Digital Media

Wikipedia-style travel guide goes live in rebuff to Internet Brands

@denschaal

Sep 23, 2012 7:18 am

Skift Take

The launch of Wikivoyage is significant and an important victory for supporters of commercial-free destination content. But, while a challenge, rival guidebook publishers won’t have to close up shop any time soon.

— Dennis Schaal

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In a rebuff to Internet Brands and its commercial Wikitravel, the Wikimedia community launched a not-for-profit English-language Wikivoyage, making good on a controversial plan endorsed by the Wikimedia Foundation last month.

The new Wikivoyage, with its 26,500 destination guides written by volunteer contributors Wikipedia-style under a Creative Commons license, is being hosted by Wikivoyage in Germany for now.

The new, just-unveiled Wikivoyage site declares: “Welcome to English Wikivoyage. We are currently in a transitional cleanup period in anticipation of a move to the Wikimedia Foundation.”

The Wikimedia Foundation, parent of Wikipedia, agreed to host and support the new global travel wiki, despite opposition, including a lawsuit against volunteers, from Internet Brands, which owns rival Wikitravel.

The details of a move to the Wikimedia Foundation’s hosting of the site and providing other technical support are being worked out, and an online poll is under way to solicit sentiment on whether the name Wikivoyage should be retained.

Creative Commons license

Since all of the travel guide content was created under a Creative Commons license, the Wikivoyage volunteers basically ported and cleaned up the guides and photos from Internet Brands’ commercial Wikitravel to launch the advertising-free Wikivoyage.

Internet Brands filed a lawsuit over the issue last month, alleging that its intellectual property, including its Wikitravel trademarks, were illegally used by Wikimedia community/Wikitravel volunteers to persuade other volunteers and administrators to join the rebel effort. The Wikimedia Foundation, which wasn’t cited as a defendant but is feeling the heat, nonetheless, filed its own suit and vowed that the Internet Brands litigation wouldn’t slow its efforts to support a new global travel wiki.

The homepage today of the new Wikivoyage features San Francisco as the destination of the month, and Staraya Russa, Russia, as a worthy “off the beaten path” locale.

The content itself — the writings and images in the the various 26,500 travel guides — are virtually identical to what you can find on Wikitravel since they were both created under the Creative Commons license.

The Wikimedia community voted overwhelmingly last month to create the new global travel wiki, arguing that Internet Brands’ use of advertising was anathema to wiki ideals, and that the company, which also owns sites such as FlyerTalk and Cruisemates, wasn’t providing enough technical upkeep for Wikitravel.

Internet Brands, meanwhile, unsuccessfully proposed partnering with the Wikimedia Foundation on the effort and argued that a breakaway travel wiki would unfairly leverage the millions of dollars of investment that Internet Brands put into Wikitravel.

Not a guidebook killer

In the months leading up to the launch of the new Wikivoyage English-language travel wiki, there has been much buzz about the effort because Wikipedia is such an impactful wiki, frequently appearing near the top of Google search results.

Wikivoyage and all its hoped-for SEO juice could be a challenge for other travel guide publishers, from LonelyPlanet and Fodor’s, to Rough Guides and Frommer’s, with the latter recently being acquired by Google.

But Wikivoyage’s destination guides, while full of detail and pertinent information, lack a certain life to them. For example, here is Wikivoyage’s opening paragraph about San Francisco:

San Francisco is a major city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. These are only a few of the aspects of the city that make San Francisco one of the most visited cities in the world.

And, here’s LonelyPlanet’s opening about San Francisco:

Grab your coat and a handful of glitter, and enter the land of fog and fabulousness. So long, inhibitions; hello, San Francisco…

Consider permission permanently granted to step up, strip down and go too far: other towns may surprise you, but in San Francisco you will surprise yourself. Good times and social revolutions tend to start here, from manic Gold Rushes to blissful hippie Be-Ins. If there’s a skateboard move yet to be busted, a technology still unimagined, a poem left unspoken or a green scheme untested, chances are it’s about to happen here. Yes, right now: this town has lost almost everything in earthquakes and dot-com gambles, but never its nerve.

Which description — Wikivoyage’s or LonelyPlanet’s — would spur travelers to keep reading and discover more?

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