Free travel guide Wikivoyage comes out of beta and is already kicking ass

Tomorrow, January 15th, marks the official launch date of Wikivoyage, the new free travel guide from the Wikimedia Foundation.  Born from a split with Wikitravel, here are six reasons it’s already better than its ancestor.

  1. Wikivoyage has a great mobile version.  This uses the same systems as the massively popular mobile version of Wikipedia, and is thus fast, compatible with virtually every device, and close to bug-free.
  2. Wikivoyage supports scrollable, zoomable web maps, courtesy of OpenStreetMaps.  These are so new there aren’t many around yet, but here’s an example from the Italian page for Funchal; expect to see plenty more soon.
  3. Wikivoyage lets you collect articles into books, which can be turned into a PDF or EPUB for offline reading, or shipped to you as a printed book.  (And thus Wikivoyage Press came to life at the flick of a switch.  D’oh!)
  4. No more screen scraping: full data dumps of Wikivoyage are already available.  Thanks to the Creative Commons license, you can freely use this data for travel mashups and more.
  5. Thanks to its active community, Wikivoyage already gets more content updates, and has spam firmly under control thanks to the Foundation’s years of experience in combating it.
  6. Last but not least, Wikivoyage does not suck: there are no punch-the-monkey ads, in-your-face flight booking dialogs, database backends that flake out randomly when you’re trying to edit, or company-appointed admins who censor and ban at will.

So what does this mean in practice?

Short term impact

As part of the launch, every Wikipedia page that once pointed to Wikitravel will now start pointing to Wikivoyage instead.  In addition, every Wikipedia page will temporarily be festooned with a notice pointing to the site, which means a cool 6.5 billion ad impressions a day. The traffic boost from these will be massive, so you can expect to see a lot more Wikivoyage in your search results quite soon.

South Beach, Perhentian Besar, MalaysiaThis is not to say it’s all peaches and cream, as the site remains a work in progress.  For example, while merging Wikivoyage’s image backend with Wikimedia’s Commons allowed access to a wealth of new pictures and illustrations, it also means that several thousand pages now have broken image links.  These are being fixed one by one, and the backlog has already been cut in half since mid-December, but plenty of work remains.

Long-time readers may also recall that there was a complicated tangle of lawsuits between Wikitravel’s owner Internet Brands (IB), some of its erstwhile users, and the Wikimedia Foundation.  The first lawsuit, by Internet Brands against two Wikitravel users, was dismissed on November 28, 2012, and although they could technically try again in state court, IB appears to have given up (unsurprising, as they had no case).  The second and arguably more meaningful lawsuit between the Wikimedia Foundation and Internet Brands is still rumbling on though, with both sides stomping around the sumo stadium, slapping thighs and grunting menacingly, but no court date set.  Keep an eye on the Wikimedia blog for updates; nonetheless, the Foundation has stated that this will have no impact on Wikivoyage itself.

Long term impact

While I have no doubt that Wikivoyage will surpass and supplant Wikitravel, its impact on the wider travel industry remains an open question.  For Wikivoyage to become as globally ubiquitous as Wikipedia, at least some of these hard problems will have to be cracked:

  • Oysters in Adelaide, AustraliaClearer separation between objective and subjective travel information.  Wikis are great for “the train takes 15 minutes and costs $2.50″, but not so much for “the pizzas are great and the music rocks”.  Allowing multiple comments, reviews or ratings of some kind for listings is needed.
  • Building a database backend.  Wikivoyage articles are long, flat pages of text, with a little markup for points of interest and geographical hierarchy.  Turning them into anything other than pages of text, or even getting the various language versions to share information, would require reworking the site to use a database of some kind, not a trivial exercise, although it would definitely be an intriguing application for the budding Wikidata.
  • Lack of vision and desire.  To a first approximation, the Wikimedia Foundation allocates its meager resources based on site popularity, which is why Wikipedia gets almost all of the love and the Foundation will have precisely zero Wikivoyage people on staff.  This means that not only is the Foundation unlikely to be able to make the large investments needed to bring the site to the next level, but there won’t even be anybody who could direct those investments if the money and will suddenly came up.
  • Lack of funding.  That money is unlikely to come up, though, since Wikimedia is funded entirely by donations and the vast majority of them go to pay for Wikipedia.  While adding eg. hotel bookings to Wikivoyage would be a near-guaranteed money spinner and, if done right, a genuine enhancement to the site, it would be an uphill battle to get the occasionally rabidly anti-capitalist wider Wikimedia community to accept this taint of Mammon.

I should probably underline that I’m not trying to rag on the Foundation with those latter two points, they’re operating quite sensibly with the constraints they have as a non-profit organization.

This also explains why, as a travel industry insider myself, I don’t think Wikivoyage poses an existential threat to TripAdvisor, Google or, for that matter, Lonely Planet: it’s simply not playing the same game.  Quite the contrary, it promises to be a great resource of information for everybody.  In the same way that Google pulls in data for Wikipedia for its search results and Lonely Planet’s website uses images sourced from Wikimedia Commons, other travel guides will be able to complement their own content with additional data from Wikivoyage.

 

About these ads
15 comments
  1. Gravlax said:

    I think some of your information on wikitravel is suspect: I’ve never seen a “punch the moneky” ad, and there aren’t any popups or “dialogues” and you can turn off the ads if you want anyway… and the site is totally stable as far as I can tell from many edits…

    More importantly, there’s ample evidence that it is wikitravel that gets far more content updates than wikivoyage. Just look at the site stats?

    Lastly, all content on wikivoyager is still a copy of what’s on wikitravel.org. Google will never index wikivoyager this way. Hopefully the note on wikipedia generates some traffic, because that’s the only place it’s coming from any time soon. I just don’t see how voyager competes with the already huge wikitravel at all. I fear it will die on the vine :(

    • I’ve written content on Wikivoyage that isn’t on Wikitravel, as have many others. It seems that Gravlax is being “economical with the truth”.

      • jpatokal said:

        That would be expected, as “Gravlax” appears to be posting from a Internet Brands IP address.

  2. One thought re. qualitative reviews: video. I suspect it’d be easier for a non-expert (read: someone who isn’t an experienced travel writer) to create and post a video that captures the essence of a destination than it would to achieve the same end through writing. Perhaps an easy tie-in with a video hosting service (Wikimedia?) could work here.

  3. Gorilla Jones said:

    You’re mistaken – the Wikivoyage content branched from Wikitravel three months ago, which means that the Wikitravel versions have three months’ worth of spam and crud from paid SEO agents, whereas the original writers of the articles have continued to develop them at Wikivoyage. So there’s a considerable difference between the sites’ content, which will only grow with time. There’s also nothing new being written at Wikitravel. If you look at the recent changes there, it’s a comical round of paid admins posting welcome messages for spambots and then banning the spambots (while catching somewhere around half of their edits).

    • Gravlax said:

      …by the way… the 25 admins who left wikitravel are not the “original writers” of the articles… that’s just more admin-centric, wikipedia-thought. I shudder to think that this is the attitude they have come to the WMF with.

      • jpatokal said:

        Gravlax, you seem to be posting from an IP address owned by Internet Brands. Would you care to disclose your relationship to that company and Wikitravel?

  4. Gravlax said:

    Hmm… respectifully, that is not at all what I’m seeing on the Recent Changes there at all. I see a lot of IP editors adding and changing listings all the time, some small portion of which are naturally representatives of their businesses, but that has always been the case; neither Wikitravel nor wikivoyager has a policy against company edits — they must merely conform with the site’s policy on those edits. The reason you don’t see those on wikivoyager is because nobody know or cares that it’s there, so why would they bother to write anything where it’s not being read? That’s why wikitravel continues to have so many contributors and wikivoyager has almost none. 25 administrators did not make Wikitravel, nor will they be able to make wikivoyager work. It may be a labor of love but I think it’s going to be as futile as the German-only wikivoyager was.

    WGT the welcome messages, yes, it’s comical :) But would you rather have a site that welcomes everyone, and then bans those who turn out to be spammers, or a site that welcomes nobody? Wikitravel’s admins seem to be a lot more focused on their community than wikivoyager’s do. Between removing spam and encouraging lots of new users, the admins at Wikitravel are doing better work than they have in years, and they should be applauded for their efforts, not made fun of by some sour-grapes ex-admins.

  5. Heh. iBobi, do you realize how often you use the same turns of phrase? Come on, man. You work near LA, which is a fantastic place to take some improv classes and learn about building characters on the fly. Treat it as a business expense.

  6. Looking at Special:Recentchanges on each, en.wikivoyage is running ~500 edits/hour. The old Wikitravel, ~500 in 15 hours. Welcome to spammy oblivion. Though the spam does get cleaned up! In a few hours, or maybe a day or two, when an IB employee finally notices.

    • Monsieur Toussaud said:

      Of course they are having an edit binge at WV (and spam/vandalism binge, by the way); their site is being *advertised* at the top of Wikipedia, lol. Wait til that comes down. It’s likely that WV will quickly fade from relevance, albeit with a stubbornly dedicated admin crew serving only themselves and whatever few dozen hardcore wikimedia editors use it for travel advice, while the rest of the world continues to travel via Wikitravel. Sad waste of resources on a duplicative clone, WMF.

      • jpatokal said:

        Another Internet Brands IP address! Are you people for real? Is trolling pseudonymously on blogs really the best you can do?

  7. Gentlemen,

    The Wikitravel project started in 2003. It was acquired in 2006 by the private corporation known as Internet Brands, together with some other project for travellers that existed at the time. Some contributors to Wikitravel then decided to start, in that year of 2006, a new project called Wikivoyage. This project started mainly in German and Italian languages, adding later significant contributions in English and in other languages.

    In 2012 there was a debate in Wikivoyage over the possibility of making the project a part of Wikimedia Foundation, a non for profit organisation that hosts various projects (Wikipedia being one of them), using Media Wiki open software. Of those who were contributors of Wikivoyage in August 2012, there were 540 who expressed acceptance of the proposal for becoming a part of Wikimedia Foundation, 152 who rejected it, AND MANY THOUSANDS WHO SIMPLY DID NOT SAY ANYTHING.

    The author of this text is one of those “silent thousands”. Not because of lacking information on the issue, for the debate has been followed in detail. It is because there is no incompatibility between the existence of Wikitravel and that of Wikivoyage. The two projects have a right to exist, and this habit of biting each other is an inmature, childish behaviour, which harms more than helps both projects. It confuses potential contributor who lack a determined position, and whom such differences between projects are incidental and completely unimportant.

    The licences of the two projects allow free copy, just by giving proper credit. For whatever reasons, an individual contributor may feel himself better identified with Wikitravel, or else with Wikivoyage, or decide that he likes the two projects and be a part of them both, either dividing his work more or less evenly, or giving more attention to one in preference over the other. Or depending on the topic or the destination on which he writes. The same holds true for the reader, of course. Free is everyone for choosing his sources of information.

    Therefore, be kind of stopping this ridiculous “We are more important than You are…” or “We have more future than You have…”, and concentrate ON THE IMPROVEMENT OF YOUR BELOVED PROJECT, because there is much, much work to do. Wasting Your time at insulting the other project, and becoming angry in the process, is not a good example of constructive effort. Live Your project, and let the other project live as well.

    Be it Wikitravel, or Wikivoyage, or another project, it has a valuable place in the Travel Information World and it deserves to be considered by its own merits, not to be detracted by unfair comparison to another project. Every project will always have its characteristic strong and weak points, since it follows a different philosophy. And every project is entitled to be respected as it is, with its positive and its negative sides.

    Dixieland for ever !
    3rd February 2013
    CSS Dixieland

    • Liz L said:

      Ummm…yeah, but you’ve entirely missed the big elephant in your room. Namely, that we’re talking about brand recognition here…and whether WikiMedia likes it or NOT -and I suspect that they Do, they are a big ole global brand with a capital “B” for the Americanized version of Internet branding HA! Pun InTEndeD. -Why do you think IB bought out the original group? AND I find it hard —Nay, IMpoSSIBLE to believe that the first project grp. who named themselves “WikiTravel” never,,,EVER,,gave one inkling of thought as to how that name would be instantly recognizable and REGISTER as a trusted brand in people’s minds.

      Puh-leaze. Come back down to earth a bit.

  8. I have been editing both wikivoyage and wikitravel over the last few months, with links to my agency’s website on both sites. So far, the wikitravel website draws 10 to 1 clicks on the website vs wikivoyage. So, right now wikitravel appears to be the better website, from the perspective of businesses and tourism agencies. That being said, I have received constant assistance and advice from WV admins, and none from WT. Posting pictures on WV is simple, and difficult on WT. Though the numbers lean to WT, its no different than Myspace’s advantage in 2005 over facebook. Its days are numbered and will fade fast, especially with Wikimedia and WV’s large number of admins and editors.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,326 other followers

%d bloggers like this: