A Tale of Two Wikis
- Much praise for the game has been directed towards the game's clever blend of RTS and 4X gameplay, the seamless zoom function, and the user-friendly Empire Tree and UI.
I heartily agree.
First, a few terms
- SoaSE or Sins: Abbreviations for the full name of the game, Sins of a Solar Empire
- SW: Abbreviation for the long name SoaSEWiki. This is the wiki I contributed to until it disappeared. www.SoaSEWiki.com now redirects to the Wikia.
- Wikia: Here, Wikia means the Wikia pages for the SoaSE game, SinsofaSolarEmpire.Wikia.com. It was once entirely separate from SoaSEWiki (SW), but May 2009 SW suddenly got crudely grafted onto the Sins Wikia. And effectively disappeared.
Just minding my own business when ...
I bought this game February 2008, and really got into it. It's not a huge game, but it is challenging and fun. Eventually I heavily edited or created a dozen wiki pages at www.SoaSEWiki.com (this redirects to Wikia now; see below).
Everything was going great. I played several months, then took it up again a year later.
Then one day when going to edit SoaSEWiki I was shocked to find ...
The SoaSEWiki Disappeared!
Suddenly in May 2009, everything on SoaSEWiki redirected to the Wikia site for the game. No explanation, no nothing... www.SoaSEWiki.com simply ceased to exist as a reachable URL. At Wikia, there wasn't the slightest mention of why, or even acknowledgement that it had. Before then, there had been no relationship between the two.
It was also clear that most SW pages had been directly copied to Wikia as direct copies not joined into Wikia's existing text. In other words, poor hatchet jobs no one would find or use.
To this day, it's obvious if you know where to look. Compare these two pages:
- Their default Artifacts page has a simple table plus graphic. This was surely Wikia's Artifacts page from the start.
- Then here's the Artifacts page from SoaSEWiki that they tacked on (compare its URL with their default Artifacts page).
- It has the same simple table of artifact effects as above and...
- A graphic of all the artifacts, like above (lost during copy due to operator not bothering)
- Then a highly detailed, helpful table showing costs to explore planets for artifacts.
- And finally a very deep strategy section on whether exploring for artifacts is ultimately worth it.
- The latter required summating all explore expenses across an entire map, then comparing this to the estimated worth of all artifacts that might be found, adjusted for various gameplay factors. A deep and daunting task.
- And this Appraisal section then led to a much longer page which broke out every aspect of the appraisal. Completely lost in the hatchet job (red link).
The SoaSE Artifact page has not been kept up to date, and is a candidate for deletion. But of course it is seriously out of date after being carelessly dumped on the Wikia. Just like a hundred other candidates for deletion.
Which of these two would you rather have used... The page with one simple table and graphic? Or the page with both of those plus tons more? But the much better one was simply dumped onto Wikia without proper integration and ultimately abandoned.
What happened here?
The pages from SoaSEWiki have their History from before and after moving to Wikia, including the move itself. All have the History note "SoaSEWiki import" as of May 7, 2009 by the same person in the space of a few hours.
- To see the History of Wikia pages, use the dropdown where Edit is. My edits from SoaSEWiki show up as "RedKnight@SoaSEWiki" there, but that is not my Wikia user name, I was not told about it nor have access to it, nor is it even a real account. Apparently all the old edit-history info got copied over like that (but not the old wiki accounts, of course).
When it sunk in that SoaSEWiki had disappeared and almost all my work effectively lost, I felt deeply hurt. I had poured weeks of my life into this work of love, a volunteer effort for all the community. And it would have been SO easy to simply keep available! (Space is cheap on the web. Original content is not.)
I asked what could have happened in a thread on the SinsOfASolarEmpire.com forum (I'm NoSpamMan there). No one knew. I also jumped into an old thread where the SoaSEWiki was first announced but, again, no one knew a thing.
I can only guess at what happened.
The simplest explanation that fits the facts is that the original owner wanted to (or had to) give up the SW site, but could only talk Wikia into taking it reluctantly. Then, higher-level Wikia people probably agreed to take it over, that is, copy the content to their SoaSE wiki, and redirect the SoaSEWiki URL to them. (Which is only natural.)
Meanwhile some warm body got tasked with copying it over. There was a lot of overlap (of course) and they blasted through it. The closest we get to an explanation is at SoaSEWiki:Contents:
The owner of SoaSEWiki.com has decided to redirect the domain to Wikia. The wiki's content had a lot of overlap with the existing Wikia site (sinsofasolarempire.wikia.com). Therefore, that content has been placed in its own namespace so that the community here can choose whether or not to merge it with the existing pages on this wiki.
It then lists 52 pages considered to be new content and 161 considered to be duplicate content.
Almost all of them were summarily abandoned. Out of ~20 where I contributed most or all content - which also increased the chance they were unique and not on Wikia - only two were properly integrated and survive (SoaSE Math and Star and Planet Names). My super unique and cool (IMHO) Artifacts Appraisal page went right over their heads (see table below).
The person who did the work moved 209 pages in the space of 23 minutes. Obviously it was a mass copy. They appear to have been a high level admin who never touched SoaSE before or since those 209 moves in 23 minutes. And that was that... SoaSEWiki was gone. With the Wikia crowd left to clean up or copy. If they even knew the stuff was there.
In Wikia's defense, they may have thought SW was near dead and they were doing them a favor. At the macro level, of course there was lots of overlap. It was also pretty inactive then, a year after the game was released, and before the first expansion came out. And who knows what the SW owner said when making their pitch (grovelling?).
It would only be human if Wikia assumed they had a better wiki than some loner whose site folded in a year. But while there are certainly games for which Wikia has better, unique, or even the only game wikis, there are also plenty of exceptions. As it is for all the net, the question of who has the best game wiki must be taken on a case by case basis.
Clearly it was effectively a hack job handed down from on high. There wasn't any talk or announcement, or even the slightest mention on the Wikia home page (check its History around 5/7/09). The only way you could have seen it is if you knew exactly what new pages to look for.
So of course the grafted pages were missed by everyone. And nobody, not even on the premier Sins forum, had a single clue about why SW was gone, redirecting to Wikia (above). Not even the Wikia SoaSE admins understood the bigger picture.
There are a few instances where the Wikia grafted better SoaSEWiki content onto existing pages after the move, if there was no corresponding Wikia page. But it was rare. Mostly 209 pages got parked in the space of 23 minutes on May 7, 2009.
And that was that. End of story.
What was lost?
For one thing, ALL graphics (jpg, png) were lost. Very sad because ... graphics are graphics. Great ways to see things. In hindsight, I can't believe I didn't keep my own copies. Lets just say this was part of my learning experience that wikis are not forever!
All the Talk pages and User pages were also lost. Nor can you see a list of all of a SW user's contributions to the SW site. So even though my name still shows up in a vestigial form in the Wikia History of pages as RedKnight@SoaSEWiki, you can't follow it to my user page, or see a list of all my contributions, like you can on most wikis.
- More evidence of how abrupt it all was... every single user account and the accumulated contributions of hundreds... just gone. Not a word said. All gone.
When I realized the wiki had moved, I attempted to get a copy of Google cached pages as seen in this desperate 5/27/09 message (I'm NoSpamMan). At that point, Google had cached versions from March to May 2009. You can also find a few snaps on The Wayback Machine (careful; after mid 2009, even that redirects to Wikia). Finally, you can find them on Wikia itself, if you edit the URL a little. These are the only versions you can see the wiki pages' History on. (I finally just now did an HTTracker webcrawl of even the Wikia.)
Because I focused on quantifiable exploitable data, these are the pages I care about, edited, and tried to save using Google Cache in May 2009.
Below is a reconstruction of pages I cared about. See its Legend. The Wikia Remnant is the best way to see the page, if it exists. It's nicely formatted, they had the latest SW version before the move (of course) - this is not always true of Wayback or Google - and you can see History and even history differences (to see who contributed what).
Table Of Sins
|SoaSEWiki Topic *||Google
|Artifacts||page||link||link||link||link||See discussion above|
|Artifact Appraisal||page||N/A||deleted||N/A||N/A||Such deeply creative work; a risk analysis of spending the resources to search for artifacts. Went right over their heads.|
|Orbital Refinery||page||link||link||link||link||Look at all I did just for the humble Orbital Refinery|
|Planets||page||link||link||link||link||Wikia's Planet page had almost nothing except where someone ill-advisedly copied my Allegiance info there. Meanwhile the extensive planet info I had on SW is nowhere to be found.|
|Research Overview||page||link||link||link||link||The SW page was all me. Look how simple Wikia's page still is after all these years.|
|Resources||page||link||link||link||link||On 3/14/08 (before the SW graft), someone copied my detailed Resources page to Wikia. Later I expanded it even more on SW. But Wikia still has that outdated copy as its main Resource page.|
|SoaSE Math||page||link||link||link||link||Directly adopted. There was no existing Wikia page it conflicted with. It also did not have any graphics to leave out inadvertently, like the two Trade Route pages.|
|Trade Port||page||link||link||link||link||Wow. Such a hatchet job.|
|TradeRoute1 Centrifuge||page||N/A||link||link||link||This page was directly adopted but its graphics were lost in the shuffle, sigh. They were important to illustrating trade route concepts.|
|TradeRoute2 LargeMap||page||N/A||link||link||link||This page was directly adopted but as usual, all graphics were lost. They were really helpful on this huge, unique map.|
- * LEGEND
- SoaSEWiki Topic: The original page/topic from SoaSEWiki.com (SW). As discussed, this entire site was copied to SinsOfASolarEmpire.Wikia.com on May 7, 2009, then redirected there May 27, 2009, at which time SW itself ceased to exist.
- Google Cache: Google Cached pages for the original SW pages, grabbed late May 2009. These include notes on how often the pages had been visited at that time. Links on these pages now go to Wikia despite their URL because the entire SW domain now redirects to Wikia.
- Wayback Machine: Archive.Org's Wayback Machine for SW using their April 29, 2009 snapshot (not available for every page). These don't really add anything the other pages don't have, but they still serve as independent documentation of how things once were. Careful, everything after the April 2009 snapshot redirects to Wikia (just like it did in reality).
- Wikia Remnant: This is the vestigial page grafted onto the Wikia's SoaSE pages on May 7, 2009 (look at each page's History). Look how the URL even says SoaSEWiki. All the grafted pages with SoaSEWiki in their URL were hidden for all practical purposes and eventually marked for deletion. If this cell is blank, there wasn't any Wikia page on this topic at the time of the move and therefore they elected to make a new live Wikia page instead (no SW in URL). These pages live on, but this was rare.
- Remnant History: This is the History for the remnant wikia page (also accessible from the page itself). Note how they all got copied over on 5/7/2009. "RedKnight@SoaSEWiki" was me. History differences show how I turned all of these pages from lightweights to heavy hitters.
- Wikia's Page: This is the page Wikia is currently using as the remnant page's equivalent. If the page's topic already existed when they copied the SW site over, they just grafted the SW page to the side (SW in URL), even though the ones I made always had tons more info.
There's no one to blame here. The SoaSEWiki creator bravely tried making a Sins wiki, but couldn't continue for whatever reason. The Wikia folks tried to take it from there, but it was awkward. They already had their own, shrug.
If there had been an explanation and plea to help fold the SW stuff into Wikia, I would have jumped at the chance. We can all understand if the original owner met hard times. But as it stood, with everything abruptly secreted away, graphics and other items lost, and no explanation anywhere, Occam's Razor says Wikia was booting us and all our writing. (In hindsight, I'm sure it wasn't true. But it sure felt like it.) With all my work vaporized, I swore off SoaSE in disgust.
The real lesson here is simply that you can't always rely on others; there's no such thing as a free lunch. Wikis and contributory websites and forums work great most of the time. But not all of the time. Not at the level of individual edits. And not even at the level of the entire wiki continuing to exist. The only way to be sure a job is done right is to do it yourself. (Though even you won't exist forever.)
So now, at long last, I am trying to maintain my own stuff on my own website. I'll still put some things on other sites. But at the least I'll try to keep a copy of contributions that matter, here.