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Tech talk:Enable rel="nofollow"

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Response from Tech[edit]

Eight months ago, this was a top priority for tech, and we were working to get it done in staging. About that same time, Matt Cutts announced Google's change in the way they handle nofollow links [1], and we paused the project to see exactly how things flushed out. Almost all SEO experts have recommended (still) to not make any changes to nofollows on your site, including Matt Cutts himself [2].

We recently circled back on this topic and re-evaluated it. We've decided that external nofollows do very little to deter spam, as seen from the amazing amount of spam that is used on twitter (which nofollows all external links), and case studies that we've performed on some of our large forums sites. While we believe that the risk associated to adding nofollows is minimal, there is still risk associated with it, and if we don't believe that this will effectively limit spam, then it's not worth that risk.

Our final reason for not adding the nofollow at this time is that it's contrary to the theory of being a good "net neighbor". If someone has a good external resource, they deserve the benefit of being linked to from this site. One reason that this site has done so well is because many people have found it useful and linked to it. We should not deny that opportunity to other websites who offer valuable resources.

We do understand the importance of minimizing spam on the site and making spam management as easy as possible for the administrators. We are looking at some other methods of deterring spam, including this one: [3].

Sometimes I'm a little startled at how little you guys know about our policies. We are already "bad neighboors" so to speak, and have been so nearly since Wikitravels inception. Someone may have "a good external resource", but thanks to our External links policy, external resources are banned on Wikitravel. And the sites we do link to, such as hotel and museum websites, never links back to Wikitravel. So that argument is pretty much moot.
The twitter argument makes much more sense, but I think us involved in the daily management has overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary. The problem is not the spam you find on your large forum based sites for viagra, cialis and what not, the problem is hotel chains and other entities in that ballpark, who employs clueless SEO companies, which uses Wikitravel in their standard palette of search ranking weapons, since we pass "good link juice". It is painfully obvious from their additions, that they are only interested in "sneaking" in the link, not to make listings which attracts customers in itself. This occurs daily, and is in fact one of the, if not the largest issue, in the daily management of this site.
And to quote Matt Cutts, from your own link "The best time to use no follow, is when you have links to external sites, that you can't really vouch for, or you don't really trust. So, a good couple of examples; if you have a forum or a blog where people can drop links, 3rd parties, and you haven't really vouched or vented those sites... those can be an area where you can use the no follow tag." I think that scenario fits Wikitravel spot on. sertmann 17:25, 18 February 2010 (EST)
Absolutely. From that post, Cutts' recommendations to avoid nofollow apply to sites that are trying to optimize PageRank for their own purposes, not at all directed toward sites trying to cut down on PageRank hangers-on. And I'm not clear on how that "anti-spam" extension is supposed to help. That said, IB raises a good point that we don't want to deny PageRank to actual good links that we have vetted, do we? LtPowers 19:24, 18 February 2010 (EST)
I do, yes.... i want the only incentive to add a listing to WT to be that a traveler likes it and wants to tell another traveler about it.... opening up other perks isn't necessary and opens a door that doesn't need opening – cacahuate talk 14:50, 22 February 2010 (EST)
But that fact, that a traveler likes it, should be reflected in the destination's pagerank. LtPowers 09:33, 23 February 2010 (EST)
I'm inclined to agree with LtPowers. Would it be possible, though, to enable nofollow only for certain namespaces? If we could disable them from all talk namespaces: talk, Wikitravel talk, Wikitravel Shared talk, Image talk, User talk, etc., that would be enormously helpful.
For a list of namespaces, see en:Special:Allpages and click the dropdown menu. The namespaces are identical for all language versions (at least the vast majority of them), except Shared, which uses "Wikitravel Shared talk" instead of "Wikitravel talk". --Peter Talk 13:01, 23 February 2010 (EST)
OK, since there is internal disagreement this should obviously put on the backburner.
But i'd also I find that immensely frustrating and discouraging. I think you two have way too high thoughts about Wikitravel. I'd venture 2/3'rds of urls on wikitravel are there not because travellers like them, but because someone related to the restaurant, hotel, tour agency etc. put them there either to help on their page rank or to attract business directly from Wikitravel, not because travellers found them good or useful - how you guys can claim otherwise, knowing the site as well as you do, completely baffles me. Userspace spam is next to no problem, compared to the SEO companies and business owners wrecking havoc on Wikitravels good name every single day, in the holy name of Google. I think in this light, I'd be inclined to stop doing daily patrols, since probably the strongest tool against SEO companies have just been thrown off the table by the community itself, rather than our unhelpful owner. Sucks sertmann 13:34, 23 February 2010 (EST)
Jeez, bitter much? I'm not throwing anything off the table; I just pointed out that IB's representative had a good point. How do other wikis handle this disparity between linking to useful sites and becoming a SEO's dream? LtPowers 14:09, 23 February 2010 (EST)
Yes, this, combined with Internet Brands other responses to tech issues, and their completely lack of respect for the community, has pretty much left me completely disillusioned about the hopes for this site. To get IB's decision above reconsidered would have required a united community, and so my hopes for a reconsideration are pretty much shattered now. So I think I'll take my good clothes and leave. I may be back in some months or years into the future if the energy returns, but for now, I think i'll just bid you farewell and good luck. sertmann 14:26, 23 February 2010 (EST)
I completely understand your frustration, but I'd prefer to just take this discussion elsewhere? The tech request was filed before we really had a discussion about it, and I'm certainly not closed to the idea of enabling nofollow—I just haven't really grappled with the issues at hand, and think it's possible that we may have better channels to deal with the business owner problem, which we are discussing at en:Wikitravel:Welcome, business owners. (And best to just ignore LtPowers' pointless abuse...) Anyway, I hope you're back soon, as you are really needed here. --Peter Talk 14:32, 23 February 2010 (EST)
"Pointless abuse"? Lovely. My comment on his bitterness may have been intemperate, but to be fair, I was stunned by his very angry screed, which basically accused me (and you) of wrecking the only thing keeping him going on Wikitravel. If expressing reservations equates to throwing an option off the table, there's more wrong here than IB's current opposition to enabling nofollow. LtPowers 16:50, 23 February 2010 (EST)

Beggars belief really, that we could be our own worst enemy on this. The discussion at en:Wikitravel:Welcome, business owners has been going nowhere for months, with even the best suggestions will have little effect. This tech request has been well known to all for quite a while, and the comments made by IB are really really obvious. I'm sure we didn't need someone from IB to tell us that adding nofollow would remove SEO benefits from both the good as well as the bad - and now we decide to debate it? --Inas 17:35, 23 February 2010 (EST)

It really seems like a non-issue to me.... we've only ever been in the business of writing travel guides, not helping people grow their businesses through google rankings or otherwise.... it's quite simply not our problem and would serve to keep our guides much cleaner and single-purposed – cacahuate talk 19:45, 23 February 2010 (EST)
It clearly would help dampen the addition of unhelpful listings by business owners and marketers, but surely we benefit from having links to our site from sites like Wikipedia? Speaking of whom, which other wikis enable this feature? I realize that "being a good net neighbor" in this sense is far more problematic for an anyone-can-edit wiki than for the average site. --Peter Talk 21:53, 23 February 2010 (EST)
For one, Wikipedia itself applies nofollow to external links — the English-language site was flipped over at the beginning of 2007 [4]. Most other languages had already converted during 2006. -- D. Guillaime 22:20, 23 February 2010 (EST)
Rested and a bit more clear headed, my decision still stands, but a bit more thorough explanation may be in order; My work here increasingly seems like a dull corporate job under poor management. Our own lenient stance on business owners - which to me at least - seems like vultures hacking away on a live corpse, or more specifically our credibility, with our own blessing even, makes patrolling and keeping this site clean seem more and more pointless.
Knowing this consensus is near impossible to change drastically, the enabling rel=no-follow was something I had really pinned my hopes on, for a bettering of the situation, since it would at least have an affect on the SEO companies which constitute a large portion of the problem. Seeing that hope shattered first by IB, and then by the community, basically removed all hopes I had for an improvement of the situation. It's not something down to one or two persons or even IB alone. Although having an owner who is not only indifferent to us, but now even actively working against our development, only increases the frustration.
Add the rejection of common.js which would have allowed at least the possibility to make reversions by touts and SEO companies an easy, quick and less tedious task, and I just really don't see any hopes for improvement on the horizon. The SimpleSpam solution outlined by IB above, are not going to help us much, as the type of spam this would alleviate, is the least of problems on this front.
Besides I really don't understand the opposition, the Wikimedia foundation websites uses it, Wordpress, Wikia, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Slashdot and even Google's own YouTube uses it for all external links. The good sites that would benefit from do-follow links, are already banned by our policies, so, no one would get hurt by this decision. Google themselves encourages it use for sections of websites where people are able to freely drop links, which is exactly the case on Wikitravel.
In any case, sorry for the dramas, best of luck to you. User:Sertmann 13:10, 24 February 2010 (ES
Well, consider my opposition dropped anyway, and I'm regretting jumping into this without having known that much about it—so I've benefited from this discussion if no one else has. If WP has decided that this is appropriate, then certainly it would be for us too, since we have a much bigger problem from business touts than WP ever will.
Reading back over Dick's comment, it seems he thinks that IB has made the decision, and that's final? If IB has forgotten that the community (which actually knows anything about this site or what is involved in running a wiki) runs Wikitravel, and that it is the only reason that Wikitravel has been successful at all (in spite of IB negligence), then that is the real problem. And one that we are going to need to address. --Peter Talk 13:31, 24 February 2010 (EST)
This makes me bloody furious. I completely understand Stefan's frustration being one of the small handful, who like him, spend significant numbers of hours removing spam placed at Wikitravel by SEO consultants. Making links no follow (bar those allowed on our leftbar) is a complete no-brainer, and I have nothing to add that has not already been said.
I would though like to ask some open questions to IB. This is directed to the stakeholders of the company. Do you not realise how many hundreds of hours are put in by the community keeping the Wikitravel content in order? Your asset, the website, would be nigh on worthless without that work. Within weeks of the housekeeping work carried out by the community stopping, your AdSense revenue would shrivel as the site disintegrated into a mass of worthless spam. As fast as the spam arrived, users would leave. As a business owner myself, I find it quite extraordinary that you cannot see that danger to your income stream, and rather than doing your best to help the Wikitravel community keep your website in order, you just say NO to every request made for assistance. This should be a business decision by IB, not one made by the technical support tickets department. Please wake up before it is too late.--Burmesedays 21:09, 24 February 2010 (EST)

I rarely agree with IB, but in this case, I think they do have a point: I'm not sure nofollow makes any difference at all. Wikipedia gets hit with massive amounts of spam despite them, and I don't think the spammers really care.

Incidentally, while Wikipedia applies nofollow to external links, WP's Wikitravel templates use interwiki links, which do not use nofollow. Jpatokal 02:20, 25 February 2010 (EST)

Jani, I think you may be underestimating both the sophistication of SEO consultants, and the amount of spam which is dropped at Wikitravel by such folks. I can spot it immediately when patrolling - the emphasis on anchor text (even out of context) etc. A bang on topic PR4 link-back is manna from heaven to these guys. Of course no follow links will not stop spam. It will though reduce the quantity, as the SEO boys realise there is zero benefit from spamming Wikitravel. This will make the thankless daily tasks undertaken by Stefan, myself and a few others, less burdensome. How can that not be desirable? --Burmesedays 02:51, 25 February 2010 (EST)
The links above, where SEO specialists are directed to our site because it passes good google juice, would surely disappear. Adding nofollow does not harm, and can do only good to our site. Noone is suggesting it is a silver bullet to spammers, there isn't one. We should support the people who patrol here. As Burmesedays says, it is a largely thankless task, and there aren't an unlimited supply of them. --Inas 04:52, 25 February 2010 (EST)
I so far refrained from participating in this discussion because my feeling is that IB cares a shit about the community as long as the revenue cames. It's a typical american business approach that you handle problems when they occur but not before. I'm one of the guys who currently patrol and backlist on a daily basis and can fully understand Stefan's frustration. I will stop patrolling, too if there is not a change in policy about SEO's. Inas linked this discussion and otherwise i would have asked already in WT en about how we can get tough on SEO's. I have nothing against business owners/tourism porfessionals that participate here and some do a good work but the shear amount of spam is increasing and sooner or later good contributors will stop. Jc8136 05:40, 25 February 2010 (EST)
"Just a quick tip for all you hotel managers to use (Wikitravel) to increase your SEO ratings. Not an end in itself, but in the google ranking “war”, no small effort can be left out. [5]
"none of the official wiki sites pass link juice, but wikitravel does" [6]
Oh, and Matt Cutts thinks wikitravel already uses no-follow; "If you are trying to get an SEO benefit, those sites are no-follow" [7]
Sorry to rip up in this, the first link showed up numerus times on twitter today, and made me kinda pissed. sertmann 17:06, 23 March 2010 (EDT)
Thank you Stefan. It is downright embarrassing that Wikitravel is such a soft target and being tweeted as such. Almost as depressing as the usual silence from IB recently. A response to this latest post is in order I think.--Burmesedays 23:10, 23 March 2010 (EDT)
We have not changed our view on this issue and believe that enabling this function risks having significant consequences for our site’s search traffic. We also sincerely believe that it will not help to reduce spam. We understand the notion that having links being follow-able could be read by uninformed spammers as a chance to spam but we think that ultimately the real spammers know that these posts get deleted off the site and are no longer seizing this as an opportunity to post junk.
That being said, we don't ever want to be accused of trying to generate spam clicks . We want to support the community’s efforts and if the community feels that this will greatly reduce its work load and improve the site-we will enable” no follow” as requested
Please be patient as this will take a little time to implement.
Thank you. Ibsteph 16:53, 26 March 2010 (PDT)
Hi Steph - first, I've spent the last twelve years doing web application development including a significant amount of SEO, and I'm not sure how a rel="nofollow" could possibly affect search traffic to Wikitravel, so could you clarify that point? Second, as others have pointed out, this issue is less about automated spambots than it is about "spam" from SEO companies and others who are using Wikitravel solely to boost their own search rankings [8]. Others have made these same arguments, but as a community the workload required to patrol every edit and remove links that don't meet the standards set in our guidelines is becoming excessive, especially as SEO companies now promote using Wikitravel to their clients. I can only re-iterate that much of the value of Wikitravel goes away without people willing to patrol edits and clean up the guidess, so continuing to deny them a potentially valuable tool is extremely frustrating we appreciate any actions you can take to make that job easier. -- Ryan 20:49, 26 March 2010 (EDT)
Steph, thank you for agreeing to enable the feature despite the hesitation, we do appreciate the honoring of the communities wishes – cacahuate talk 20:57, 26 March 2010 (EDT)
Steph thank you and the IB team so much for this response, and I truly look forward to seeing it implemented.--Burmesedays 22:52, 26 March 2010 (EDT)
Update: this is being worked on and should almost be done- I will be out of the office until Monday as of tomorrow but will check in on this next Monday- Thanks steph 10:54 am, April 6 2010 (PST)
This has been enabled everyone! -Thanks and see you next week!---steph 5:15 pm April 7 2010 (PST)
Brilliant! And thanks very much Steph.--Burmesedays 21:09, 6 April 2010 (EDT)

Thanks for implementing this... however, it still seems that listing tags need nofollow if that's not too much trouble. See for example:

Test, [9]. Link should be nofollow  edit

-- Ryan 21:50, 6 April 2010 (EDT)

Listings are where we really need this. Any links inside a listing template, be it <listing name>, <eat name>, <drink name>, <sleep name>, etc must be marked no follow otherwise this initiative will have negligible effect. Please advise Steph. --Burmesedays 22:19, 6 April 2010 (EDT)

I am not seeing this implemented anywhere on the site Steph. Seems to working outside listing tags only. Please investigate and explain. Thanks.--Burmesedays 09:18, 8 April 2010 (EDT)

This falls into the bug category and was not intended with implementation. I have escalated in the tech queue and they are now troubleshooting. As soon we know more we will post an update. Brentconver 16:35, 9 April 2010 (EDT)
Thanks Brent. Very much appreciated. Please inform us just as soon as. --Burmesedays 22:14, 9 April 2010 (EDT)
Hi guys, this has now been fixed! I was out of the office the latter part of last week that's why you didn't see any other replies from me--Ibsteph
I don't think so Steph. I have just checked five random articles, and the situation is identical - all links inside listing templates are not marked as no follow. Please check again and let us know what is going on. Thanks very much. --Burmesedays 23:14, 13 April 2010 (EDT)
Did you try refreshing the pages before checking for rel="nofollow"? I had to do that to en:Rochester (New York) before I saw the change. LtPowers 08:39, 14 April 2010 (EDT)
Ah!. Purging cache for each article seems to have done the trick. Many thanks for the pointer LtPowers. Steph, all seems to be well, it is the lagging cache servers causing the issue. This will right itself over time I guess.--Burmesedays 10:10, 14 April 2010 (EDT)

Many thanks to the IB folks for making this change. Patrolling articles is a fairly thankless task, so any little bit that can be done to make it easier is much appreciated. -- Ryan 16:07, 15 April 2010 (EDT)

It's not much, but even small things count sometimes. sertmann 10:45, 22 April 2010 (EDT)

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