As any pinball machine owner knows, no matter how much love and attention you give your game, sooner or later your pride and joy will start acting up. Or not act at all.
One option is to call you local pinball repairer, but if you don’t have one, or think you can tackle to job yourself, getting diagnostic and repair information has become a whole lot easier in recent years thanks to the myriad of helpful documents provided through the internet.
Probably the most popular source was the PinRepair.com site (a.k.a. Clay’s Guides or the Marvin repair site) which contained detailed repair information on all the most common pinball systems until it was suddenly removed in April 2011.
However, soon after the PinRepair guides disappeared, a new website was established with the aim of filling the void and ensuring the cumulative knowledge contained in the guides wasn't lost.
PinWiki.com used a different method to collate repair information. One where individuals could add their own knowledge and experience to the overall pool of information. One where no single person owned or controlled the articles, or could remove them or charge for them.
Wiki’s have become a popular method for collaborative working, allowing any registered user to add, modify or delete any of the information on a website. However, one of the key features of a Wiki is the ability of a site moderator to see who has modified which section, examine the changes they have made and, if necessary, roll it back to an earlier version before the changes had been applied. This helps to stop spam appearing and prevents malicious or accidental damage being done to any part of the site. If anything is deleted or defaced, it can be returned to normal at the click of a mouse.
As the name suggests, PinWiki uses this wiki method to collate submissions from numerous authors and contributors about various pinball systems, and present it in one place.
PinWiki.com was started by Casey Gardner who has been playing pinball ever since he was tall enough to reach the flipper buttons and been playing with computers for just as long, before embarking on the PinWiki project.
Pinball News has been speaking to Casey about how the site began, the growth since, the future direction the site will be taking and how Pinball News readers can get involved.
But we began by finding out how he first got involved in pinball. "I grew up with a High Speed pinball in the basement, a game that was left over from when my dad used to be an operator. From there I grew my knowledge repairing them both from my dad, and sometimes just jumping in with the manual and getting my hands dirty."
Setting up a Wiki for pinball repair also calls for certain computer skills and Casey has been active in that field for many years too. "I have been on the computer since I was two years old. My parents knew that I was going to be a computer geek since when I was three I accidentally erased our hard drive. Since then I have been a tinker with technology for forever. I live by the attitude of "let's put Linux on it". I can't help but get into any new technology that I can find, and frequently read sites like hackaday.com and instructables.com to find that next coolest project."
PinWiki was founded during the fallout from the removal of the PinRepair guides and while emotions were still running high on internet discussion groups, such as the rec.games.pinball newsgroup.
With much talk of alternative - and unauthorised - hosting sites for the PinRepair guides' pages, as well as BitTorrent archives and other means of distributing the content, anyone looking to launch a replacement risked being caught in the crossfire.
However, Casey saw the need to get a new and sustainable source of repair information on-line as soon as possible. "When I started PinWiki, the announcement I made seemed like I was stepping on PinRepair guides' feet, but that isn't how I wanted to come off. I was more looking to channel the energy on R.G.P. to something more positive than it was turning out to be. The reason I stepped up and started PinWiki.com was because I had been beating around the idea of a wiki about pinball for a while, and when everything went down I saw that it was a good opportunity to spur growth quickly. I saw that I would be good to do this (as) I have had the experience in setting up and running websites before, as well as moderating wikis."
Announcing you are going to start a pinball repair site doesn't automatically mean you're going to get the support and input of the community though. Before that began to happen, Casey had some convincing to do.
"At first, there was a pretty sizable group of people who were hesitant to really trust PinWiki.com because prior to PinWiki.com I was never active on RGP and no one really knew who I was. After I had explained who I was, the site exploded with activity and I haven't heard a single negative comment about the site. I have heard many suggestions from the community and I have used almost all of those. One thing that I stress with this site is that even though at the end of the day someone has to run the website and make sure it doesn't fall apart. This is a community project and that I am always willing to listen to suggestions."
The choice of a Wiki to allow people to collaborate on the repair guides, while not new or necessarily unexpected, is a departure from the way the previous guides were created and hosted. Having everything on a website authored and hosted by one person has its dangers, but also several advantages such as consistency of style and terminology, a known level of technical expertise of the writer, and no conflicts between different authors.
With various different ways available for a number of writers to collaborate, why use a wiki? Casey explained, "The big thing with a wiki is that if somebody contributed something that isn't correct, others have the power to fix it. It also allows new content to be rapidly added as it is found. It has shown that it brings the community together and allows people who don't have the ability or knowledge to write an entire article to contribute their smaller bits of knowledge to any article."
At the time of writing there are 76 registered active contributors with many more users having signed up to add their own content. PinWiki also has a team of 11 administrators - Casey, Chris Hibler, Chuck Hess, Richard Harvey, Jim Palson, Lloyd Olson, Chuck Gardner, Martin Reynolds, Richard Godwin, Kerry Imming and Steve Kulpa.
So who have been the major contributors to 190 pages currently on PinWiki? Casey declines to single out any individuals, but is grateful for the work of everyone involved. "On the front side of things I really cannot say, as so many people have been editors that I don't want to step on anyone's feet if I forget to mention someone. I can say that on the back side all my moderators are super helpful. We have contacted many people and they have been super helpful in relations with people, along with great, intelligent discussions on how to handle any situations."
One of the potential problems with any new venture is that the initial rush of enthusiasm soon tails off and the rate of growth slows dramatically. But Casey is bullish about the expansion of the wiki four months after it was launched.
"Has it followed my hopes and expectations? No it hasn't followed them, it has blown them away. When I started the site I had hoped for some decent content to come over time, and eventually get acceptance in the community, but I never thought that it would become so popular."
"Progress has been crazy. We do not have every single piece of information out there, but we have gathered vast amounts of information in very short amounts of time. Information on PinWiki had a big rush of information when it was first created and slowed down a little into a pretty steady rate after the initial hit. Overall there is always something going on at PinWiki at any given time. The community has really embraced PinWiki.com."
Reading through some of the sparser sections, it's tempting to think "I could write something about that", or even just correct some of the grammar. So who should be thinking about adding their expertise or knowledge to the wiki?
Casey is keen to stress that anyone can contribute and if you can type your information into a paragraph, then you already have most of the necessary skills. He says it is better to put your information onto the wiki and then let someone else go through it to sort out the grammar and spelling. It's getting the information in there in the first place which is the important part.
With anyone able to add content or edit anyone else's, there need to be checks put in place to make sure the edits are correct and no malicious content appears. Casey explains how the change controls work; "All edits are immediately 'accepted' per se, but are reviewed by someone from the PinWiki moderators. Another cool feature we have access to is to 'rollback' any edit, so that if an edit is bad, such as spam or just completely wrong, we can easily, with the click of a button, go back to before the edit. The wiki software will actually let you go back to any edit all the way to the beginning and view how the page looked. The moderator group does review each and every page and make sure it isn't obviously bad, and as long as it looks good, it is 'accepted'."
If you are going to add your own contribution to the wiki, how do you know if someone else is already working on that section and about to write the same information? The advice is not to worry and just add your contribution anyway. Some authors have their own areas of expertise, but even they can forget to include important details, so the more everyone can add, the better, with just one caveat - all the information should be your own work and not lifted from someone else's publication or website.
There remains, though, the possibility that some details added to the wiki could be misleading or just plain wrong. How does Casey and his team of moderators spot and tackle such erroneous entries? "This right here is a tough one to deal with. With a wiki, anyone can contribute their knowledge and some people will contribute information that isn't necessarily accurate. The best policy we use is common sense, along with discussion between our moderators, that way if there is ever a question about it we can discuss the matter and go from there. We are always willing to discuss with the person about their content if they want to defend it. It is really a case-by-case situation that involves thought."
There are certain areas of the site where Casey is looking for particular assistance though. "When I created PinWiki.com I had a slogan "THE Place For Everything Pinball". Now I have been working on small little tidbits to grow into this slogan better as we started out being known as strictly repair guides. We offer pages for Where to play, Tournaments, History, people, glossary, Will it a pinball fit in a XXX, etc. and those pages are ones that I am really looking for help in growing so that we can live up to our slogan."
One of the key concerns for any user or author given past experiences has to be the possibility of the whole site disappearing, being plastered with advertisements, or being put behind a pay wall. How can it be ensured the information remains available and free?
Casey is quick to reassure us that steps have been taken to protect the content. "I have heard this question a million times and I really do sympathize with it, as there has been a lot of work done towards making this site what it is. PinWiki.com has two mirrors (duplicate sites) that are locked down from editing, one of which is hosted by Chuck Hess, the other, by Martin Reynolds from PinBits.com. The website addresses of both sites are not advertised for the sake of focusing people on PinWiki.com but both of them have been trained on how to 'throw the switch' if the time comes that it is needed. I do want to note that I have enjoyed the adventure far too much to throw in the towel, but if it is to ever happen there have been preparations made to make sure there isn't a problem and the knowledge will continue to exist."
There are running costs for PinWiki.com just as there are for any website. Domain registration/renewal and hosting fees all apply, but Casey insists he is happy to take care of them and they are not a concern.
So has it all been plain sailing so far? Mostly, says Casey, but not entirely. As with any such project, there are 'speed bumps' which slow the progress, and two common problems which affect many sites also resulted in changes being made to PinWiki.
The first was our old foe, spam. "Once a wiki has been hit by spam once, it is a downhill spiral. Step by step I have had to grow the 'security' for the site. First I started with restricting edits to people who created accounts. Then I had to add a CAPTCHA (those annoying images that you read the letters out of) to the account creation page. Between those two things it stopped a lot of spamming, but slowly it was still trickling in. "Today our current system involves users sending an email with their desired user name, e-mail and the answer to a simple question to our admins, who then manually create the account and a password is sent to the user. This prevents quick spam attacks and allows me to monitor better. Since this system was created PinWiki.com hasn't had any more issues with spam."
The second problem arose when Casey tried adding a forum to the site. Getting sufficient visitors and contributors is never easy when trying to establish a discussion forum, unless there are enough unique features to attract members away from their current method of choice. Casey is philosophical about that venture; "The problem with forums and a pinball community is that everyone is used to using rec.games.pinball (R.G.P.), as no single person has control over it. I couldn't get people to move to the forums so I closed them down. I wouldn't call it a failure as most people think that R.G.P. is a better product and I respect that choice. If there is ever interest in moving off R.G.P. I will be more than willing to run forums again."
So there's still plenty of work to be done to make PinWiki everything Casey wants it to be. I asked him what one thing Pinball News readers could do to help him achieve his goals. "The biggest thing that Pinball News readers can help out with is to work on the sections like history, where to play, people, etc. These pages are not full of content yet, and they will really round out PinWiki.com to hold true to its slogan. Another big and important thing that would be of great help is to read through any pages that have been developed and make sure grammar is good. The biggest thing that makes the difference between an alright source for information and a great source is whether or not anybody can read it. Poor grammar and formatting can make the greatest info in the world worthless because it simply isn't readable."
As if that weren't enough, Casey is also developing additional new features for the site. Some are only at the initial planning stages but a few are ready to be announced here.
The first is a free iPod/iPhone/iPad app available through the Apple App Store which reformats the PinWiki information to better suit the display of these products. Casey explains, "These devices are a great tool to use when you are "under the hood" of a pinball machine and it's great to have the info by your side in an easy to read format. I have personally tested this app while repairing my pinball machines and it is a wonderful tool to have with you."
The second new feature is a monthly newsletter, to be called 'Pop Bumper'.
"We will push out small little trivia games, cool new articles on PinWiki, spotlight collectors and more. To sign up for our newsletter visit this link. We will release our first issue in September."
The third announcement is a tie-up with Jersey Jack Pinball which will see PinWiki being able to host documentation on the company's games. Casey explains, "Jack from JJP stated how is always happy to show support for anything pinball-related, and that he is really glad to see a site like PinWiki.com I want to reassure you that this is not a commercial venture, but Jack has promised to be there for us if we need anything. He is also promised that PinWiki.com will have the ability to host manuals and schematics for all JJP games as soon as they are available."
So there we are. Every pinball owner needs repair information. Whether your experise lends itself to the simplest 'How to change a lamp' article or the 'How to troubleshoot the CPU board' for the experts, having all that information to hand in a reliable, readable and free resource is invaluable.
But this information doesn't appear by magic, so if you are able to help build it up, visit PinWiki.com and register to be a contributor.
After all, you never know when you will need it.
© Pinball News 2011