From 2009 to 2011, I considered myself an active member of the AltHistory Wiki community. I was a regular contributor to "1983: Doomsday" and other timelines. I also pitched in with combating vandals and I must have made myself a big enough annoyance that someone decided it would be easier just to make me an administrator to the Wiki instead of reading the ton of messages I left on people's talk pages warning them of the damage. I took my role as administrator seriously and used my limited free time to do my best to clean up the Wiki. I helped institute new policies to govern the wiki more effectively and promoted ideas I thought would help encourage a stronger sense of community, like the Stirling Awards and revamping the way Featured Timelines were selected. I was proud of what I accomplished and of the people who followed in my footsteps.
In 2011, I retired from my post as a member of the "Brass" (the administrator rank which, besides having the power to ban members, can also grant administrative powers to other members) and eventually created Alternate History Weekly Update. At the time I said that I wanted to focus more on my own writing because I felt that managing the Wiki was distracting me from it. That, however, was only part of the reason why I left. To be frank, I was burnt out from dealing with the Wiki. As time went by, many of the people I befriended there had left and the newcomers, although many were talented writers and all-around pleasant people, had some major ego cases in their ranks. I became tired of all the arguments and the snark. I also had creative differences with the direction "1983: Doomsday" was going. It had quickly turned from a grim world of nuclear war where the United States had fallen apart while a rump-Soviet Union lived on, to an atompunk fantasy. It became clear that I needed a break.
So I left the Wiki and started blogging and the rest, as they say, is history. I eventually did return to the Wiki, but only as a lurker and I maintained that my retirement from the Time Stream Protection Task Force (or the TSPTF, which is the collective name the administrators refer to themselves as) was still in effect. I even dropped into their Chat a couple of times and was surprised not only to see that many people still remembered me, but that a lot of the new faces who I had never met knew of me. It felt good and made me happy that I had decided to return in my limited capacity.
Then things started to go downhill. I noticed that on other alternate history sites, most notably AlternateHistory.com, the AltHistory Wiki had a reputation for bad alternate history and immature users who only produced Map Games. Now I am not a fan of the Wiki's Map Games. I don't have any particular dislike for them, they just aren't for me. To be fair the Map Games didn't seem all that different from AlternateHistory.com's Shared Worlds forum, so I didn't think they had that much right to complain. That being said, yeah I read my fair share of bad alternate histories on the Wiki, but you can find those on any community. The Wiki does have good timelines (last month I featured "Winged Hands of the Reich" by SpanishSpy), but an argument can be made that the format of the Wiki means its hard to find them and bad timelines often get pushed to the front.
What I am saying is that at first I wasn't concerned about the criticisms I was hearing. The longer I lurked on the AltHistory Wiki, however, the more weight I gave to those criticisms. The aforementioned Chat had no content restrictions enforced and often would degenerate into flame wars that would spill into other parts of the Wiki. I stumbled upon a subreddit for the Wiki that actually had threads to organize attacks on specific members. While scanning some of these arguments and attacks, I even began to notice cliques forming that often spent more time harassing outsiders than discussing alternate history. Meanwhile, TSPTF members were either increasingly absent or just didn't care, sometimes even participating in these disputes by egging on the combatants. The final straw for me was seeing another spill over from a Chat fight on the TSPTF talk page referencing "penile yeast infection", gay jokes and seeming unconcern that people were using sockpuppets.
You know what this all reminds me of? The Fall of Alternia. Just like with the AltHistory Wiki, you had a divided community that was more interested in arguing about everything besides what the community was supposed to be talking about: alternate history. The AltHistory Wiki in my mind has devolved into a haven for Internet trolls that deserves its poor reputation. What is even worse is that the Wiki is suffering a brain drain. You know where I found all those people I first met when I started editing back in 2009? AlternateHistory.com. You know where I talked to SpanishSpy after he noticed I had featured his work on Timeline Thursday? AlternateHistory.com. The good writers have left and will continue to leave before everything collapses, just like with Alternia. The difference is that I don't think there is a way to delete the Wiki once it all falls apart, since the ultimate owner of the place is Wikia.
Is there a solution? Well I got a few ideas off the top of my head. First, get rid of Chat, just close it down entirely. Its a source of a lot of the fighting and the current user base has already shown they can't regulate themselves. The AltHistory Wiki needs to take a stand that they will focus solely on alternate history and not be distracted by off-topic conversations. Second, spin off the Map Games into their own separate, but affiliated, wiki. I am perhaps being unfair to the Map Gamers, but it seems to me that a lot of the major troublemakers are from that group of users. Third, find a way to highlight the good alternate histories besides the Featured Timelines and the Stirling Awards. To be honest, I have no specific ideas on how to do that, but the Wiki needs to work on repairing its reputation and doing nothing to better showcase the good is not helping. Perhaps one thing they can do immediately is purge themselves of poorly constructed timelines and their affiliated articles that haven't been edited in years. It will certainly be a start in removing the bad so people can find the good.
I would also recommend that the AltHistory Wiki start purging some of the worst trolls. I'm not going to start naming names, simply because I am not active enough in the community currently to do a fair job of it, but I am sure that if the Wiki's users thought about it they could pick some people who have been the worst of the worst. Those whose damage they cause is greater than whatever benefit they bring to the Wiki. This, and spinning off the Map Games into its separate wiki, would likely see the active user base drop significantly, but it would give the community time to return to what they do best: collaborative alternate histories. Perhaps it will also see new blood joining, who may have been scared away by the people they ran into while editing.
Finally, and this is my most important point, the community has to do this. Let me reiterate: the COMMUNITY has to do this. The TSPTF will have their role (and besides they should only be volunteers who help with the technical aspects of the wiki and NOT the sole decision makers) and leaders from outside the administrators will emerge, but the community has to do it together. The AltHistory Wiki has always been more communal in its governance than other alternate history communities, like AlternateHistory.com. That has made it unique and perhaps explain why shared universes like "1983: Doomsday" were able to thrive. If the AltHistory Wiki is going to be saved, every single active member must step up and play their role. It shouldn't just be assumed the TSPTF or someone else will take care of it.
Well now that I said all of the above I probably just alienated a good portion of my reader base. I easily could be exaggerating some of the problems the AltHistory Wiki faces and I could have been one of the reasons why it is in its current state. That being said, the Wiki still has some major problems, but there is still time to pull it back from the brink. It will take a lot of work, but I still think the AltHistory Wiki can be fixed, if the community cares enough to do it.
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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.