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Wikitravel:CIA World Factbook 2002 import

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When Wikitravel first started in July 2003, it seemed like a good idea to get a jump start on the geographical hierarchy by importing country data from the CIA World Factbook. The Factbook is public domain content -- created by US Government employees -- so it is compatible with our copyleft.

Scripts were written, tests were done, and eventually the entire factbook was slurped into the system. A special user, CIAWorldFactbook2002, was created to do the imports, so we could track copyright information or lack thereof.

The result was about 250 professional-looking pages, with sections containing the vital statistics of countries around the world (as well as some teensy-weensy uninhabited islands and other strange beasts). People coming to Wikitravel for the first time could see that we had content, and begin working with it.

There were a few big problems with the factbook imports, though:

  1. Data in the factbook import articles was developed by people mostly interested in invading those countries, not in visiting them. Consequently, the emphasis is on politics and economy, not on travel information. So, although the articles look flashy, they don't contain a lot of essential info for travelers.
  2. The factbook articles don't look anything like our country article template, and don't match our manual of style. They stick out like a sore thumb from other articles on Wikitravel.
  3. The factbook articles look too imposing for contributors to edit. After all, the facts on there are pretty quantitative -- who can correct the info on the highest point in Nepal, for example? And they seem pretty complete. Which they are, in fact: those CIA guys don't get the big bucks for nothing. They do their research. They just don't worry so much about travel. So that's when we come in!
  4. When people do edit the articles, they copy what they see. They assume that our preferred country article format is a huge list of minutia about drug smuggling and sugar cane production, and they add to that data. People's natural tendency to share what they know gets caught up in factbook-y rigamarole.

For all these reasons, it was necessary to de-factbook articles. Priority was given to articles that had already been edited, figuring that those were the ones where the factbook info was getting in the way of real content. Highest priority went to country pages that were particularly popular. There was a page for remarking on pages that needed to be de-factbookized, called Wikitravel:Factbook imports needing attention.

But that's all done with now; the factbookectomy was completed on 5 June 2006. Even for the little rocks in the Pacific Ocean where you can't go without permission from Uncle Sam. Because someone in theory could go there, and some of the rest of us might at least be curious to see whether we could. The last article to be converted was for Djibouti, which for whatever reason came up at the bottom of the list when searching for "cia world factbook" in the text of destination articles.

The factbook imports are still out there, of course. They exist in the edit history of every country/territory article.

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