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Wikia's future lies in 'second screen' content

Wiki publishing platform is great at collecting user-generated content. Next step: Getting it to users more efficiently.

I used to get out of the house once in a while, then I took an arrow in the knee. Now I just play Skyrim. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Wikia is on a tear. But when this company's wikis start paying attention to the world around you, they're really going to take off.

Traffic for the topic-specific wiki platform grew 50 percent last year to 851 million page views a month, Wikia CEO Craig Palmer told me yesterday.

The traffic growth, he says, mostly comes from game and entertainment sites. Wikia is stealing growth from IGN and has hired two execs from there as well. Hilary Goldstein, former editor in chief of IGN Games, is now Wikia's gaming category manager. Eric Moro was editor in chief for the movies and TV at IGN. He's now Wikia's entertainment category manager.

But how do you keep a platform like this growing? I talked with Palmer a bit about my experience with one of Wikia's sites, the Skyrim wiki, an 11,000-page community-driven reference that has made me much more productive while I'm wasting time in this massive game.

Using this wiki, it became clear to me that game and entertainment reference sites like it are perfect second-screen products. While you're watching or playing one media property (Lost, Fringe, World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Farmville, etc.), having a second device to whisper in your ear can improve the experience of watching the first screen--the TV or computer.

The second-screen experience isn't fully baked, though. When I'm immersed in Skyrim on my gaming PC, I have my laptop off to the side with the wiki open. Using two computers for one game is not an experience that most people can afford to replicate, and for TV shows it's awkward to balance a laptop on your knee. It's more likely that people who want to dip into a wiki while their computer or TV is displaying content would turn to a smartphone, or perhaps a tablet.

Wikia is improving on the mobile versions of its sites. It has some work to do; the current sites are serviceable but not that fast to use on a mobile. Mobile users are 15 percent to 20 percent of Wikia's traffic, Palmer told me.

More interesting is what you can do with Wikia content on a mobile device, besides just making it pretty. Why do I have to type in "Winterhold" when I visit that town in Skyrim and want more info? Why must a user type "Polar bears" in the Lostopedia when they're watching an episode where they appear?

Wikia is evaluating audio fingerprinting and watermarking technology for future mobile apps. The idea is that while you're consuming some first-screen entertainment content, your second screen (your mobile) could automatically go to relevant wiki content based on that, without requiring much, or any, input from you.

Wikia CEO Craig Palmer Rafe Needleman/CNET

Palmer told me that the IntoNow audio fingerprint technology that Yahoo acquired is open and could be used for this. Or, he could get somewhat better accuracy with Nielsen's TV watermarking technology that identifies shows with a subaudible beacon that a mobile device can pick up. The old version of this tech just identified the show; the new version includes timecode data from very precise tracking, Palmer says.

Wikia already has a solid (for now at least) content strategy: Its expert editors kick-start wikis for major properties, like new big games, and then the users fill in the rest. The content is from passionate fans, and it's constantly refined by them, just as on Wikipedia. Nobody pays for, or gets paid for, Wikia's content--except Wikia itself, which collects advertising revenue. It's a more efficient model than "professional" content.

Wikia has executed well on that part of its strategy so far. The next step should be new mechanisms for delivering this content to the most passionate consumers: Better presentation on mobile devices as well as a mechanism, as I just described, to make wikis more responsive to what users are doing on their primary screens.

Bonus tidbit: The Shopkick app also listens for a subaudible beacon. That's how your phone knows when you walk into a store that has Shopkick offers.