and in many cases it was too steep to get the attention of a mass audience.

There are at least a few critical processes we want to optimize:

  • Signing up and creating a wiki
  • Editing content
  • Inviting friends or coworkers
  • Joining an existing wiki
  • Managing (customizing) wikis
  • Communication between users

Those are the most common actions on Wikidot that users are performing, therefore definitely worth optimizing. For new users, we would like to hide the more advanced features, and let them be discovered later.

Social aspect, real-time

Every Wikidot user operates within a certain network, that consists of people and wikis. The goal is to improve visibility of what is going on in the network, in real-time.

If you have been using the Watch feature recently, you either love it or hate it. It is great to get notifications on activity, but many users point out that the idea of sending emails to all followers every time a page is edited, is seriously flawed.

We would like to work on the social (connecting) aspect of Wikidot. Follow not only sites and pages, but also people. Not necessarily by email, but we would rather create an activity stream that could be viewed either through email, RSS, online (not yet possible), or even exported to your Twitter or Facebook accounts so that your friends know what you are doing on Wikidot.

Power under the hood

During the last year we have developed features that have changed the way many people use Wikidot. To name a few: Templates, the ListPages module and data forms. There are still more to come, and those that are available already are still an on-going process.

I can see a great potential in providing such features to our users, because they are the building blocks that help with creating really advanced wiki structures, ranging from simple blogs to issue trackers or large data collections. Those features are very expensive to develop, but it looks like it is worth the effort.

To be honest, those features are not for everyone right now, and there is a steep learning curve to master them. On one hand it is fine, because not every Wikidot user must necessarily be an advanced developer, but on the other hand it would be great to wrap some of those into friendly containers.

Business strategy

The current model gives us a good basis to move forward. Right now I can only say that we would like to make Pro plans more accessible, more clearly marketed, and easier to purchase. Many users are asking for monthly payments, so this is a clear hint.

We also have some plans related to advertising, which we will blog about later.

What is the conclusion?

Wikidot is a mature product, and getting to this point has been our goal so far. By optimizing the user experience we plan to make Wikidot accessible for even more users, but also to make Wikidot a tool people would use every day to take notes, build communities, share documents etc.

So far the "transparent development" model has worked fine for Wikidot, so we will continue sharing designs and ideas related to the improvements we are planning, either through this blog, or at projects.wikidot.com. Stay tuned.

Needless to say, I would love to hear your opinion.

Thanks for using Wikidot!
Michał Frąckowiak, CEO of Wikidot Inc.


Images come from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HNL_Wiki_Wiki_Bus.jpg and http://www.flickr.com/photos/7362334@N08/2347357002/

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