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New Monetization Effort II

I'd like to open this discussion back up. We have an opportunity to bring significant development resources online here at Wikitravel. Our lead tech IB-Dick and I have already written over in the Pub about timeouts and the need for some site downtime to relieve some caching issues, as well as providing the infrastructure for a Wiki software update down the road. Revisiting the booking tool is something these dev resources will be dedicated to as well, and I want to bring them up to speed on what we have discussed with the community so far.--IBobi 19:48, 6 June 2011 (EDT)

The comments and suggestions posted on the original discussion thread are very much appreciated. While we cannot accommodate everything that’s been said (certainly, not pursuing advertising is not an option for us), we want to remain as sensitive as possible to both the Wikitravel community of dedicated contributors and moderators, and to the vast majority of the site’s users, who come here to view and utilize WT’s unique and indispensable content. To that end, I'm hoping to soon have a clearer idea of who our booking engine partner will be and how close the existing mockup will be to the look of the tool. We are looking forward to the value this tool will add for the site’s users, and want to ensure the community that this new feature will be hideable and will interfere with neither the print version (for those who must make use of WT offline) nor with the work of the moderator/contributor who wishes to continue to view the site without advertising.--IBobi 17:59, 9 June 2011 (EDT)
Our next step will be determining who will see/use the first “beta” version of the tool, and for how long before we go live. This is a time period where we will rely on the WT community to let us know what seems to be working, what doesn’t, and how we can add even more value to the site by enhancing the tool in future versions – i.e. what have you always wanted a booking tool to do that we can implement for Wikitravel’s users? What booking features are uniquely suited to the enviably dynamic nature of Wikitravel content? We will be looking to release a beta version of the booking tool in the next 30 days.--IBobi 17:27, 15 June 2011 (EDT)
I'm not that active on Wikitravel anymore, neither is a large portion of the other "old timers" here, hence i suspect the lack of response. For my part, this is mainly due to my own personal perception that Internet Brands have grossly mismanaged the acquisition of Wikitravel. I can't remember any time where talks and promises about focus and resources have been followed up by actual improvements, and since the servers are managed by Internet Brands we don't have the option of doing anything ourselves.
With the exception of some well curated guides, for a large part, Wikitravel has steadily drifted towards being a giant link farm for hotel owners in the past years time. Social content depend on passionate curators to patrol and refine the content added, and IBs (mis)management have alienated the core users who made Wikitravel work. For some, because working for free to drive a company, which they have to part in, profits, just doesn't fly. For others (like myself) because company that benefits from my work has shown no appreciation for my dedication - rather the opposite actually. I realize that from across the table, Wikitravel may not generate the expected ROI, but that is not really my concern.
The fact that Internet Brands, whose main business is web 2.0 and social content, seems to believe that if you just supply the server and pay for the traffic cost, that everything just runs itself, boggles my imagination and shrieks of utter incompetence. The core of this business model should be retaining the curators, because if they disappear, as its happening on Wikitravel and many other IB owned sites, growth stagnates, the good content gets diluted by spamming, which will soon lead to less traffic, less profits, further need for monetization, and there is your perpetual circle.
I care about the idea that is Wikitravel, I just don't care about wikitravel that much any more, but best of luck to you. My best advice would be that you don't upgrade the wiki software "down the road", few of us believe its ever going to happen, but introduce the booking tool along with the newest mediawiki version. Something for something, not something for nothing. sertmann 19:16, 16 June 2011 (EDT)

I certainly hope there is no intent to add the booking tool to the main section of the article. By community consensus, all ads, all non-user-generated content, are restricted to the right sidebar.

To be brief and direct: going ahead with putting said tool in the main article space would very likely kill several other language versions (whose contributors have a hard time following these English-language discussions), and potentially cause a fork of the English version that would remove virtually all contributors here and kill the site. --Peter Talk 03:45, 17 June 2011 (EDT)

Is it really an ad if it's just listing available prices and not tailored to any specific provider? LtPowers 13:49, 17 June 2011 (EDT)
Thank you Sertmann, Peter, and LtPowers. I really appreciate your points of view and your tremendous knowledge of the site, and I know that despite your professed resignation at how WT runs today, I know that the work and passion that you have dedicated to the project says otherwise.
I tend to agree with LtPowers's sentiment on the booking tool. One of the reasons we feel confident in placing the booking engine in the center column is that it is not an "ad" in the banner or AdSense sense. Also, it is as much of a tool for WT's users as it is anything. Yes it will generate some revenue (we hope), but it will, again, only even be visible to those who wish to see it, it will not interfere with the print version, and it will only be used by those Wikitravelers who would like help lining up air and hotel reservations through a top-tier worldwide travel bureau that they would otherwise visit directly anyway. The exact branding of the tool is still under discussion, but there will be no question that this is a tool for users, and in no way does it endorse any specific company represented within the actual content of Wikitravel. It will be separate from content, easily identifiable as "not content," invisible when not wanted or needed, and a useful addition for the Wikitraveler when desired.
I am concerned about this sentiment that WT is becoming a "link farm" for hotel owners, or that putting a booking tool in the center column of the site is somehow going to kill the non-english versions of the site and then the site as a whole. I would like to hear why you feel this way. Being new to Wikitravel, I have tried to acclimate and learn as much as I could; one of the things I have learned in reading so much of what has been discussed over the past 5 years is that dire predictions of the sky falling have never been met with actual disaster. I recently re-read page after page of discussion of when the site was first sold by Evan and Maj to IB, when Evan was trying so desperately to reassure the WT community that no, this was not the end of WT but just a new beginning. I encourage those participating in today's discussions to consider this a beginning as well, rather than a portent of dire consequences to come. The WT site, the WT project is flourishing as never before. The booking engine and the resources to address bugs and feature requests are signs of forward momentum that have not been seen in some time.
As the new community manager for Wikitravel, I cannot change what has happened before I arrived here. And I need your help to best address what needs to be done going forward. I am posting here for two purposes. One is to inform about changes that are already planned; the other is to learn what you, the WT community of content writers and curators, need from IB and how I can best facilitate it. For my part, I have discovered the Top Bugs and Road Map pages, and intend to rely on such locations to guide me as a liaison between the WT community and the technical crew here at IB who can implement them; I have neither the specific Wikitravel knowledge to know what needs to be done (yet) nor the technical skill to implement it. I will do my best to be the necessary bridge between those halves of WT, and I ask your help and patience toward that end.--IBobi 19:52, 20 June 2011 (EDT)
You can debate the semantics all you like, but the effect will be the perception of dramatically increased commercialization of the site. That, and the continued and heightened perception that IB will make changes to this site without community consensus.
From my perspective, there have been real disasters, most visibly on the non-English language versions. It rather seems to me that the Spanish language version, which was once one of our most promising, died directly because of the introduction of ads, and it may have been in the death of various other smaller language vesions. Our German and Italian versions died because of the sale to IB without consulting the community (the fact that Wikivoyage [1] has been successful, and preserved existing WT content on a fork, prevented this from being a complete disaster). Our other language versions are very fragile due to their small regular contributor base, and because they have trouble following everything that goes on here. As far as our flagship English version goes, we have lost enormously talented and productive members because of IB's mismanagement and abuse. It is impossible to quantify the amount of potential casual contributors we have lost due to unfinished bugs, the lack of progress on site development, and perceived commercialization. (And thank goodness that this did not lead to Wikitravel being taken off Wikimedia's interwiki map, as that would have really hurt our PageRank.) Our site has stagnated. From IB's perspective, these things may not seem a disaster, but to me, and presumably to others who have volunteered literally thousands of hours over the years in the pursuit of building an excellent site without financial compensation, this does seem disastrous.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, there is a tipping point at which the primary contributor base will fork the site—regardless of the fact that that would be an obviously sub-optimal outcome—both to escape the use of their hard work for profit-seeking by derelict site hosts, and to reclaim the ability to improve the site architecture.
I have been active on more or less a daily basis for over four years, and have had extensive experience working with contributors both casual and immensely dedicated, both in English and in a dozen other languages, and I think I have a good idea of where the barometer stands. Take that for what you will, as obviously the community has no real control over what IB does with the site. --Peter Talk 17:55, 21 June 2011 (EDT)
I still concur with previous comments that a mock-up of this proposal would help a lot; right now, everyone has their own concept of what this would look like and they probably don't all match. However, I would also say that putting some resources into site development and upgrades before jumping right into monetization efforts would do a lot for goodwill. It looks bad when, after years of being virtually ignored, the first thing that gets presented to us is another way for IB to make money. LtPowers 22:05, 21 June 2011 (EDT)
I think I will stop contributing to and patrolling new edits on Wikitravel completely if anything monetization-related will appear in the central column by default for a newcoming user anywhere except in the end of any of the existing community content. Even if my contribution to the site is not anything close to the top contributors above, that are my 2 cents. --DenisYurkin 01:52, 22 June 2011 (EDT)

Wow, it’s difficult to wade into the middle of this! I have to ask your patience as I orient myself. This has been a contentious situation and there’s a lot of passion surrounding these issues, and I’m trying hard to focus on actual facts and what can be done going forward, rather than innuendo and fear and what has come before.

Lt., the last mockup posted is still the only one I have seen yet, so I assume it will be similar to that (a bit slicker in its final version, and with some branding attached, but still) http://wikitravel.org/images/top-hovers.jpg

As far as retaining the best contributors and attracting more, I agree, upgrading the site and facilitating moderation are key; that’s a big part of what I want to discuss. I want to be able to prioritize limited resources where they can do the most good for WT and its contributors. My presence here means that, to a certain extent, all WT’s contributors need do is give voice to what needs to be added and fixed, and I can bring those suggestions to our developers. We are already discussing upgrading the site software to the newest mediawiki version. What else? Even if we can’t upgrade the site before the booking tool is added, we can still do it. I am now watching Top Bugs and Road Map for this reason.

Denis, your 2 cents and contributions to the site are as valuable as anyone’s, and we would be very sorry to see you or anyone else decide to leave based on the addition of a travel booking tool to a travel site. I encourage you to take a “wait and see” approach. A similar, even more dire sentiment was expressed at the idea of having any advertising anywhere on WT after the sale, and as we can see it hardly destroyed the site. The booking tool is more integrated in concept, better for users, and more aesthetically matched to WT than AdSense and banner ads. Give it a chance.

There always will be a gap between those who wanted WT to be totally ad-free and those who can accept the fact that it is owned by a company that is currently monetizing it, after being sold by a former owner who monetized it at the end of his tenure by virtue of the sale itself. It is what it is. Under the former owner, nobody here made money off their contributions. Under IB, it’s exactly the same; nobody ever contributed to WT in order to make money (if they did, they were in the wrong place). The questions over compensation or commercialization never made sense to me, because for all practical purposes, those things did not change between day one of WT and today; only the name on the title to the site did.

I don’t know the metrics on the WT foreign-language versions and how they’ve done relative to any forked sites; do you? I truly would love to see that data. I do know that whenever someone has quoted WT statistics at me that I am able to check, they have been far, far off the mark (I can tell you, for instance, that this site is *anything but* stagnant). I have such a hard time hearing how the Spanish site has “died” when I can go to the home page and, there it is; ditto, German and Italian. I know your understanding of these issues runs far deeper than mine. I can only understand what I can quantify, and if you can help with that I’d be grateful.

I agree, the issue of community consensus is hard; for every 100 contributors, there are 100 different ideas of where the Project should go. Whether it is in the end guided by a single man with a vision, or a company of hundreds of employees, things must go forward and decisions must be made expediently. The idea that the community had what you call “real control” over WT at any point in the past is debatable; but I don’t see WT as being about control, or even ownership (at least as a whole). To me, the primary idea behind Wikitravel is *contribution*. Contributing one’s time and expertise -- whether that is travel knowledge or the subtle art of knowing how to curate a ginormous world-leading web project -- to one sole, shared end: to help fellow travelers find their way in the world. Which brings us neatly back to why a booking tool belongs here.--IBobi 21:11, 22 June 2011 (EDT)

It takes no knowledge of their respective languages to see that all recent changes to the Italian and Hindi sites are spammers running rampant, or that Spanish leads only slightly with one person cleaning up, but virtually nothing new being contributed -- or, indeed, that the vast bulk of contributions here on WT Shared in recent days, which is still monitored, have been spambots or cleaning up after them. Number of edits is no evidence of human activity; number of edits by registered accounts more than a month old, perhaps, would be a more meaningful metric -- though even then it's clear that some languages, such as Korean, are quite moribund.
I'm sure you can understand that there is a limited amount of advance trust remaining regarding IB assurances of future bug-fixing and software-upgrading. Your (apparent?) predecessor, Steph Gerber, followed a long-running trend and disappeared after only a few months and few visible changes... but those same MediaWiki upgrades you mention were promised as coming soon in February 2010 as well, and seven of the eight current entries on Top Bugs date to 2009 or earlier. -- D. Guillaime 20:25, 23 June 2011 (EDT)
One more thing, quite representative on how short-sighted IB is, can be the decision to block Yandex, the major search engine in Russia, from indexing Wikitravel. The decision which is not only unhelpful for existing contributors or attracting new ones, but also making the site effectively un-discoverable by an average Russian-speaking reader.
More details on this: [2], [3]. --DenisYurkin 23:43, 23 June 2011 (EDT)

(unindent) IBobi:

The only helpful, relevant and unitrusive (for an average reader) booking thing that I can think of (if that is what you seriously looking for) is a "Book" button showing next to hotel listing, just after the end of description text, in the end of paragraph. I can easily think of a user looking for a place to stay and for that reason coming to Wikitravel for a recommended place--it would be relevant and helpful to help him proceed immediately to booking if he likes what Wikitravel says.

However, adding such a button boosts reasons for self-adding by hotel marketers, which is what already a problem the community of WT editors can't decide what to do with. When such a button will be added, much more efforts will be needed for patrolling content, de-touting and dealing with numerous marketers objections. And as long as all these efforts will be direct outcome of IB decision to monetize more efficiently, I can hardly think of any regular patroller who will be willing to devote their time and energy for free into directly helping IB with that monetization.

I can't think of a reasonable scenario why user comes to read destination guide article AND even before reading it decide to book a flight / car rental / any hotel (which is what current design you suggested implies).

And I can not think of any other non-intrusive, relevant and useful way to add any booking function into existing framework of Wikitravel content--maybe others can? And if IB is serious about the idea to bring a booking engine to WT, I would suggest to research first what are the typical scenarios of site usage and how booking engine (or anything else) can help a reader, as The Traveler comes first here.

Otherwise, if it's not helpful, relevant and unintrusive that you and IB is looking for, anything that does not have that characteristics is seriously becoming a made-for-advertising thing which I will never want to contribute to, and therefore will leave very soon (and I believe many regular editors will make a similar decision). --DenisYurkin 23:27, 23 June 2011 (EDT)

I think if you think this site has realised anything like its potential, you are wrong. It is held together by literally a handful of people putting in an extra-ordinary effort. You may think it is about contributions and not management of the content, but you are wrong. Getting spammers to add their hotels, or a few people to add information about their home town is easy. Arranging a truly reliable guide takes much more than that.
Since the IB takeover the sky has been falling. It may be falling slowly, and it may be supported by a few admirable remaining volunteers who fight against a tide of crap by spammers and businesses, and inaction and lack of the slightest bit of concern by IB for anything other than making money about the site.
You may be right, and this may just be one more negative voice, and IB may go ahead and just put advertising and booking buttons in the main text. In doing so they remove the ability of the community to control the content, and they will have to take the step of changing the community policy forcibly without the consensus of the community.
If this just causes two or three of the remaining contributors here (and I could name names) to jump, then the site will be at a tipping point, where the quality control of the site just won't remain, and WT will descend into unreliable junk. --ChickenLittle

One of the biggest points that has come out of this discussion so far is the number of times spam has been mentioned. I’d like to dedicate some time and space to discussing spam-prevention methods, and exactly what can and should be done to reduce spam on WT, including tools that can be made available to WT admins. I think *defining* what spam is and isn’t would also be worthwhile. However, the notion that WT is becoming (or would, by virtue of adding a booking tool, become) a “made for advertising” site is, with all due respect, a trifle over the top. Content – travel content – is and always will be king at WT. The content determines the advertising (such as it is), not the other way around.

With regard to Yandex, I spoke with tech, and though I don’t have an answer yet, there’s a possibility we may be able to allow them to index the Russian site again on a limited, provisional basis; the problem is that they do not index like other engines, and their methods are detrimental to site performance.

I am well aware that there is residual ill will toward IB on WT. That situation has existed since before IB actually did anything with the site, and there’s really nothing I can do about it at this point except to address the current concerns here, and try to build some amity.

I could not agree more with the statement that WT has not realized anything like its potential. I want WT to move forward toward that, starting immediately. But I have to point out that I do *not* believe that WT is “about contributions and not management of the content” -- and said the opposite of that in my earlier post (“Contributing one’s time and expertise -- whether that is travel knowledge or the subtle art of knowing how to curate a ginormous world-leading web project -- to one sole, shared end: to help fellow travelers find their way in the world.”). If WT is to begin to plumb the depths of its potential (which is, simply, to be the best travel guide anywhere, online or off), it needs top-notch writing AND curation, and anything I can do to facilitate both of those, I will.

I am meeting with my management and development team this week to determine what to address with regard to bugs, feature requests and upgrades in the weeks and months to come. Your feedback is not only desired, it is required if we are to succeed. Please address your comments here, and at Top Bugs and Road Map.--IBobi 20:51, 27 June 2011 (EDT)

For fairness sake, Yandex has proposed non-intrusive low-load performance-saving crawling, but either was replied "your search engine has only sent us 32 visits in the last 30 days. There doesn't seem much of a value in us unblocking you" or just got no reply at all (I can say more accurately but I don't see how it can change anything in the situation).
And thanks for staying silent on useful, non-intrusive and helpful--really appreciate how selective you are in replying. --DenisYurkin 17:32, 28 June 2011 (EDT)

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