Gil Penchina, CEO of Wikia – the company hosting wikis -, was The Next Web second key-note speaker. He used to be the vice president and general manager at eBay and I’m sure that switching between these jobs must have been quite a cultural change for him. As Wikia is, as we all know, giving its users insane levels of control.
Sure, I know that giving away control is hard and that it requires some faith and persistence. But when Penchina told that Wikia users sometimes change the design of his frontpage, I really realized how daring it is. And of course, it not always turns out right. For a few months there was this design online with colors that Penchina’s wife called ‘skittle colors’. Moreover, Russian pharmaceutical companies tend to take over the homepage sometimes.
Also, on Wikipedia you can’t force volunteers to write about certain subject. They just write about topics they find interesting. If your users are into girls names, the girls names section will flourish and the boys names section will remain empty. Penchina: “Some topics take off and others don’t. You have to be patient. Eventually someone will care about boys names.”
“Yet”, Penchina said, “When giving away control is done right it is incredibly strong. Wikia helps to foster a movement that wants to share information and who are passionate about their topics.”. He explains that it is all about creating a self-regulating community. One with a culture and implicit rules about what’s ok and what’s not. So users can moderate the changes and block other users. You have to empower them with tools and resources.
Actually, now I think about it, there’s one distinct similarity between Wikia and eBay. It’s their mantra: most people are good. There just a few bad apples. So it might pay-off to listen to Penchina and change your strategy drastically. “It’s amazing what you can do when you give people power, trust and permission.”