Pyrotechnic Magazine interviews Wiki creator Scott Smith
After 5 years of intensely developing some of the best-rated electronic display equipment in the United States, Scott Smith, the CEO of COBRA Wireless Firing Systems, had a problem: his customers were constantly asking him for specific firework-related information regarding the products his electronics controlled, but he couldn’t provide it—at least not accurately. So, he came up with the idea of developing his own elaborate database of fireworks that would include all the information anyone could ever want or need about the different consumer brands available.
PM: Explain to us where the whole idea of “Wiki” fireworks originated.
Scott: Well, first off, there was no U.S. database for consumer fireworks. It just didn’t exist. There are about 20 or 30 major brands of fireworks that people buy, but there was no centralized database of product. We decided to create our own.
PM: Is it entirely consumer-based?
Scott: Yes, right now our entire focus is on consumer-based fireworks products. We may eventually delve into 1.3, but not right now.
PM: Can you define the purpose of Wiki?
Scott: The purpose of Wiki is really to provide a tool for both the consumer and the professional that helps them find the best consumer fireworks available to do exactly what they want them to do. But I wanted it to be easy-to-use, and it had to provide a great deal of accurate information. Overall, Wiki is a personal management tool for consumer fireworks.
PM: Nothing else out there provides this kind of information?
Scott: Not in a comprehensive and up-to-date manner. I found it personally frustrating because I would get so many phone calls from COBRA customers saying things like, “Hey, I do consumer shows, where do I find the duration of these cakes?” Or “Is there any database out there I can go to that will give me technical information about specific products?” But before we created Wiki, finding that kind of information was kind of like finding a needle in a haystack.
PM: I guess that would be a serious problem for display professionals. In order to do a timed show, you definitely have to know the durations of the products you are using.
Scott: Yes, and to make it even more complex, duration not only differs from product to product, but manufacturer to manufacturer, and oftentimes the product durations differ year to year. I wanted to create a tool that was truly in the hands of the consumer—something they could use and maintain to categorize consumer fireworks products and have easily accessible.
PM: Was that your only reason?
Scott: Honestly, the real reason I wanted to do it is because I really enjoy it. I’m a total software geek, and I love that stuff. I came from software, my whole life has been software, and I felt kind of deprived from software. So, I did this as kind of a hobby because I knew people needed this and would use this database. But when it comes down to it, I guess I really did it for my own personal enjoyment.
PM: Why the name “Wiki”?
Scott: Because it is truly maintained by the public, like “Wikipedia”. While we contribute content to it, so can anyone. Anyone can create a user account, they can edit fireworks, they can add videos, they can change descriptions, and they can change attributes. It is 100% in the hands of the public to maintain. As of today, there are tens of thousands of edits that have occurred so far, so I know people are contributing to it. It is just too much of a project for any one person to put together and maintain. Most people are having a tough enough time maintaining their own website, let alone something like this. Realistically, the only ones who can maintain something at this scale are the consumers themselves. What I’ve found is that people are so conscientious in this industry. There are actually guys out there who’ve already done over 5,000+ edits of products–for no at all–just because they enjoy it and want to contribute to the cause.
PM: What are some of the coolest features available on the Wiki site?
Scott: First off, it is fast and it is quick to find what you’re looking for. The filtering functions are probably the soul of the site. You can navigate around without taking a long time and do it with ease. Speed and ease of use are two of its most critical components. The second cool feature is your ability to tag items—create your own personal list of items based on tags you can create, and then you can export that list to Excel and make modifications of your own. The object is to turn the entire site into your own personal database. For example, you can tag the 100 items that you love, and then categorize them accordingly. The tagging feature is probably one of the best features on the site.
PM: Where does most of the content for Wiki fireworks come from?
Scott: Right now, most of it comes from us. We worked with some of the manufacturers to get their data, but a lot of the data was honed from manufacturer’s websites. However, the idea is that for the long-term most of the data will come from consumers. Today, most of the editing of the products—the corrections—most of that comes from the users themselves. We’ll continue to feed the site with content, but the users will maintain most of the control over that content, not us.
PM: Can people who live in outside the U.S. use Wiki? Is it an international site? Does it include fireworks made by companies in all different countries?
Scott: At the moment, it is geared to the U.S., however, we’re building a kind of 2.0 version of the software right now. It will have multiple language support, and also multiple database support. One of things we’re looking for is to build a list of countries that are interested in helping us create a specific facet of our site for their particular country. We’ll need people in those countries willing to maintain that section and do translation. We’d definitely require a manager/administrator to take care of all new information coming in. Maybe someone reading this article is interested in helping us do that and create a Wiki section for their country.
PM: What are your long-term plans for wikifireworks.com?
Scott: We have a number of long-term plans. Obviously, we have to make money at some point. Right now we have a lot time and money invested in Wiki, but eventually we should benefit in some way. I guess I’ve been putting money in this site just because it is so cool. We’ll have to see how it evolves and what makes the most sense when it comes to making the site generate revenue. That aside, the long-term plans are to continue to make the site powerful and useful, and also to make it possible to connect to local retailers—that is one of the models I see coming in some future iteration of the Wiki site. In other words, here are the fireworks I want to purchase, now how do I get them, and how much do they cost, et cetera.
PM: So will Wiki be a subscription-based site in the future?
Scott: I don’t think so. I think, if anything, the goal would be to become a broker to the local retailers. I don’t know if they will help us back by simply advertising on Wiki, or by giving us access to their inventory or some such information. Right now, the primary goal is to keep it free for the users. So I don’t think it will be subscription based, but that may change. I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do about that yet.
PM: How can people—especially professional pyrotechnicians—help your Wiki project?
Scott: Register as a user and contribute content, and provide us feedback. I think those are the three most important things: we want people to use it, we want people to contribute, and we want people to provide us with feedback about changes that they might want to see. We are sponges for feedback. We definitely want to know what people want. If something isn’t right or there is something that people don’t want, let us know and we’ll fix it or change it. Feedback is incredibly valuable.
PM: What kind of feedback have you gotten back so far about the site? Is it only in beta testing or is it available to everyone?
Scott: The feedback so far has been that people want very specific data. For example, people want to know about the construction of products. Things like what type of tube is used for Excalibur? If it is a fan-cake, they want to know if it is a V or a W? If there are colors, they want to know if they are primary colors or secondary colors? If it is a pure red cake or mixed? If we say red and blue, does that mean it’s red 80% of the time and blue 20%? Specifics. That’s coming from the advanced enthusiast and professional. So, the new changes we are about to roll out will help define these fireworks much tighter. People also want simulations. Eventually, we should be able to tie in with Finale fireworks language for simulation. In other words, when you’re watching the fireworks, you won’t just be able to see the fireworks as YouTube videos, but see actual Finale simulations and perform integrations with Finale—drag and drop the product directly from Wiki right into their software. We will also tie Show Creator, our own software, directly into Wiki as well.
PM: What is your software called?
Scott: “Cobra Show Creator.” And it has a built-in fireworks database you can create, but it is not tied into Wiki yet even though we have had a great many requests from people who want to be able to get the information in it directly. Imagine if you liked a firework like “American Trucker,” and instead of having to go into Show Creator and click on add new firework, and add the name and duration, et cetera; imagine you could just type in the name and all the other data was added automatically to create simulations. The same scenario for Finale. Right now it is impossible. There is some good data available from some brands, for example Dominator and Sprit of ’76, but there is no way that anyone can maintain the data because of the sheer number of cakes out there from all the different companies. I think Finale would love it if we had accurate data on all of those cakes in our system that could be simply and quickly be downloaded into their program. That way when people are designing shows, they won’t have to build their own database of information—it is already available and quickly downloadable.
PM: where do you see your greatest growth happening?
Scott: Local retail, local retailers—their business is huge. I’ll give you an example: in-store kiosks. Retailers can’t maintain the videos, they can’t maintain the bestsellers; they can’t maintain the content. They would be very interested in having a kiosk solution that automatically had all of this content pre-populated for their in-store customers to use. In other words, Wiki could eventually drive traffic right into their retail store. A person could look at fireworks on Wiki and decide, for example, they want to purchase 6 Excaliburs. The database tells them where they can find the product and where they can get it for the best price. Wiki would be tied into the retailers database, locate the Excalibur shells, provide competitive prices and the locations of the stores and shipping costs.
PM: So you’re saying you want to be the Amazon.com of fireworks?
Scott: Eventually. I think so. I think that is one of the directions we’d like to pursue. I don’t know if it will go that far, but right now before we can do any of that, we need to get the content and we need to make sure the content is accurate. We also need to get people out there using and enjoying the Wiki site. To do that, we’re focusing on creating an experience for the user, and creating massive amount of content. Once we have all of that in place, we can pick and choose which way we want to go. I really want to intrigue people. I want Wiki to become a critical part of the industry.