I've been a member of The Sims Wiki for over seven years. In that span of time, I've seen many many editors come and go, many administrator promotions and retirements, so many new game releases, numerous wiki themes, and much more. The wiki is an always-changing, always-evolving thing, even if we cannot perceive its evolution on a day-to-day basis. Up to now, these changes have been incremental and predictable, and driven largely by the community of editors and administrators we have here, and not necessarily by outside influence (except when Wikia decides to force out a new "feature" or a new wiki skin). As the wiki has changed, we've adapted along with it, and along the way we've worked to improve upon our foundations.
Up to now, our focus has been on building a wiki that is navigable, readable, and looks good for people on desktops and laptops. Up until recently, most internet access took place through those devices, so it's obvious that the wiki reading experience would be built around that. Our focus was on a strong "front page" by making sure that our main page was well-designed and thought out, with plenty of community features to attract new editors (to varying levels of success), and on well-written and good-looking major articles. We have worked very hard to build a platform that we can all be proud of, and one where it is easy for us to edit and make more improvements to the encyclopedia, building onto the same foundation and the same framework that has held up the wiki since its inception. However, it appears more likely that the very foundation of the wiki itself is undergoing a substantial change, and we will have to change along with it.
The nature of the wiki is changing in a fundamental way, and we need to change our focus to adapt to the new reality of an audience that is increasingly mobile.
Where are we?
Let's start by making a couple observations and extrapolating what we can from the information we have.
1. Most of our editors are not mobile. By this, I don't mean that our editors don't read TSW on mobile devices, but I mean that most editors, when editing, choose to do so through traditional means (desktop or laptop computer). This is also not likely to change, because of the nature of editing itself. Adding long strings of text, playing with wikicode and templates, working with .css and other detail-oriented revisions are simply not easy or practical to perform on mobile devices. Consider as well that the mobile editor is in many cases flawed and inadequate for any large-scale editing. Even with potential future improvements in the mobile editing experience, editing beyond minor changes will continue to be dominated by people on traditional computers.
2. Most of our readers are not editors. I have no hard statistics to base this off of, but we can interpret our limited available data in certain ways; taking the last full day into consideration (September 13, 2016), Wikia's own page view statistics (which are inexplicably only available to admins) say that 63,900 page views occurred yesterday. I believe that 'page views' in this data is defined by the number of pages loaded, not the number of unique visitors, so it's unlikely that we actually had sixty thousand unique visitors on that date. Looking back in recent changes, it appears that approximately 150 edits to the wiki were logged on that date, which is actually slightly more than usual (The Sims 4: City Living was officially confirmed only a day before, so articles related to that were being edited frequently). The 63,900 page views appears to be generally average for the wiki at this point in time. So, even if we subtract the edits made, and assume arbitrarily that every person who viewed TSW on that day read an average of ten articles[note 1], we can see that potentially over six thousand individual people visited the wiki that day alone. On that day, nineteen individual people (eighteen registered users, one unregistered individual) edited the wiki. Nineteen people, out of thousands, chose to edit that day. Consider as well another statistic: our "active users" count[note 2] currently sits at 124. If we take the 6,300 readers figure as plausible, then we can see that only about 2% of our readers are registered editors. I've been playing with really cloudy figures and I can't be sure that what I've calculated is an accurate measure by any means, but I feel like 2% is a plausible figure. Even if we doubled or tripled that number, we could say with confidence that the vast majority of our readers do not edit the wiki.
3. Most readers access the wiki on mobile. This observation I take directly from Wikia's oft-repeated talking points; traffic to individual wikis has shifted in recent years away from traditional computers and web pages, towards mobile browsers and community apps. Wikia claims that half of wiki traffic originates from a mobile device, and says that such traffic is trending upwards while traditional desktop/laptop access is stagnant or even on the decline. While I believe that Wikia has a particular bias towards developing a mobile-friendly platform, I do feel as though their data is fundamentally sound. That means that potentially half or more of the people who read TSW on a given day are doing so on phones.
Taking all this information together, we can start to put the pieces of our strange puzzle together.
The Sims Wiki editor activity has declined in part because editing is more cumbersome on mobile devices, and a growing portion of our readership is mobile-based. The Sims Wiki editors are also in the odd position of being responsible for building a wiki that is functional and presentable on a platform that most of them do not use regularly. Because most of us don't edit the wiki on mobile, we have little reason to access it on mobile or to improve its function on mobile. If the trend of mobile readership continues, and there is every reason to believe it will, then we can make a couple guesses about what happens next. First, readership may be negatively impacted if the wiki isn't adapted to a more mobile-friendly design, including improved layout and navigation, templates, etc. Second, the decline in readership both from traditional sources and overall (assuming the previous point is correct), we can assume a gradual decline in editor activity to continue as well.
We can also begin to observe a disconnect between readers and editors, that has always existed but which I believe is growing. We have a large mass of readers who largely access the site via mobile devices, complete with all the complications that come with reading a wiki that is ultimately still geared towards full-monitor desktops and laptops. We also have a small group of editors who are primarily experienced with editing and reading the full desktop version of the site, and who therefore operate and make decisions with a computer-centric viewpoint; I freely admit that I fall squarely into this group. Additionally, "community features" that in the past appealed somewhat to readers (though appealed far more to editors), such as featured article voting, battles, contests, etc., will become even less utilized by readers who are in large part unfamiliar with said features and may not even be able to access them through normal means[note 3].
Where to go?
Taken all that we've just gone over, I believe we can make a couple working assumptions and begin to move the wiki in the right direction. I have a few points that I feel would be worthy of consideration.
1. Work harder to embrace all editors - The time where new editors were a dime a dozen is now beyond us, and I believe this trend of declines in new editors will continue. We need to do a much better job of reaching out to newer editors and getting them involved in the community
2. Revive community functions - Here I define 'community' as the 'editor community,' not the readers. As I mentioned above, there's a growing divide between readers and editors, and I believe there is ultimately little we can do to stem the tide. If we take that as a likely occurrence, then we can start to re-focus on various community features with the focus being on improving things for editors and not for readers. This might mean retiring battles, for instance, or creating new processes to "curate" content, such as featured articles and media. We can work on directing readers to works of fanon via the apps, since currently it's quite difficult to navigate into fanon territory from the content-focused apps. Ultimately, I believe we have to work on building the editor community as one where we all come together and work towards improving the reading experience for others.
3. Focus on mobile accessibility - As much as it pains me to say it, I believe it's time for us to begin adopting the new infobox markup, and to begin making other changes to our articles and templates to make them function better for mobile users. There may be some necessary sacrifice of appearance or function in these templates, or some difficulty in re-organizing and re-working our current articles so they work well on mobile devices. For example, we use tables on many articles to organize a lot of information into an orderly, nice-looking and easy-to-read chart, but these tables tend to break down on mobile devices, or are not very easy to read. We ought to focus on making sure that our wiki content is accessible and readable on mobile devices, even if that means a drop in "visual quality" for desktop readers. At the same time, I don't agree with Wikia's take on mobile readiness, which just seems to be "make everything mediocre instead of fixing problems with mobile." I personally believe that there could be ways to both make our wiki easier for mobile readers to use and preserve most of our own style and our appearance on computers. Ultimately, though, we have to be ready to make some acceptable sacrifices.
4. Remember our readers - All of us that edit the wiki also read it, so it's sometimes easy to forget that there are many other readers out there who may not be as familiar with the wiki as we are. Where we might find it easy to get information we need, it may be difficult for many other readers. While we may have no trouble looking at a table on an article, a reader viewing the same table on his/her mobile phone might get so sick of trying to read it that they give up in frustration. As an editor, it's so easy to focus on how the wiki looks and feels to me and to other editors; we should always, therefore, remind ourselves that we as editors are a slim minority of the readership, and therefore we should make a wiki that is responsive to the needs of the majority, not the desires of the editors.
Change is difficult and is rarely fun. We are accustomed to the way things have "always been" and there is understandable resistance to changing what has worked for us in the past. And where we can perhaps accept that certain things need to be modified for the future, I want to stress that we should be deliberate in what we choose to change and how we choose to go about making those changes, making sure to preserve what still functions well for everyone. So while some parts of the foundation of the wiki may be shifting, we may need to grasp even more tightly onto those parts of the foundation that remain, by observing the purpose and goal of the wiki to build a comprehensive encyclopedia of The Sims and by remembering to be open and welcoming to all who choose to edit here. Ultimately, there's no reason why The Sims Wiki cannot continue to be a strong resource for many new readers to come. Whether this will transpire depends on how, or whether, we choose to act.
Let me know in the comments whether you agree with my interpretation, whether you have any other viewpoints that I haven't considered, or have any other matters that should be considered. Obviously, a lot of what is written above is opinion and not hard fact, and I'm open to having my mind changed. I am very interested in any comments you all may have.
- ↑ I'm pulling this number completely out of my rear end because Wikia doesn't give us this kind of data, but I feel like this number is very generous considering a lot of our traffic is driven by Google searches; once a reader finds what they're looking for, they're unlikely to continue browsing the wiki. If anyone sees any sort of hard data on readership, let me know
- ↑ Defined as the number of registered users who have performed a single edit on The Sims Wiki in the last 30 days
- ↑ Wikia's apps frequently keep readers out of "non-content" namespaces, like the 'The Sims Wiki:' namespace, where much of our editor-focused content is housed. It's not a simple task to move between namespaces in the Wikia apps, as it's meant to be a more streamlined (read: dumbed-down) reading experience
Please note that this is an opinion blog post, and does not necessarily reflect the views of any other member or administrator on The Sims Wiki.