Online decentralization and Wikiwrimo

If you know me at all, you probably know about Wikiwrimo, my passion project of the past thirteen years. It’s been cited by sources all over the internet, the folks at NaNo HQ use it, and I’m pretty sure Wikiwrimo has helped me get at least one job.

If you don’t know this, you’re probably in that very large circle of people who play my secret Pokemon Go hobby but somehow don’t know about my less secret hobby of NaNoWriMo.

It’s a weird secret to keep because in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t worked that much on the wiki in over a year. I mentioned this last year; I don’t need the money to keep the site afloat. I need help.

I’ve touched on the topic before, both in my 2021 post asking for Wikiwrimo help and in the “What has happened here?” thread on the NaNoWriMo forums in late 2022.

Now, the biggest challenge to running Wikiwrimo isn’t help. There’s a wider issue of decentralization online that is not unique to NaNoWriMo, and you’ve probably noticed it in every online community you’re in.

Groups of Wrimos have had an online presence outside of the NaNo site for as long as NaNoWriMo has existed. I was in several Livejournal communities in the mid-2000s and got to meet a few of those folks in person. IRC channels for Wrimos have floated around, and a few are still active. NaNo regions created their own websites to showcase their regions and activities. People who wanted to do spinoff challenges created their own forums or communities.

For awhile, there weren’t too many of these. But then regions started creating Facebook groups intead of public Facebook pages. Discord became huge, and the pandemic made it even bigger. Tumblr took off, then became uncool, then became cool again; one of my friends once described November as bad for reading new fanfic because the good fic writers are doing fic challenges or NaNoWriMo (or both).

The site redesign of 2019 didn’t help matters much, let’s be honest.

When I did my virtual global world tour in 2020 and 2021, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out where the heck the MLs were putting their information. The regional message board on the NaNoWriMo website is separate from the forums, and some MLs weren’t using either one. In fact, it wasn’t immediately clear where to view the region’s corresponding place on the website or the forums. I knew how to reverse engineer the URL to view all the messages sent to an entire region and find out if an ML had sent an announcement that didn’t get posted elsewhere, but I’m positive a new person wouldn’t know how to do that.

Some MLs don’t post anything at all and have moved completely to Facebook or Discord but have links to everything in their regional page, so you have to join these in order to see anything at all… and then hope something is there. Or that the new ML didn’t create totally new resources because they couldn’t get admin access from the old ML and then forgot to update those URLs.

And if you miss a announcement that something was cancelled or the host is running late, you better hope you’re on that service or that the ML or host posts that announcement somewhere you can see.

I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. Every single one of these happened during my world tour.

If I, a long-time participant who has a good idea of where to look for this information but needs to know how a particular region does things, was having trouble finding all the information needed to attend an event, a new participant who doesn’t know how anything works is going to give up if they can’t find anything ASAP. On the other side, imagine how the MLs must feel, trying to post to every space to make sure everyone sees their updates.

If you took NaNoWriMo HQ’s annual survey in late 2022, you may have noticed a question about how participating in NaNoWriMo communities affected your experience. There was a new option this year for spaces not affiliated with NaNo HQ. Chances are you know of one, even if you’re not part of them. The many Discord servers that people form for writers of a specific niche or genre, the non-NaNoWriMo writing servers who happen to have a group of folks doing NaNoWriMo.

These communities are hard to keep track of. Some of them don’t want to be found or have their communities analyzed under a microscope. That’s the issue with Discord in particular, especially when it comes to observing cultures; you have to join a Discord server in order to view it and participate, but you can join only so many, and there’s a cap of 200 even with Discord Nitro. (Let me join more servers, Discord! Every friend group thinks a Discord server is a good idea for some reason!) And the real time chat means it’s harder to search for answers or find answers to vague questions specifically (e.g. What’s with all the raptors?).

Unaffiliated communities have provided unique and flourishing communities for Wrimos, whether or not they also participate on the NaNoWriMo website. Some of them don’t want the big NaNo environment, whether that means the large forums or the “corporate” feel with sponsors. (Which is a separate topic I won’t get into here.) Others just want to do NaNo with their friends or with a smaller community, or they like their platform of choice better. It’s why some people never venture outside of their region, especially non-English-speaking regions. I lurk in a few of the big NaNo Discord servers I know about just to keep general tabs on how Wrimos in other writing spaces are feeling.

HQ has known this for awhile. From the nanowrimo LiveJournal community where there was finally a rule not to post about the website, to the many Discord servers that exist today, there’s a thriving ecosystems of unofficial NaNo communities out there. And they’re not being documented at all.

I don’t have a way to document all this.

I started Wikiwrimo during a simpler time. Back in 2011, Facebook groups for regions were a new concept. I opted not to link them from their region’s page at first because anyone could join most of those groups, even if you weren’t in that region. Sure, there was an unofficial general NaNo Facebook but the proliferation hadn’t begun yet, despite the upset over the then-new site, now lovingly called the old site.

(I still don’t allow Discord links for this reason. Some MLs are much better about spam control than others.)

Now everyone is everywhere, but I have only 24 hours in a day and eight of those are ideally spent sleeping and another eight are spent working.

Every community has their own culture and inside jokes and memes. These things develop from being in a community, and more open and accessible communities evolve more fluidly and quickly than closed ones. It’s the same way internet language evolves, and internet language evolves more quickly and dynamically than offline language.

You might have noticed there are fewer new memes and in-jokes now in the official NaNo community circles. Even the “newest” ones from my memory are approaching ten years old.

When we complain about some aspect of the NaNo community, we see our part of NaNo community, the parts that we’re active in. And we should! But the mistake is assuming that our part of the NaNo community equals the entire Nano community. The Nano community is so much wider than the forums, the Facebook groups, the Discord servers, the Twitter community.

The Nano community is that, but it’s so much more. There are regional chapters, YWP teachers and students, Nano partnerships, people participating on Discord servers and Facebook groups and subreddits that you and I have never heard of.

As vibrant as the Nano community is, the breadth is exactly is what makes Wikiwrimo so hard to maintain. Every sub-community has its own culture and in-jokes, and many of those are now hidden behind invite links and logins.

It’s easy to see why people are feeling disconnected from the Nano community. There’s so much now, both for Wrimos and for NaNo HQ. No one can keep track of it all, not even me. Especially not me.

Now what? I don’t have good answers to any of these things. Community cultures evolve and grow. That’s it, that’s the post.

Twenty years. I don’t want it to end. Maybe like NaNoWriMo itself, Wikiwrimo’s wild growth phase has come to an end, and the sustainability phase is next, the part where maintaining the site isn’t a full-time job.

Maybe it’s time to stop expanding the scope of Wikiwrimo because an expanding scope has no mission.

And yet, expanding the scope is both necessary and impossible. I don’t have any good answers here. This shift in the NaNo community isn’t just a shift in NaNoWriMo itself; it’s a shift in the world and the internet and how we take in online communities in general, and NaNo happens to be caught up in that.

If there’s one thing I know from working in tech, it’s that scope creep destroys great projects.

I don’t want Wikiwrimo to be destroyed. I don’t want NaNo to be destroyed.

The most logical solution is to accept that I cannot document everything, especially in a world that is becoming more decentralized, and just do what I can. Retain my current scope and merely summarize what I’ve found from other places. This is likely the best compromise, and yet I have the hardest time doing it. It’ll only get harder over time as more NaNo-related communities form.

But I’m ready to keep going, even if it’s on a less active basis. Even if Wikiwrimo remains a less active part of the NaNo community in the future, it’s still a historical archive of everything NaNoWriMo. And you know what? There’s still a lot left on my Wikiwrimo to-do list.

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