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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. --PeterTalk 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  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. --PeterTalk 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.
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 helpful, relevant and unitrusive--really appreciate how selective you are in replying. --DenisYurkin 17:32, 28 June 2011 (EDT)
I'm probably in the minority, but I'm not opposed to a "booking bar" on articles and understand that Wikitravel needs to produce revenue for IB. However, I agree with many of the reasons why there is so much opposition to this proposal:
Despite the comment that "I can tell you, for instance, that this site is *anything but* stagnant", anyone who has contributed here for some time will vehemently disagree. I've been a regular contributor since February 2005. Have any new language versions launched recently? Has the pool of regular contributors increased? Is the scope and feature set of the site growing? I'm sure the stats you see reflect the fact that every hotel chain is now hiring SEO companies to list their properties on Wikitravel, but that is not nearly as useful as the hordes of backpacking college kids who once came here to list their favorite travel spots. Meanwhile, the regular contributors who once devoted time to debating how to make the site better, encourage new contributors, etc are now almost entirely focused on just keeping things running - this is not a sign of a healthy site.
While this was before your time, IB's inattention to Wikitravel has bred a huge amount of mis-trust. I've personally emailed IB and tried other methods of drawing attention to performance and spam issues that could be easily solved, but have gotten no responses. The Top bugs and Roadmap pages you refer to are mostly unused at this point because after months and years of no response people gave up on them. Fixing the current performance issues would do a lot to help restore some trust, but I think many people (myself included) look at past history and expect to see a band-aid for performance and some new ad banner, followed by a disappearance of IB.
In the spirit of providing constructive criticism, here are a few things that I think could be done to help improve the situation:
Fix the current performance issues as soon as possible. While it was once possible to patrol and fix dozens of edits in just a few minutes, the current timeouts make it nearly impossible to review more than a couple of edits in the same time period. If you lose the regular users who do this patrolling, the site will die.
Don't add this "booking bar" tool to all language versions. It sounds like it will be focused on US companies to start with anyhow, so rather than risk losing what little regular support remains on non-English Wikitravel versions, leave those alone.
Potentially drop the right rail ads when the booking bar is added. I can't imagine IB is seeing much revenue from these barely-relevant Google ads, so it might be a nice olive branch to the community to to get rid of them.
Make sure that IB stays around to provide support. For example, if the booking bar appears on every page including those on which it makes no sense (example: Main Page) then people will be both annoyed by it and learn to ignore it as they would any other banner ad. If IB sticks around and can fine-tune the bar it will go over better.
Come up with an easier way to communicate with the community. Clearly using the wiki isn't comfortable for IB staff, so if a mailing list or some other format works better for you, propose that. There are people here who can help act as liaisons, but first we need a consistent way of working with you guys.
It sounds like IB is going forward with this booking bar no matter what, and I'm sure some people will leave the site as a result, but if IB also devotes some time to fixing the site and working with the community it might not be quite as traumatic as some have suggested. -- Ryan 14:37, 29 June 2011 (EDT)
Adding that proposed bar to Wikitravel is very obtrusive and doesn't serve the the average user of the site (the ones that are still here, as the site is currently so unbelievably slow that many users must have left meanwhile). What DenisYurkin proposed, a "book" button behind a hotel listing, makes a lot more sense, as then a user could first go to Wikitravel to check out hotel listings, and then immediately book the hotel of choice. This would serve the traveller instead of being an annoyance.
IB should be thinking a lot more in this direction. Instead of trying to cash out as much money on the short term, while the site is getting unworkable and editors/users are fleeing, maybe a longer term perspective would be more worthwhile. Not just for the community, but also investment-wise. Add features, make the site faster, update to the newest wiki-software, all of them attracting site users instead of scaring them away. Sure, some of these features could make money for IB -- everyone understands that the site must make a profit. But it shouldn't be in an obtrusive, short-sighted way. Features must serve the users of the site and making them return.
A "book" button (or link, even better) next to hotel listings could:
Make site users happy, as they see this as a new, handy feature that they can use
Make IB happy, as this feature makes money, without scaring away customers
And even make editors happy, as more features are added, Wikitravel is showing signs of progress and more users are coming back to the site.
We need more inventive features to get the site going again and make new people inspired to work on it. The last thing the site needs is obtrusive ads, as that certainly will drive even more users away (and we're already at quite a critical phase of the project). --globe-trotter 18:14, 4 July 2011 (EDT)
Well, I'm sorry to say it, but except for post-product efforts like Wikitravel Press, the idea of monetization is fundamentally antagonistic to the concept of a free and fair wiki. The more you try to monetize it, the more biased it will appear, the less people will trust the content, the fewer people will visit and contribute and, paradoxically, the more IB will feel the need to monetize it further. IB is shooting itself in the foot here and hurting the lot of us contributors in the process. If IB was hoping to really bank from buying a website, a wiki was a regrettably poor choice. Show me a lively wiki elsewhere on the internet that is raking in money for its owner. You won't find one for the above-stated reasons. It would be advisable to forget about this booking bar crap and focus on making the site perform well, supporting a lively and creative contributing atmosphere to foster top-rate content, and doing whatever else can be done to increase traffic to the site so you can get more from the Google ads you are already running. Anything else is just going to drive traffic down, and you're going to be coming back to those of us left in a year with New Monetization Effort III.
As an aside, this other suggestion above about putting a "book button" is not well thought out at all. You'll never get every hotel, motel, lodge, pousada, pension, campground, and B&B in the entire world to be on board with that. Instead, what you get is a situation where accommodation providers with resources who are privy to it will buy into the booking system (mostly giant hotel chains I would guess), and many others will never even hear of it. That would amount to introducing a direct bias into our listings, which is totally unacceptable.
The only monetization efforts I can think of that I could readily support would be a) something like Wikitravel Press, or b) the development and sale of feature-packed official mobile applications (Android/iPhone/etc.). Anything else will be damaging to the site's credibility and ultimately be counter-productive steps towards complete and utter ruin. Mark my words.texugo 10:41, 9 July 2011 (EDT)
IBobi, you really stirred up a hornet's nest... but, I like the fact that your approach DOES indicate some IB interest in WT. But as so many have said already, and as I (and many others) have said before in other contexts, it is entirely up to IB to restore the confidence. And you have a very long journey ahead of you. I dare say that most of us who decided to keep working with WT after IB bought the site had no problem with WT being a commercial site based on a commercial license. If we had, we would not have been here. Many of us did welcome the arguments at the takeover, such as the possibility to get better tech support, increased server capacity, etc, etc. Because, to be honest, WT:s technical prerequsities left a lot to be desired at the time. Deep down, we must have understood that this would come with a price tag, such as ways to increase monetization.
Something IB must understand is that you have to have the community's approval (or at least semi-approval) and alter the community-based guidelines first, before you roll out any changes like the one you're suggesting. The printed version comes first, and if you want to turn WT into an online tool, you have to change the policy first, through discussion. Then bring up monetization efforts.
To be constructive: Sort the top bugs and follow the roadmap. Upgrade to the latest version of MediaWiki. Give the site the constant technical support it needs. Make sure the site runs smoothly and you will find the contributors coming back.
We have given several years of our lives to this site. It's your turn now: show that you care by giving back to the community. Because, frankly: without contributors, you have no WT at all to monetize from.
A first step to monetize would be to do what Wikitravel Press does. If they can, so can IB. But that requires a **** of a smoothly working site and a solid contributor base.
If you still cannot get this to work - then consider passing the site on. Perhaps Wikimedia Foundation would be interested in a takeover? Riggwelter 17:30, 10 July 2011 (EDT)
Now there's an option I could totally get behind. If you can't put the user community ahead of your monetization, please sell this site to an organization that understands what wikis are really about... texugo 09:57, 11 July 2011 (EDT)
To your specific points
Whether WT is “stagnant” or thriving depends of course on which metrics you’re looking at. In terms of new languages added, this may be a reasonable assessment (I have no historical statistics on that); in terms of the number of site visitors, though, it’s quite the opposite. In terms of the number of contributors, both writers and curators, I am sure that the bugs and slowness issues have driven off some existing and potential WTers (many would leave anyway over time; eight years is a long while!). That’s why we are going to make the improvements necessary to making spam prevention, content additions and overall site maintenance easier and more reliable, and make the site faster overall, upgrading the Mediawiki and laying the groundwork for future feature updates.
As to what languages the booking tool will be added to… that’s a good question. I’ll get back to you on that.
Adsense will remain in place.
I and our tech resources will be here to provide support; I’m already learning how best to liaise between yourselves and the people here who can make changes to the site’s infrastructure. We have a little ways to go on this yet. Emailing would work well for me as issues arise, but a central repository of bugs/improvements can work too.
Globe-trotter’s “book button”: I like this idea and thought about it before; it’s not technically feasible at this time, however. I think in some ways it could serve users better than our booking tool (though it would not have transportation booking capability, which we need); on the other hand, the notion that our booking tool might not serve the average user of WT really depends on who you’re talking about. Remember that the “average user” is a person who comes to the site to find travel info, and never considers contributing themselves. That person is *going* to use a booking tool somewhere. Might as well be here.
Texugo mentioned that monetizing a site makes it appear more biased. I have to disagree. This is 2011, not 1996 – people who use the Internet know what ads are. Nobody who watches Mad Men thinks John Hamm must drink Coke just because Coke sponsors the show. Likewise, I don’t think there’s any link at all in people’s minds between the content of a WT article and a Google ad or booking tool that happens to appear on the same page with the word “Advertisement” on it.
To address Riggwelter’s well-stated concerns about policy, I’d suggest that the print version is not necessarily the *primary* goal of WT; many more people come to WT either from their computers (before, during or after traveling) and Smartphones, so the electronic version is much more important; furthermore, advertising does not interfere with the print version, as it can be turned off. I believe the primary reason for a print-version policy is to prevent the site from being a series of links to other pages, which are not helpful to print users -- not to prevent ads from appearing on the page.
As to the desire to generate something like a consensus before making changes… I get that. The trouble is, there are a lot of people who refuse to consider any kind of advertising and who will therefore never be part of a change such as adding a booking tool. They want to site to stay the same, just adding content. This will not work. The site is evolving and it’s simply not feasible to get a real consensus from everyone on issues like if and how we advertise on the site. If there is a policy that needs changing, let’s start changing it. Moving forward, when we discuss things like which features should be added, page layout, etc., the ideas of site policy and true consensus become more important. For me, by far the most important policy of Wikitravel is “the traveler comes first.” All other policies must be measured by their effect on this. A booking tool is great for the traveler.
As to addressing the bugs and road map, as I’ve said, this is already in the works. We’re listening and in fact planning based on the suggestions made by WT’s active editors. We are well aware that, as you bluntly put it, “without contributors, you have no WT at all to monetize from,” and we want to make your jobs as elegantly efficient as possible so that you can spend time *contributing* instead of merely moderating.
And as I’m sure you must all be aware, discussing buying/selling, or who should “really” own the site is something of a purely theoretical (and unhelpful) nature. It’s not really worth addressing, but I’m trying not to simply ignore anything that’s said here; it helps if the suggestions are actually within the realm of reasonability. We are where we are. Let’s move forward and discuss what we can do to make the site as good as it can be.
Something I want to keep mindful of is the spirit of Wikitravel. There is a great deal of discussion as to guidelines and motivations and policies, but less discussion about who the site is meant to be used by and what they should be able to expect of it. Certainly the ability of IB to better monetize the site directly affects our ability to improve the site’s infrastructure. But when considering that this site is designed by travelers for travelers, I don’t see that IB has done anything to infringe upon the Project’s stated goal to create a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide. Far from it, in fact; under IB’s ownership, Wikitravel.org has seen its readership – its very usefulness – grow many fold. As we upgrade the site, add features, fix bugs and continue to facilitate adding amazing content from our big, talented, active user base, it will only continue to grow. I believe WT can be the best travel site available to anyone, anywhere.
What we are seeing is a site that is growing in viewership, and fast. Worldwide, somewhere in the range of *eight times* as many travelers will visit Wikitravel today as did so the day IB got here. That means the contributions and efforts of WT’s writers and curators have eight times the weight that they used to have. Eight times the worldwide exposure. If you’re not excited by that, I don’t know what to tell you!--184.108.40.206 21:23, 14 July 2011 (EDT)
Good answer from IBobi. Here's mine:
The printed version is most definitely a main goal of Wikitravel, see here and here. If you want to change that, you have to start a discussion here and make sure loads of active contributors see it.
Wikitravel is based on consensus, see here. Wikitravel has no deadlines and does not need to be finished tomorrow. There is no rush to change a lot of things overnight, but we are well aware that IB wants to cash home on your investments. We accept that, and we accept that the site is evolving (and must be). If a contributor does not like that, he/she will leave. The problem is to attract new users to a site which simply isn't working technically.
Personally, I do not mind this being a commercial site, nor do I mind IB making a profit out of it. But frankly, during the five (!) years WT has been in possession of IB, the only major thing which has happened is the addition of AdSense. Apart from that, it's been mainly a question of keeping it running, but no more. And whenever IB has come back to talk, it's always been a question about monetization, not about what the community sees as important, such as a site working smoothly from a technical point of view. That's what I mean when I say that IB faces a long journey in terms of restoring the confidence among its contributors. So, I repeat: show that you care by giving back to the community.
How about giving us your deadlines when you will fix all the bugs and have them adressed, tested and the tickets closed? That's easily done by adding a column to top bugs which I have done now).
Personally, I am happy to help you understand how WT works from a community point of view and how we can move forward to make everyone happy. That requires loads of discussions on Wikitravel. E-mailing is not an option, because that shuts people out,. which goes against the consensus idea. In this context, Wikitravel Shared is THE resource for interlanguage cooperation. So: Start discussions on the talk pages. Use the pub to attract contributors to these discussions. Accept that you might get a no, a yes and above all, that it may take time. That's community work at its finest. Eventually, IB will get what you want and so will the community.
Finally, to avoid these seemingly endless pro/con discussions about booking tools and whatnot - I think you should add it/them as a feature request instead and take the discussion there. That way, we can focus on the item itself, not having to handle other issues or general frustration.Riggwelter 06:21, 15 July 2011 (EDT)
It seems inevitable that IB will add a booking tool function to WT. That lots of us will not like that very much will not stop the inevitable. There may be consequences such as further forks and a fall off in the already all-time low number of regular housekeepers, but let's stop kidding ourselves. My take on this is that IF implementing a booking tool means IB can finally bring the technical operations of the site up to date, then just do it. Currently, the site is nigh-on useless given its slow speed. Sorry to sound so fatalistic about this, but like most regulars I am just sick to death of the site being so slow as to drive me elsewhere.--Burmesedays 02:52, 16 July 2011 (EDT)
Riggwelter and Burmesedays: thanks again for your usual well-reasoned responses.
While there is no strict tit-for-tat with regard to site functionality vs. monetization, the two are tangentially tied together longterm. I understand (and our tech and administrative departments do too) that upgrading Mediawiki is a win-win even though it is expensive and poses not-insignificant technical challenges. It may even be *necessary* given what we are asking of the site in terms of placing the booking engine and making it as functional as possible for our users.
I will continue to do my best to get up to speed on the “wiki” part of Wikitravel. Understood that offline email is not ideal communication, and will continue to update on Main and Shared. I appreciate the “gentle” reminders!
I think the best news I can report is that I have had face-to-face meetings with tech and my higher-ups at IB, and we are actively working on an improvements schedule in conjunction with booking-tool development. I’ll utilize the Road Map and other existing resources as much as possible.--IBobi 19:00, 26 July 2011 (EDT)
I feel pretty brushed aside by your comments above.
Those of us who have been around 5 years or more don't need any kind of metrics at all to tell us that the community is in much worse shape than it was then. I don't care what your statistic says, it is insulting for you not to believe us-- we used to have a much more active positive community of contributors, many of whom were driven off by the sale to you guys and the subsequent monetization. If statistics show overall traffic is 8 times heavier than before, it is not necessarily a point of pride for IB, and not necessarily something to be excited about if it means 8 times more spam, graffiti, and bots and 8 times fewer legitimate contributions, all to be managed by fewer contributors than we had before.
You didn't address my concern about Globetrotter's book button suggestion, in that if it is available only to accommodation owners who sign up and pay for the service, it may as well be in-page advertising-- there is no way on earth you will ever get it to work automatically for any and every accommodation a user happens to add, therefore it would present an automatic bias within the articles, featuring some listings with the ease of a book button while others don't have it. I cannot think of any way around this, so I think it is an awful idea right from the start.
I said that more monetization makes it appear more biased and you can just flatly disagree with that?? Let's take a Wikitravel with no ads, a Wikitravel with Google ads, and a Wikitravel with ads + a booking tool and ask any number of people you'd like to designate. Of course they are overwhelmingly going to say the one with no ads appears the least biased, and the one with ads and booking too appears the most biased. That's exactly what I meant. To deny that is to be blinded by the dollars signs in your eyes. Your Mad Men analogy is off base-- if Mad Men was a show where regular people offer their experiences and opinions about which beverage companies are the best, and then that were accompanied by in-program spots for Coca-Cola, that would be much closer to our situation here.
I agree with Riggwelter's comment that if you wish to change our priority on the print version you should address that organically with us. There are some other policies which rest on this foundation which would be affected, such as layout issues and link policies. We routine use that policy to help explain to newbies why we don't allow certain types of external links. Now suddenly you have an external link you want to add to every page (which in truth would otherwise be disallowed by our policies), and you want to just suddenly knock that priority out from under us?
Regarding the feature requests/roadmap, it is not good enough for you to just respond with "will not do". Things on that list are well thought-out and reasonable requests from a very responsible group of experienced administrators. If IB refuses to do them, I think most likely you don't correctly understand what we are asking for, or if not, we at the very least deserve a thoughtful explanation of why you can't do it.
I still think your priorities are in the wrong place. I know we can't stop you from mucking up the site with ads and external agencies, but right now fixing the functionality of the site should be 100 times more urgent than any new monetization, and besides, fixing the site will probably help to improve the monetization efforts you have already got going. But don't expect anyone to get excited because you talked to the tech guys about the booking bar when what every long-term member of this site wants to hear is that you talked to them about making some improvements we've been waiting ages for... texugo 00:08, 27 July 2011 (EDT)
Hi, Texugo. I didn’t mean to brush you aside at all. I think I addressed some of your specific concerns in an earlier post, but I’ll do so here specifically. I feel like you didn’t fully “get” some of the things I’ve said in this thread, perhaps due to a muddy explanation on my part, and I want to be very clear. So here goes!
I realize the community is not as vibrant as it was 5 years ago. I think part of that is because new content creation on WT has inevitably slowed as the “prime” travel spots have begun to be covered very very well and there’s a perception that there’s less for the “average” traveler/contributor to excitedly jump in and write about.
Another reason may be, as you stated, that some people left when IB bought WT and maybe some more left after Google appeared on the site; there’s really nothing to be done about that. What’s done is done, and if people don’t want to participate because the site changed hands or because of necessary changes to the site such as monetization, so be it. Again, I have tried to examine this issue in as cold and hard a light as I could and I find no reason for people to leave due to this (because as I stated, in effect there is *zero* fundamental change to the WT project due to ownership going from Evan to IB).
In terms of the site’s infrastructure suffering some neglect, I get that too. People might leave due to some frustration with slowness, etc. Maybe they will come back when they see the positive changes, updates, bug fixes, feature additions, version upgrades, etc. that we’re planning to make. If not, I expect new curators will take their place and be excited to do so, because the fundamental mission here is exactly the same as it was on day one: produce a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide by travelers for travelers.
RE: the “book button” proposal, I didn’t get into that too much because we can’t technically do it right now. It’s a moot point. If and when it becomes feasible, we’ll have a discussion about it. I still like the concept, and I think it’s really a question of how it’s implemented, if it ever is. As of now, it’s nothing more than an interesting idea that has occurred to many, as a natural feature of an online travel site.
Speaking of online, let’s try and put the “print version” issue to rest. I also agree with riggwelter. The print version is important and if we were to make changes to that policy we would discuss them here; I was just stating that print is not the *most* important version of the site (online is far moreso), and the reason for the print policy even existing is to prevent links from being part of the site’s content, making it unusable in print. At the same time, as I’ve said more than once, ads and the booking tool can be turned off when printing, making the discussion of print here very much moot. Ads do not affect the print version and neither will the booking tool.
Another thing I do not believe ads do is inject “bias” into the site. At all. I explained my reasoning, and I agree with you, my analogy was probably not airtight! But you see my point. I simply do not believe that in the mind of an Internet user circa 2011 the presence of an ad on a web page connotes anything more than that the owners are trying to make a little money. Content and ads are totally separate for one reason and one reason only: they look different. Nobody is confused by this. So, yes, I just disagree with you, and you can disagree with me, and I’m sure there are those here that disagree with both of us -- and that’s part of how discussions sometimes resolve.
The “will not do” answer on the Road map is incomplete, I agree. I am still in discussions with tech on the exact determination on those two requests, but for the past few years it has been our clear position that we would not address those requests and as of this minute that has not changed; if and when it does, and when I have an explanation different from the one that has previously been given on the site (you can find it yourself, I’m sure), I will post it. If you can make a convincing case to me, I have a better chance of making one to tech. I’ll be meeting them again this week to discuss those two requests among other things such as a Mediawiki upgrade and the booking tool...
...which I’ve tried to be clear about; we are addressing *both* the booking tool *and* the site upgrades, bugs and feature requests in this thread. If you aren’t excited by the booking tool and the help it will give travelers who come here, that’s ok. But be excited that its implementation is going to allow IB to address some of the longstanding issues that you and others have been wanting for so long. Yes?--IBobi 16:00, 27 July 2011 (EDT)
"...new content creation on WT has inevitably slowed as the “prime” travel spots have begun to be covered very very well"
If you care to look at some of the other language versions, you'll see that this is not at all part of the problem-- there is still loads of basic groundwork to be done-- yet those versions are practically ghost towns compared to how they were before. I am now the only regular user on :es, where work has now become almost entirely spam reversal, and one of two or three on pt: where valid contributions have dwindled to almost none.
"...there is *zero* fundamental change to the WT project due to ownership going from Evan to IB"
There was a fundamental change, and that was the shift in priority from maintaining and improving the site to making money off it. We went from a host who took an active interest in the site, who contributed to travel articles and policy discussions, who discussed and promptly implemented changes, and who basically behaved as a co-conspirator and colleague, to an excruciatingly hands-off company that slapped Google ads on us and then ignored us as much as possible, were very slow to respond to emails or messages of any kind, have been mostly non-cooperative in implementing suggested changes, and who change our contact person every few months so that whoever is in charge of us is typically new to the site, doesn't understand how it really works, and never makes any real attempt to get in on the action of editing, patrolling or taking part in discussions. I do hope you can help to reverse some of this damage. I do not, however, have very much confidence yet that this is going to be very different from what we've seen of IB in the past.
I realize the book button proposal is a moot point for now, but I would like to hear you support the notion that we should not have any feature which gives advantage to some listings over others based on whether they are paying for a service from us. If that idea doesn't bother you, then all of us long-time contributors might as well pack up and leave now.
As you say, we will probably not come to any agreement about the bias issue, although I do agree that Google ads hasn't added any factual bias, but I think there is still a perceived bias for many. A booking tool will add to that perceived bias, though it may not add very much factual bias unless people from that company start coming in and adding listings and recommendations for their partner hotels and packages, modifying information regarding perceived competitors, etc. That remains to be seen.
The answers previously given for why you "will not do" certain feature requests do not seem to be written by someone who understood who was asking for them, why they were asking for them, or even what exactly was being asked for. Saying that you can't trust administrators with the power to temporarily block a range of IPs "because some random person might use it block Google" is a ridiculously poor explanation and reflects a complete failure to understand what the administrators here are like and what we need in order to keep your site clean. We can restate our case if you like, but it's all there already if you care to re-read it yourself.
One more thing: can we please please please get one thing right from the beginning? Put the booking tool only on destination article pages--
not policy pages,
not talk pages,
not user pages,
not general travel topics with no clear destination,
not pages in any other namespace,
not the Main Page,
not disambiguation pages--
just exclusively articles for cities, regions, and countries where the search box might be filled in automatically with the destination in question. If you toss it on every page, I believe the whole site is going to complain over and over until you fix it. texugo 23:10, 27 July 2011 (EDT)
To add just a bit to what Texugo has said here—and I do try to ignore all this, as it depresses my enthusiasm for contributing—IBobi's messages here seem to me quite condescending and arrogant. To begin your work here by treating the site's most prolific and enduring contributors as being irrational and opposed to any monetization is both ridiculous and offensive. I personally have contributed (and continue to contribute on a daily basis) hundreds of maps and literally several thousand pages of printable material, all of it original content, and to be brushed aside like this is both very distasteful, and continued evidence that both you personally and your company are grossly incompetent in dealing with online communities.
I actually was the one who took the lead in trying to help build a community consensus for ads, in part because it is obviously reasonable for IB to want to turn a profit, and in part because I hoped that such profit could lead to a greater involvement with updates, bugs, and feature development. Those who were completely opposed to ads left the moment that IB purchased the domain from Evan.
IB had promised from the get go to work with the community in moving forward, and to work within the bounds of consensus. This promise was shrugged aside with the sudden introduction of image ads without any discussion (and consensus for this would not at all have been hard to obtain). It now looks like IB does not care one whit about any community opposition to the booking tool. Moreover, IB's efforts to help improve (or simply maintain) the site have dwindled progressively, to the current point of no involvement whatsoever. I think that it would be very naive to think this will change. --PeterTalk 22:23, 28 July 2011 (EDT)
And the above is from the user I would consider to be Wikitravel's all-time MVP by far. Think hard, IB. texugo 01:44, 30 July 2011 (EDT)
IBobi - it sounds like a few things are going to happen no matter what (correct me if I'm wrong):
At some point in the August/September timeframe IB will devote some technical resources to Wikitravel to upgrade Mediawiki and hopefully fix the performance issues we've been seeing.
At some point in the August/September timeframe IB is going to add a booking bar to the site.
If I've misunderstood and there is some gray area in the two points above please correct, but if not then I think everyone here can assume further discussion on these points is moot, despite how any past agreements or policies might be interpreted - does that sound right?
If so, then in the interest of making this page's discussion more productive, what in your opinion is open to discussion? Items that have been raised above by you and others would seem to include:
Any other issues on the Roadmap or Top bugs page that IB can address. It sounds like IB may address some of these, so would it be worthwhile for people to try to update these pages and (hopefully) get a decision from IB on what can be done? Note that for people to take the time to organize these requests there would need to be some understanding that they will be investigated beyond just a "will not do" from the tech folks.
IB's involvement on the site (bug fixes, enhancements) after August/September. Is IB planning to just do the upgrade and move on, or will some sort of continuing support be put in place?
Community input into the implementation of the booking bar (example: Texugo's comments above).
Does that seem right? There are obviously some strong feelings being expressed given the past lack of involvement, but perhaps we can re-focus on areas where the community can actually provide some input that IB will act upon. -- Ryan 16:30, 30 July 2011 (EDT)