Wikitravails
September 5, 2012 10:58 PM   Subscribe

Wikitravel.org is sort of like a Wikipedia for travel information. It's a for-profit service supported by banner ads. In a recent RfC over at Wikimedia - the non-profit that runs Wikipedia and other projects - it was decided to start a new Wiki-based travel project. Meanwhile at least 38 of 48 the volunteer admins at Wikitravel.org said they would jump ship and join a new Wikimedia travel site (travel.wikimedia.org). The owners of Wikitravel, Internet Brands, have responded by issuing law suits against two of its admins in a possible bid to intimidate the creation of a Wikimedia travel site. Wikimedia is counter-suing and supporting the legal defense against the two admins.
posted by stbalbach (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
What is IB suing for/about? I can't find that information...
posted by hattifattener at 11:11 PM on September 5, 2012


".org ... a for-profit service"

It goes wrong right there (and pretty much guarantees the owners will be guilty of maximum assholery)
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:16 PM on September 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Step one in keeping a volunteer community on board is not to start suing contributors and admins, especially Free Culture/Wikimedia types.

They've stung a community in a way that they are most sensitive about, and in a way that is certainly easy to portray as an attempt to prevent freedom to contribute to Wikimedia. Even if there wasn't a fork before, there would be now. Whatever the merits of the case[1] they are dead in the water, and like Oracle's open source stuff they killed their own baby.

[1] and as hattifattener points out, there's no information beyond Wikimedia heavily implying the IB case is a hodgepodge of dubious claims...but they would say that.
posted by jaduncan at 11:20 PM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem is that .orgs aren't reserved for organizations.

Likewise, .net should be for ISPs, .com for businesses, .gov for governments (US shouldn't have the .gov monopoly!) et cetera. There's no point to TLDs if they don't mean anything.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:21 PM on September 5, 2012


Huh...and I had just pulled a bunch of info from that site for a recent trip too. It actually had some awesome resources...
posted by Chekhovian at 11:24 PM on September 5, 2012


Wow, I had no idea wikitravel was for-profit!
posted by lunasol at 11:40 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


AFAICT, the suit papers aren't public yet.

Internet Brands has form for this sort of thing though. IB bought the company behind vBulletin (fairly famous forum hosting software), pissed off most of the developers*, and they left. Several of the key developers then went on to write XenForo, basically new commercial forum software.

Before it was even released, IB sued them for copyright infringement, breach of contract, engaging in unfair business practices, breach of the computer fraud act.

The admins there claim that the code is their own, done in an new way from vB; IB claimed that the xenforo devs "unfairly stand on the shoulders of more than a decade of development" that they acquired when they bought the vB company. IB have kept screwing around in the cases, changing the claims and adding witnesses - it started in 2010 and I believe is still far from finished. They have one case going in the UK, another in the US.

* IB changed the pricing setup for vB when they bought it, and basically told existing permanent licence purchasers they had to pay up again - those that complained on the official forums got banned, and thus blocked from the updates they'd already paid for.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:41 PM on September 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


It seems like Wikimedia wants to run the travel site along the lines of the other projects, meaning that the travel section will be facts-based. So it will be useful for finding out how to get there and getting around, but will tell me nothing about the feel of the place. I.e. it will tell me "the Museum of Natural History is open weekdays from 8-20, and the entrance fee is CUR 1", but nothing about wether the museum is a dusty old place filled with moth-eaten stuffed animals or an welcoming and interesting modern museum with carefully curated exhibits.

Both types of information have its places of course, but the bare facts can usually be found in more updated form on the local tourist board site, and getting the feel for a place usually entails reading opiniated blog posts, forums and travel guides.

Usually when we go somewhere, and we travel quite a bit, I spend hours trawling forums and AskMe first. Then five minutes to check ferries or airlines.

So I wonder whether the usefulness of such a project is limited.
posted by Harald74 at 11:42 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's no point to TLDs if they don't mean anything.

Yes, but it's a little late to go unscrambling that particular egg. The ambiguity between ccTLDs and gTLDs was bad enough to begin with, and the addition of all the idiotic new gTLDs like .biz and .info basically turns the whole thing into Borges' Chinese encyclopedia if you consider it an honest attempt at taxonomy. Better to just think of it as a rather ramshackle and meaningless way of extending the namespace.

Though now I'm kind of tempted to try to set up .thosethattrembleasiftheyweremad and .etcetera
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:53 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


More info (and an incorrect prediction).
posted by unliteral at 11:54 PM on September 5, 2012


I wonder whether the usefulness of such a project

According to the RfC, the content policy would mirror Wikitravel.org, which itself mirrors the 5 pillars of Wikimedia. Say whatever so long it's sourced and reliable.
posted by stbalbach at 11:58 PM on September 5, 2012


I used to be an admin on WikiTravel, back in the very early days. It was co-founded by Evan Prodromou, whom I vaguely knew from the Crackmonkey mailing list. I spent some time working on Mexico-related articles there, but it didn't quite take off, and I stopped editing (and was de-admined half a year later, with my agreement).

It was all very much in the spirit of being open and free back then, but it seems Evan and Maj sold the site to "Internet Brands" in 2006, and they don't seem to be all that dedicated to that original ideal.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:58 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile at least 38 of 48 the volunteer admins at Wikitravel.org said they would jump ship and join a new Wikimedia travel site (travel.wikimedia.org).

This is the key bit for me. If 38+ of 48 volunteer admins jump ship that suggests to me that Wikitravel.org is a toxic place to be a volunteer.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:02 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Harald74: "It seems like Wikimedia wants to run the travel site along the lines of the other projects, meaning that the travel section will be facts-based. So it will be useful for finding out how to get there and getting around, but will tell me nothing about the feel of the place."

The article for my area read like a puff piece. It said that area drivers are kind and considerate, there's no crime, and a smile goes a long way.

In my experience, the area does not have a tradition of respecting bicyclists and pedestrians, and there are people who think anyone not in a car is a tourist from away and therefore fair game for swerving at or throwing bottles.

The standard for 'feel' in articles is problematic. On one hand, you've got locals who want to make their town look good, hence the puff piece, which is good for business.
On the other hand, some communities have real problems, neighborhoods you should not venture into, et cetera. Should tourists on a bicycle trip be warned that their trip could end up a la Easy Rider with a '93 Sunfire instead of a shotgun?
posted by dunkadunc at 12:10 AM on September 6, 2012


Volunteers at a for-profit enterprise just seems wrong to me. If the people who are doing the work aren't getting the money . . .
posted by that girl at 12:26 AM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


The other 10 volunteers couldn't be reached for comment, I bet.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:51 AM on September 6, 2012


I used to edit a fair amount on Wikitravel, and as Joakim Ziegler says it had a great feel when Evan and Maj started it. Once IB took over, it went downhill. I'm surprised it took this long for a jump to Wikimedia to get started. But IIRC, in the early days of Wikitravel the licenses weren't quite compatible.
posted by Gotanda at 1:30 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Volunteers at a for-profit enterprise just seems wrong to me. If the people who are doing the work aren't getting the money . . ."

Well, you are saying it on a for-profit enterprise. It all sort of works when volunteers have warm fuzzy feelings about being able to provide the proprietor with a living, the proprietor doesn't act like a dick, and the service is inherently rewarding.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:19 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would use a travel.wikimedia.org SO HARD.

It is completely impossible to set up a trip anywhere without being crammed full of the most nonsensical commercial bullshytte.
posted by DU at 5:25 AM on September 6, 2012


I foresee a wiki vandalism epidemic the likes of which god has never seen. You could replace volunteer admins with paid admins, but volunteer wikignomes cannot realistically be replaced. I've heard that lesbian pornography is the fastest growing industry in Croatia and Germany is moving it's capital to Munich.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:13 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The content on WikiTravel is terrible. I've tried using it when travelling around Europe and it's just awful. There's just not enough density of content. Also no consistent editorial style. And no consistent travel level. So you get a mix of articles written by locals, backpackers, and high end luxury tourists all jumbled up unevenly. It's useless.

It'd be nice to see Wikimedia take a shot at travel data. The problem is the travel sites are so valuable, with all these magical ad-stuffed keywords, that every travel site is entirely profit focussed. Wikimedia's no-ads stance continues to baffle me but it'd be the exact right thing for an uncorrupted travel site.
posted by Nelson at 7:36 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


strangely stunted trees: "Though now I'm kind of tempted to try to set up .thosethattrembleasiftheyweremad and .etcetera"

I agree that the ship has sailed on TLDs having strict meaning, though I'll add that I actually think a ".etc" TLD would be awesome. Much better than the godawful ones they've been approving, from the overly cutesy ".biz", to the problematic "sponsored" domains like ".aero" and the very niche ".museum". It wouldn't even be as annoyingly Anglocentric as the others!

<rant>
Seriously, on behalf of the English-speaking tech world, I apologize for our repeated, continuing, and egregious disregard of internationalization.

I mean for crying out loud, I graduated with a computer science degree in 2003 and had never even heard of Unicode. The overwhelming focus was on data structures, graph theory, algorithms, and system architecture; I'm sure most of my professors considered text processing pedestrian and unworthy of academic discussion by contrast (except at highly-abstract levels involving machine learning).

It's just negligent, in my opinion. I understand that universities don't want to turn into trade schools, but internationalization is important and interesting!
</rant>

posted by Riki tiki at 11:20 AM on September 6, 2012


I agree that the ship has sailed on TLDs having strict meaning

by the early to mid 90s, once the commercial restriction on use of the ARPA backbone lifted and private network providers were handling most of the traffic it wasn't relevant if you were an actual org or com anymore. The verification of gov and mil may have lasted longer.
posted by stbalbach at 11:32 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think Wikitravel was for-profit until after it got bought by Internet Brands, so at least when the domain was purchased .org was appropriate.
posted by ckape at 11:52 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to the RfC, the content policy would mirror Wikitravel.org, which itself mirrors the 5 pillars of Wikimedia. Say whatever so long it's sourced and reliable.

But how would you verify the accuracy of something that was experienced first-hand (in other words, a primary source), which is how just about every reputable guidebook is written? Part of the whole point of a travel guide, be it in paper or in digital form, is that it gives you a feel for a particular locale. A list of restaurants, museums, hotels and shops with addresses and hours of operation does not a travel guide make.
posted by armage at 9:26 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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