Destinations

Wikipedia parent to launch travel guide with Wikitravel rebels

Jul 13, 2012 11:15 am

Skift Take

A Wikipedia-like wiki travel guide could be a tremendous, free resource for information-hungry travelers. The current efforts have been starved for resources.

— Dennis Schaal

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Source: Skift
Author: Dennis Schaal

Oh, the possible SEO juice.

The Wikimedia Foundation has decided to create a travel guide in the mold of its non-profit, user-written and search engine results-hogging Wikipedia.

The free encyclopedia often dominates the upper tiers of Google search results pages, and the launch of a still-unnamed Wikimedia travel guide could have substantial implications for travelers seeking free destination advice — and guidebook publishers such as LonelyPlanet — if the new project garners any kind of comparable clout.

Imagine a free TripAdvisor focused on travel destinations, where masses of travelers could update information during or after their hotel stay, tour or private meanderings around town, and share it with the world under the supervision of seasoned administrators.

The foundation’s board of trustees on July 11 approved a proposal [see Update below] to launch an advertisement-free travel guide [see Update below] and community members noted that 31 of the 48 administrators of the Internet Brands-owned Wikitravel have expressed interest in joining forces with the Wikimedia Foundation’s travel guide website.

Wikitravel is considered the current leader in travel wikis, but its advertisements and monetization efforts may turn off travelers and would-be contributors.

In addition, the introduction to a community discussion about the travel guide proposal argues that Internet Brands has failed to keep pace with the times and that Wikitravel suffers from a “lack of technical support/feature development.”

Internet Brands didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Wikivoyage is on board, too

And Wikivoyage, which broke with Wikitravel in 2006, about a year after Internet Brands acquired it, would join forces with the Wikimedia travel guide, contributing its 12,000 articles in German and 24,000 in Italian, as well as its name, URL, board and administrators.

Although Wikivoyage would be the name of the Italian and German versions of the site, travel.wikimedia.org would be used on an interim basis for the English-language version of the site until the group decides on a permanent name, according to the community’s discussion.

The proposal to launch a wiki travel guide came from “a large group of editors at Wikitravel and some from Wikipedia,” the community discussion says. “The Wikitravel community is very interested in joining the Wikimedia movement and is spearheading this proposal.”

Will rebel editors help write new travel script?

Jani Patokallio, a Wikitravel admin based in Melbourne, Australia, wrote about the editors’ mass exodus from Wikitravel, and told Skift that the situation there had reached “the boiling point.”

Patokallio says the software at Wikitravel hadn’t been updated for five years and that its maps, for instance, “are static flat images.”

“It’s frozen in time,”Patokallio says. “No maps, no pinpoints and you can’t book hotels.”

He says when Internet Brands bought Wikitravel in 2005, there was optimism that the company, which also owns sites such as FlyerTalk, CruiseMates, and BikeForums, among many others, would pour some money into the site.

“Now, there’s really a second chance,” Patokallio says, referring to the Wikimedia Foundation effort.

The whole world is watching

Commercial guidebook publishers are monitoring developments, as well.

Josh Steinitz, founder of NileGuide and currently chief revenue officer and executive vice president of business development at Travora Media, believes “Wikimedia will do a better job of building an engaged and authoritative community than did Internet Brands.”

However, he believes the best guidebooks aren’t going anywhere if they continue to provide “relevant curation for travelers.”

“There will always be a role for curation, personalized recommendations and socially relevant content that can’t be accessed from wiki content,” Steinitz says.

Indeed, the wikis are a great avenue for crowdsourced content and obviously are very informative, but they can be exceedingly dry and can suffer from a lack of resources that might otherwise be available to commercial enterprises.

Patokallio expects the Wikimedia travel guide effort to get under way in earnest, after a community discussion, in September.

UPDATE:  Jay Walsh, a Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson, says the board discussed the travel guide proposal at its most recent meeting, but didn’t make a decision.

Instead, the board intends to make a decision after an ongoing community discussion about the proposal runs its course for another six weeks.

That’s the official view, but others see it differently.

Jani Patokallio, a Wikitravel admin who supports the Wikimedia Foundation travel guide project and would transition to participate in it, says: “The board has indicated that they support the project, but there’s now a six-week public discussion period, and the final decision only will be made after that.  In practice, though, it’s pretty much a done deal at this point.”

Walsh, however, took a more conservative view when asked if the board is leaning toward approval.

“I can’t actually say, I don’t know,” Walsh says. “But I can say that the discussion page indicates some enthusiasm and energy around the proposal.”

In fact, in a note after the meeting on a community discussion page, the board states: “We are excited to see this proposal from the community, and hope the wider community of editors can reach a consensus on it. We are waiting for the conclusion of the Request for Comment to take a decision on the issue.”

There are some caveats about the foundation’s involvement, however. The board states “the foundation could support the initial creation of a travel guide project, but could not provide a great deal of additional engineering or staff support. Further technical efforts would have to come from the community.”

Walsh explains that the board, if it approves the idea, would host the travel guide, but coming up the with resources to improve the software and the platform would be up to the community.

“But, in theory, a new project would be operable with limited resources,” Walsh says.

He adds: “The relationship between a project and the foundation is quite simple. We host our projects, keep them up and running, and generally leave the operation and growth of the project up to our volunteers. The most basic support (hosting the project) would continue as long as the project is alive and active.”

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