Fast Chat: Craig Palmer

Wikia's new CEO on scaling the company, keeping up with the social Web

Wikia, the for-profit younger sibling of Wikipedia, is growing up. And it’s getting a new CEO to help it on its way.

Co-founded in 2004 by Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales, the community-created content site—which is particularly popular among entertainment and gaming fans—has more than 3 million registered, who have created about 14 million pages of content. This summer, a Nielsen study listed it among the top 10 social networks and blogs in the U.S., but among just two (LinkedIn was the other one) which boast a larger percentage of male visitors than the percentage of total active male users on the entire Internet. 

To help take the company to the next level, Wikia recently appointed Craig Palmer, former CEO of digital media company Gracenote, to be the new chief executive. Adweek chatted with him about his new gig, plans for the growing company, and competition on the social Web. Here’s what he had to say.

Adweek: So, from digital media to collaboratively created content. What drew you to Wikia?

Craig Palmer: Gracenote got started by creating this huge database of collaborative and user-generated content, originally in the music space and that extended to television, movies, etc. I’ve always loved, over my career, this really cool mix of content and technology. Wikia—with what it’s achieved so far, with 50 million monthly unique visitors and 14 million pages of content in 100 languages—[presents] a tremendously interesting opportunity, I think, to take the whole world of user-generated, curated rich content and make a really interesting business out of this. Wikia really fits the history of what I’ve been building toward and also what I have a lot of passion for.

You were tapped to help launch a new phase at Wikia. What are you bringing to the company that’s valuable at this moment in time?

Wikia, at this point, has built a great global community. It’s proved it has a business—it’s a profitable company, it’s got over 100 employees. And, so, it’s really now gotten to the point of moving from an early stage company, with the beginning ideas, to now a midstage company. It’s going to go from the level that it’s at and scale in, potentially, an exponential kind of fashion. What we need to do—which is what I’m good at because that’s what I’ve done at previous company—is really further hone our product and the utility that it brings to the community at large and the utility it brings to advertisers.

What will this new era for the company look like?

The processes that have to be built when you get to a company that’s over 100 employees are very different from when you’re 10 people in a garage. There’s a lot more infrastructure and processes that Wikia will tackle that I’m pretty good at building. I also think that what Wikia has to continue has to do—because it’s really plowing a lot of new ground, a lot of things that happen in the Wikia community just haven’t been done before—[is] continue to innovate and create and be entrepreneurial and really create our own market.

Any specific areas that you plan to focus on?

Let’s first focus on how we’re creating value for the community at large—[making] it easier, simpler, and more fun and exciting for them to create the content and consume the content and be a part of the community. You’re going to see us make it a lot easier and more powerful to bring video to the community, which will add more interest and value to the community. Up until this point, Wikia has been most optimized for a personal computer kind of experience. We’ll make it a lot easier to not only create content utilizing mobile platforms but also consume the right piece of content in the mobile world.

What does this new phase mean for advertisers?

We’re just beginning to really scratch the surface on how brands and advertisers can interact with the deeply engaged audience that we have. We have to do quite a bit more work around being able to present the demographic information that exists within our community. There’s a lot of things we can do to create more creative advertising experiences that enable advertisers to get to this hyper-engaged audience.

While there are plenty of ways to reach social audiences online, what does Wikia offer advertisers that they can’t get elsewhere?

I use the words hyper-engaged audience. It’s one thing if you say I “like” something on Facebook; it’s another thing if you’re reading through lots of different television synopsises of different episodes. It’s even another level of engagement if you’re writing hundreds or thousands of pages that are being consumed by other guys. I think we’ve started to be able to create opportunities and ways in which brands and advertisers can get at that kind of hyper-engaged audience in Wikia, but we have a lot more work to do to leverage that.

But Facebook’s latest changes are making it possible for users to engage at deeper levels. “Like” isn’t the only available verb anymore. 

Facebook is a pretty noisy environment. You can do little bits of everything—your Facebook experience could be totally consumed by playing Mafia Wars seven days a week. Or it could be just passing around status updates here and there, and reading your friends’ updates. What we’re really good at is creating the best set of tools for communities to have those kinds of deep engagement with content, the best set of tools for the curation for that content, and the best set of tools for a passionate audience to interact with itself.

At the moment, Wikia (like Wikipedia) doesn’t include integrations with Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms. What are your thoughts on making Wikia more social across the Web?

There are a lot of social aspects within Wikia today. We’re beta testing a [mechanism] of communicating within the community that will make more kinds of engagement. I think we’ll do a lot of things around both allowing a lot more engagement between users within the Wikia community and also ways in which that can be shared and exhibited outside the community on things like Facebook, etc.

Have you started or edited any wikis? Which one’s your favorite?

I haven’t started a wiki, but I’ve edited quite a few of them. I happen to be a big fan of Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, and Mad Men—I’m hoping Mad Men comes back for next season, it looks like it’s going to.