Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wikia's Gil Penchina on OpenServing

E-consultancy sent out the following interview, which we gladly republish here...

Some of the founders behind Wikipedia's free-wiki offshoot Wikia have announced a new site allowing anyone to create their own online news and opinion zines.

OpenServing came into being after Wikia purchased community sports news site ArmchairGM. Robert Andrews sat down with Wikia CEO Gil Penchina at the Le Web 3 conference in Paris in December to discuss the latest in user-generated content.

     You announced the launch of OpenServing at Le Web 3. Can you tell us what that's all about?

=GP= We started with open source. Mainstream technology people said "that's crazy, how can you give away a product for free that people pay millions of dollars for?" You see that the business model today is in charging for other services like consulting.

=GP= As we looked at free content, we saw the same thing. We provide the storage and the bandwidth and the processors, you can make the money from advertisers and we'll figure out another business model.

     How does it differ from Wikia itself, and from anything else on the market?

=GP= You can go and get blog software and pay someone to host it and you can make the ad revenue. With OpenServing, you get collaborative blog software for free and you get to keep all the ad revenue. We compete with people who offer blog hosting and charge for it.

     How easy do you make it for the users? How managed is your software?

=GP= We manage all aspects of it; we build vertical-specific topics for you, we have the collaboration software that lets you invite other people in to write and read, we provide all the operating support, 24/7 customer support.

     Do you intend to make money from this in any way?

=GP= We do [intend to make money], we're just not sure how yet. Maybe it's value-added services on top of that. It's the old saying of 'get there first'.

=GP= Wikia is about documenting facts and providing information in a very structured sense. ArmchairGM, which is the company we bought, is more about collaborative blogging on news and opinion, so it's much more about what happened today.

     Would you put OpenServing clearly in the news bracket with the likes of Yahoo! News?

=GP= We actually think it's going to be more like Time-Warner - today's news, today's opinion. That's what we've seen in sports - people are posting the latest news and then they talk about it; people are also posting opinions like 'why haven't they fired this player yet?'. It's static content but it's much more topical.

     A year from now, what is the front page of OpenServing going to look like - a true news service?

=GP= I'm not sure we have one front page. I think a year from now, we'll have 500 pages and people won't view us as just one place to go. Just like people view Wired and a cooking magazine as two completely different topics, although they may be owned by the same publisher. That's why Time-Warner to me is a good analogy, they have a whole stable of publications and, as a reader, you don't care that Sports Illustrated or Entertainment Weekly are owned by the same publisher, you view it as 'this is my place'

     Do you think this is something people from old established media have a hard time getting to grips with?

=GP= The concept of a bunch of magazines on different topics resonates with them. They have a harder time believing that you can write an encyclopedia with volunteers.