Wikitravel has not in the past had any significant problem with sock puppets, especially as we are open enough to ignore them, and because we do not employ majority rule anywhere on site.
Unfortunately, we are having a rather novel problem right now, not with necessarily a single user running multiple accounts, but rather a business running multiple accounts, for the ostensible purpose of advertising and spam. These accounts also make some good proofreading edits (although they all make the same mistakes with proper nouns), but their userpages attempt to mimic that of an actual traveler, plus loads of links to the business' site.
This strikes me as something we should not simply tolerate, despite our wide leniency with policy violations within userspace. I favor a policy where we blank user pages belonging to one business that are being used for the purpose of spam and advertising. --PeterTalk 01:01, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
How do you tell if an account is a sock-puppet? How will your proposed change stop and large organisation from asking each of their employees to create a userpage with a link? We need to get our user page policy back under control. Travel related. Personal details. No links to commercial operators. No bona-fide contributor is disadvantaged by this. --Inas 01:15, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
In short, we can't tell very easily, just as sure as we have limited means to tell whether people are plagiarizing in their contributions. But at a certain point we can be pretty sure—in this one case the business account itself has stated that it has multiple accounts (it claims for multiple users), and each is using its userpage as advertisement.
And to clarify, it should stop a large organization from having all its employees create accounts for advertising, because that is exactly what this policy is targeted at. I would encourage you to re-start the general discussion on what we allow in userspace, since there are obvious disagreements and uncertainty about where we are on that point. But do you support the policy here as I have outlined it? --PeterTalk 01:35, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
Mm, this is tricky. Banning all "commercial" links is too much — we should encourage companies like HotelsCombined and User:WineCountryInn to contribute positively, and their user page is the one place where they can freely identify and/or link to themselves. I'm not sure I really have a problem even with MiamiMadness etc using links on their homepages, as long as they're also contributing -- it only becomes spam when you put links and don't give anything useful in return. Jpatokal 01:29, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
I'm absolutely not proposing that we ban all commercial links in userspace. I'm not proposing that we so much as discourage touting in userspace. This proposal is very limited: when one business is abusing our userspace policies by creating multiple accounts for the purpose of advertising, then we blank those additional userpages. --PeterTalk 01:35, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
Do I support the policy? I don't object to it, but I see little benefit in it. Firstly I think separate users, even from a single employer, should be encouraged to have their own accounts. Secondly, if we essentially allow unlimited advertising and links on all userpages, then attempting to reduce this by eliminating multiple userpages for one business would have little overall benefit to Wikitravel currently, it is such a small part of the overall volume of userpage advertising. --Inas 01:57, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
Fair enough. My main goal is to get this policy started with something rather uncontentious and of little consequence, so we have some policy basis for dealing with potential future problems related to sock puppets. --PeterTalk 03:30, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
I think it's a necessary step. The problem with User:HotelsCombined, User:MiamiMadness, User:ChicagoChica, and User:SanFranciscoGirl wasn't that they work for a commercial enterprise — it's that they were the same person. If one person is contributing, fair enough, she can have commercial links on her user page to her business. But if one person is contributing and she has seventeen user names and user pages with commercial links to her business, that's not OK, and that's what this policy is for. In this case, there was reason to believe those four accounts were being run by the same individual — certainly the latter three, at least
Also, on a basic level — and hopefully, this will never be an issue — this policy would be a necessary supplement to Wikitravel:User ban nominations. If we ever had to ban a user — say, for a mandatory one-month wiki-break — and that user showed up the next day with a different username and the same problematic behavior patterns — we need the common sense statement that that's not allowed. Gorilla Jones 01:00, 2 April 2009 (EDT)
I Think there's more to this than meets the eye, and I investigated this a bit, and found; (copied in from User talk:HotelsCombined ->) my best guess is that Hotelscombined.com have leveraged on their (quite massive) affiliate program, and decided to do a bit of testing of wikitravel, as a proving ground for receiving inbound links from web 2.0 sites - asking some affiliates to sign up here, do enough small grammar edits throughout a city or region, that someone get interested in the user, and check out their userpage. Hotelscombined then checks the referrer pages of inbound users on the site, paying? these affiliates a set percentage of final sales achieved through this method.
Interestingly this should say something about the sheer google power we actually leverage around here, and based on my own meandering experience, wikitravel has gained a +1 notch in our google ranking sometime in the last few months, so my hunch would be we're going to have to deal with commercial contributors ever more often - which in my head translates into; we better be ready for 'em.
My suggestion would be to allow a link per company in user space, and either encourage or require other contributors from the same entity to state their affiliation in plain text. --Stefan (sertmann) Talk 23:29, 31 March 2009 (EDT)
A not unrelated case is Offbeat Guides, which uses Wikitravel content in their printed guides and pays people to trawl through Wikitravel editing them for spelling and grammar (good) and making Wikitravel articles format properly on their cruddy engine, often at the expense of "fixing" articles to use American spelling, Fahrenheit, removing empty headers, listings etc (bad). User:MarinaK and User:Candacedriskell are known offbeaters, and I'm fairly sure User:Amitac is one also. Unlike HotelsCombined, they try to maintain a low profile and don't spam, but their edits are still not always beneficial to Wikitravel the site... Jpatokal 03:24, 1 April 2009 (EDT)