Two years ago I was more idealistic than today. That was when I created Cocoapedia (Oct 2010) and thought that if the place was there the contributors would come. Boy was I naive.
The idea behind Cocoapedia came from an unfortunate run-in I had had with Wikipedia two years earlier. At that time I – similarly enthusiastic – had created a Wikipedia page for myself only to find that flagged for deletion the day after. That was when I learned that Wikipedia has a set of relevancy criteria that artificially filters the content that can go into it.
I had never gotten a medal, never played a part in “historic, political or newsworthy events”, are no “widely known personality from the entertainment industry” and nobody has ever called my works as excellent. My TV appearances were never in an important function, I did not write two novels (or 4 non-fiction books) and the scandals I have unearthed fell mostly on death ears, too.
So I figured, if Wikipedia won’t have us irrelevant iOS developers, then our own Wiki definitely would. So Cocoapedia was born.
At first I kept registrations on approval basis which kept the content nice and clean and small. Then I decided to drop the approval for new registrations and instead rely on the same process as Wikipedia: everybody can join, everybody can post. As my popularity on Twitter grew I created stubs (incomplete beginnings of articles) for several people and invited them to complete those with some biographical info.
But somehow the massive Spam industry got wind of this paradise where everybody could post any keywords and links. Chaos ensued. I started to get more and more spam posts up to a level that I could no longer handle them myself.
Wikipedia’s Pareto Principle
Turns out Wikipedia only works because of the massive amount of volunteers who believe in the mission and who police the content rigoriously. If you plot the amount of articles certain logins have created you find that most of the articles on Wikipedia come from a relatively small group. The Pareto Principle applies: 80% of articles come from 20% of logins. Or maybe 95% articles from only 5% of logins. Though these are illustrative numbers not to be taken literally.
That this means is that for any kind of site or services that thrives on socially created content you need to have an enormous user base so that amongst these you will find the few active people who will carry it. That’s lesson number one.
Wikipedia is working because it is driven by sufficient amounts of people believing in their cause. To curate encyclopedic knowledge and defend it against commercial interests. Whoever tries to immortalize himself on Wikipedia will find his attempts flagged and deleted before the end of the day.
I was by myself for the policing and mostly for the creation of articles as well. An enormously unfair disadvantage compared to Wikipedia.
Let’s try Brute Force
The next thing I tried was enabling a spam filter with a lengthy keyword list ranging from insurances over car to sex toys. With mixed success, I was still getting tons of obvious spam registrations but a large portion of spam articles got blocked. However the problem with that approach was that I needed to go into a Mediawiki config file and keep adding new spam words.
The problem with this approach however is that as the spam word list grows longer you start to encroach into the realm of innocent words. Like for example developer and book author Chris Adamson complained that “wiki” was on this list because I had put it there earlier.
Also this did not solve the issue with having to wade ankle-deep through left over spam accounts that had been registered by a bot but had failed to inject their spammy payload. So that solution was none and only served to delay the inevitable.
What About (Dot) Me?
I thought that developers would flock to Cocoapedia and use it as a free platform to tell the world about themselves. Sort of like what you would want a journalist who is writing about you to know about you and possibly quote.
One of the strongest motivators on the internet seems to be the sense of ownership in one’s own identity. While they were still available people buy their names as .com domain names. With the supply of .com names mostly exhausted people turned to new TLDs like .me or turned to offerings like about.me to at least have a few toes in the door.
Any of the stubs I alluded to earlier I created by browsing people’s personal websites and copying the most important biographical details from their “about” pages and a list of their apps from what I could find linked to on the app store.
People with home pages have split in two categories over the last few years: some continue to fill their blogs with interesting articles, others found that they preferred to micro-blog on Twitter and Facebook. A smart person once said: “Every Tweet is a blog post not written”. I found that this holds true ever more than ever before.
Often I quip at some tweet by responding to it or I +1 it by retweeting or favoring it. Smart people like John Gruber don’t do that, instead they quote the tweet on their site and add their comment there. This way they stay the owners of their own statements. As opposed to forfeiting ownership by handing it over to Twitter.
I can relate to people being too busy to keeping information about themselves current in more than one location. If there are changes to your biography that you want to be known (“won Nobel price!”) then you’d have to update your blog, your (newly awarded) Wikipedia page as well as all social network profiles and then – after everything else – the lowly Cocoapedia.
A Solution in Search of a Problem
When evaluating the utility of Cocoapedia I have to immediately admit that its main purpose was for me to have a good feeling about being the owner of tons of information about other people. Not very altruistic, I admit.
And my ego aside, the second main reason was to give other people a platform for publicly stroking their respective egos. As mentioned earlier I could definitely see several people taking much care to include all their public appearances in Cocoapedia. Can you guess which country those come from?
Another idea was that Cocoapedia could possibly become the second site that Google would list if somebody was searching for your name. I just did the search for myself and found my German blog at number one, then Cocoanetics, two articles on Cocoanetics, Xing (where I had a premium account), and then my Cocoapedia page.
However this strategy only works if Google attributes sufficient interestingness in your specific combination of first and last name. That means because of all my online efforts Google is attributing a certain value to this individual named “Oliver Drobnik”. If you spend the same amount of time writing then you will have a similar rank.
Note that this is not page rank, but apparently Google seems to understand the concept of people independently of individual pages or their rank. Sort of a bit like Artificial Intelligence where a big brother-eske intelligence tracks people individually.
If you take most other developers who added themselves to Cocoapedia you will find that if you search for their name the Cocoapedia entry is nowhere to be found in the first few pages of search results. The reason being that Google has not “learned” of their importance.
In short Cocoapedia was trying to achieve something that is not possible. At least not any more. Google will not increase your personal rank just because you have a Cocoapedia page. It will only do that if you make sure that there are many instances on the web and social networks that point to you. A many-to-one relationship if you will.
All idealistic ruminations aside, I fail to see any lasting value in Cocoapedia. I don’t make money with it. It only frustrates because nobody wants to play with me. And it gets drowned by spam. All of this gets rid of your idealism in no time.
I give up!
The philosophy that made Apple great is to know what projects to can. It is not sufficient for something to be good or idealistic. It has to be great to be allowed to survive. Especially so if the upkeep of a “hobby” requires substantial resources without any hope of any kind of compensation.
I checked the server stats in the morning and found around 1000 unique visits per day. I’ve grown Cocoanetics to about 2500 uniques per day and BuySellAds nets me around $100 for banner ads. Do the math! If I plastered Cocoapedia with ads I might net up to $50. So economically Cocoapedia isn’t, it is far from being economic.
There isn’t any universe in which $50 would pay for somebody to manually keep the spam at bay.
And this brings us full circle to why Wikipedia works and Cocoapedia doesn’t. Public wikis can only flourish if they are fueled by identification with their philosophical principals. It takes an army of unpaid volunteers to curate the content. And people only work “pro bono” they believe in the bono.
Where you lack volunteers you might make up the difference in technology. But I have to admit that I have many shortcomings in this area (MySQL, PHP, Mediawiki plugins). I am an iOS developer at heart and would have loved to hire somebody to be the full time administrator of something great. But alas I am neither rich nor wealthy so that this has any chance of turning into reality.
You cannot believe how much pain this causes me. I’ve invested both time and money in Cocoapedia and as such I find it hard to let go. But in trying to become more like Apple I am seeing this as a symbol of a road to becoming more ruthless when it comes to canceling failed projects.
Wanna Take it Off My Hands?
It might be the case that somebody has better plans with the Cocoapedia name. I can imagine that it would be a nice name for a component store or a tutorial collection or anything else that collects wisdom on iOS/Mac development. Or maybe somebody would love to try his luck with the content already in the database.
Because of this I am not shutting down the site right away, but I’m offering the full package to the highest bidder:
- Cocoapedia Mediawiki Database, import it into your own Wiki or keep it alive
- Domain Names Cocoapedia.org and Cocoapedia.com – so something non-profit (org) or for commercial reasons (com). About 1500 unique visitors.
- Twitter user Cocoapedia to go with it. About 200 followers.
I am collecting all serious offers until Monday July 16th and then I will decide who gets it. If nobody can be found then I will just take down the site and replace it with a screen full of advertisements as any smart domain squatter does.