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Tech:Optionally split long guides into one page per section

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Moved from en:Wikitravel talk:Article templates

I'd like to broach a subject that has come up before but I feel hasn't been answered satisfactorily.

Our most successful and valuable guides (for example, en:Geneva or en:Montreal) are extremely long. This makes them difficult to read on-line, and hard to edit and work with.

Our principle reason for making them like this is to make it easy for readers to print out a guide for a city, put it in their backpack, and head out to the train station.① This is a worthy goal, and it's the main way that I use Wikitravel for my actual travel guide (I just took en:Ottawa with us this weekend), so I think it's important to retain this functionality. I'm concerned, though, that in trying to balance the requirements of on-line use and off-line use, we've leaned too far towards print.

Here is my suggestion: I'd like to break up our guides into thematic sections, per the article templates, and separate those sections into different sub-pages. For example, en:Geneva#Eat would become en:Geneva/Eat. This should give us shorter pages that are more reasonable to work with and read.

I'd like to have a table of contents show up in the left-hand column (perhaps above "navigation" ?) with links to each sub-page. (This would be tricky but I think it can be done.) There are some interesting issues related to districts of huge cities that would have to be worked out, but I don't think they're insurmountable.

For comparison, see LonelyPlanet's Tokyo②, or Frommer's Tokyo. I'd point to the Rough Guides Tokyo page, but it's impossible to link to, as far as I can tell.

In addition, there would be links on the page to view the entire destination guide (main page and all sub-pages) in a printable version. It would also be possible to have an "edit the entire guide" link, too, but I'm not sure if it would be the Right Thing.

I think technically this would be relatively easy to do. I think it would make the Wikitravel online reading and editing experience considerably more pleasant, and may raise our rate of submissions. The downside is that a printable version of the guides would be an extra click away; however, I think that the paradigm of clicking a link to get a printable version is pretty well established on the Web and that most users wouldn't have a problem with it.

What's the feeling about this idea? Is it crazy? --Evan 11:57, 19 Oct 2005 (EDT)

① Feel free to substitute the luggage type and transportation depot of your choice here.
② Is that "See", "Eat", "Sleep", etc. that I see in the menu, there? Heh.

I would object to this. The Web, as a medium, has no need for distinct pages as such: you can happily keep scrolling on forever, and it's the abomination of the pay-per-view banner ad that makes most commercial sites stretch out what should be a single article into bite-sized chunks. I find it much less distracting to read, and much easier to search, content that is presented on one single page, instead of having to go on a wild click hunt trying to find the one page out of seventeen that has the bit I need. And this is especially so if you want to print out a guide.
I also don't think any of our pages are utterly unreasonable in size: en:Japan and en:New York (city) are the only ones that make it past 100k, and I don't see either one growing very much more. If anything, NYC should be cut down to size, with attractions/hotels/whatnot shunted out to districts... and the fact that so many users seem to have problems with the "city district" concept (newbies always add new sites to the main page, not the district pages) also leads me to believe that further fragmentation is not a good idea. Jpatokal 12:29, 19 Oct 2005 (EDT)
So, I think trying to find, say, hotel information on a long guide page is difficult. I also think that hitting "edit this page" and getting 100K of Wiki markup can be intimidating. I think from a usability point of view it'd be really helpful; splitting destination guides into multiple pages would put key info in each section "above the fold" (that is, on the first page before scrolling).
If we can find a way to make all-on-one-page vs. split-on-different-pages optional by user, would you be less opposed? --Evan 14:10, 19 Oct 2005 (EDT)
I'm generally in agreement with Jpatokal on this one. I like the article format and don't see any problem with them being long. It seems to me that the Table of Contents makes it really easy to find the part of the page that you want, and works better than initiating a whole new page load per section.
That said splitting up the sections as an option would make it possible to browse wikitravel with a cellphone, which is the one thing that doesn't work with long pages. Are you thinking of modifying Cache404 to do this? Or do you have something in mind with XMLHttpRequest? I'm not sure how many cellphone browsers would support the later. -- Mark 01:55, 20 Oct 2005 (EDT)
I also don't see a problem with the current long pages. Many newbies have no trouble clicking on the per-section 'edit' buttons where they are not overwhelmed with markup -- a nice side-benefit of the templates. But if you see a way to chunk things out into subpages but still retain the large pages, that might be interesting. -- Colin 12:42, 20 Oct 2005 (EDT)
To add to the chorus, I very much like having all of the information on one page. I think it's actually a strong advantage of Wikitravel that I can read everything about a destination in one place. Maybe there are people out there who like clicking on lots of links, but so long as there is a table of contents I wouldn't want to change the current "all in one place" format. -- Wrh2 13:18, 20 Oct 2005 (EDT)
Well, darn. I'm still not convinced that this is a bad idea, so I'm going to try and re-state my concerns and hope I can convey my point here. I think I started off with a facetious section header, and came off sounding like I think something is wrong, rather than conveying that I think something could be better.
First, it's not clear to me at all that new users are comfortable with editing Wikitravel pages. There is a silent majority of users from whom we never hear because they bail out on the editing process. For example: on perusals of our Apache logs, I see that of 1719 non-bots who have clicked "edit" in the last day or so, only 426 have completed their edit and submit their changes. Let's assume that 50% are not seriously trying to edit (say, they hit "edit" by mistake, or just wondering what would happen); I think 50% is high but let's just assume that for argument's sake. This still means we're losing about half of the people that are seriously trying to make edits.
Obviously, there's no way to tell what is keeping people from submitting. I'm only guessing that a 20K textarea full of Wiki markup is a factor in this. (And, yes, I overstated the size of most articles on Wikitravel -- a very fair point and conceded.)
I also think that the fact that every other travel guide on the Web breaks up articles in this way is worth thinking hard about. I don't think that advertisement is a suitable explanation for this; for example, Lonely Planet doesn't have ads on their pages, but they break up guides like this.
What I'm proposing is that you could optionally see a destination as a single page (for printing or if you just like really long pages) or separated into sub-pages by section. A user preference would allow you to see all destination pages one way or another -- readers and editors who prefer really long pages would have an identical UI to the one they have now.
I could probably use an "I get what you're saying, BUT..." response right now. I'm concerned I'm not making myself clear. --Evan 15:49, 31 Oct 2005 (EST)
Could wiki markup itself be a factor? Travel isn't exactly a technical topic, but Wiki markup is somewhat technical. Any idea what the edit to submit ratio is for 'pedia? -- Colin 15:53, 31 Oct 2005 (EST)
Evan, would your concerns be addressed if
# We had the TOC floating and always visible regardless of how much the reader scrolls down the page
A note: This is so easy to do. The only reason I didn't do it with the css I've been working on is that I thought it would annoy people. -- Mark 16:04, 1 Nov 2005 (EST)
# Section edit link were more prominent - maybe we could have the link right next to the section title, and edit links next to the TOC sections too.
It looks to me that with these changes it would be practically the same as having different pages without losing the advantage of having everything on the same page. Also, I am curious to know if you can figure out the breakup between those who tried to edit the entire article and gave up and those who tried to edit sections and gave up. Also, it would be interesting to see if people give up more on blank articles than on templated articles. If we learn that having a template helps, then may be we should try to fill as many articles with templates as possible, perhaps even look at scripts to do it. --Ravikiran 00:02, 1 Nov 2005 (EST)
More options is never a bad thing, but I still don't see the value in making someone click on an extra link to (for example) see the "Talk" section of the en:Falklands article and learn that "English is the official language." We already split articles up when they become unwieldy using districts and other tricks, and for me personally that seems to work nicely (although the en:United States could really use some breakup, and we don't have a good way of doing so). Anyhow, if this was implemented as a non-default user option I'd have no problem, but I'd rather not see it become default Wikitravel behavior. Perhaps there's another way to achieve the same result that wouldn't affect every article? -- Ryan 15:07, 1 Nov 2005 (EST)
I also am a big backer of "one guide, one article". I just think we can provide an alternate presentation that makes reading and editing parts of our guides easier.
I'm going to take a step back and see if I can do a prototype of this idea. --Evan 17:09, 1 Nov 2005 (EST)

Just to chime in way late with two bits:
  1. Back in the days at there was a whole butt-load of user behavior survey stuff done regarding the scroll-long-page vs click-to-short pages debate. What was discovered was that it was pretty much 50-50: about half the folks out there like to click and half prefer to scroll. We settled on a max of 2 1/2 - 3 scrolls on an 'average' screen per page and that's really what I like when I'm reading, say, the New York Times.
  2. I think there are a lot of possibilities that would open up if we broke things up-- at least as an option. It would allow users the option of clicking or scrolling (I think we need to consider 'readers' as well as 'editors' when we think about "users"). But it would also offer us the option of doing nifty content re-combining. By this I mean generating an article on-the-fly such as "Eating in Paris" (ie across districts) or "Hotels in The South" or "Things to do in Thailand."
I think breaking things up gives us a lot more flexibility and could be transparent, if desired, to the end user. Basically I see a lot of pros and no cons. Folks who like long articles don't need to give anything up, the default could still be "one guide, one article" but we could use the power internal syndication to give users access to content in new and exciting ways! Majnoona 20:57, 22 Nov 2005 (EST)
That brings up another point. The Law of the Wiki states that if each section starts looking like a separate article, each section will expand to fill up a complete article. I personally wouldn't mind that, but we should consider this possibility while taking the decision to split up. — Ravikiran 12:58, 23 Nov 2005 (EST)

Breakup Proposal

I've been thinking a lot about this issue as I think it's only going to become more important as we get more and more super-long articles. Here is my take on the outstanding issues and a proposal for a way forward.

Problem Some users like to click, some like to scroll.

  • Long pages are easier for editing and for reading / printing the whole


  • Shorter pages allow readers and editors to get directly to the desired

content and prevent users from getting lost 8 scrolls down.

  • We currently can't do content aggregation across destinations. Things

to do in Paris, regardless of district; places to stay in Thailand, etc...

headers way down the page.

Solution Breaking up pages by sections. This will allow:

  • Clickers to click, scrollers to scroll. We can have it all! If you like

how it is now, fine, you wont need to see a difference.

  • The possibility of more fine-grained TOC. Once you're on a section

page, the TOC can display subsections such as restaurants by budget.

  • On-the-fly internal syndication / content aggregation.
  • Improved deep-linking and searching. I'm thinking about bloggers, etc

Minor Problem It doesn't make sense to break up every page automagically.

  • Articles like en:Sausalito don't need page-per-section and it might

actually deter people from adding content.

Proposal Use the Article status to identify articles that are complete. Articles that make it to Guide status should have enough content to warrent a break-up.

  • These articles are the ones we would want to showcase through content

aggregation and internal syndication

  • These articles deserve the increased views / edits that would come from

better linking / searching

Comments? Other problems / proposals?


So, I put up some examples so folks could get an idea of what I was talking about. Here they are:

I don't think there's anything there that will surprise anyone (EXCEPT that they look almost exactly like "real" articles, so don't try and edit them! They're just copies of the current articles with some of the HTML moved around and/or deleted, so be cautious.) Suggestions or comments? I think we had the idea that you could set a preference to either see the split pages or not... that's not done for those pages, obviously. --Evan 17:22, 15 Feb 2006 (EST)

Hi Evan. The samples here are pretty much what I expected the splitting up of the articles would look like. Sad so say I expected it to look like World 66, and lo, it does. I guess I'm just really not into splitting. -- Mark 17:33, 15 Feb 2006 (EST)
Me too(tm), I don't like this at all. In particular, people tend to ignore the little links in the left navbar (witness the number of bug reports we get about WikiPedia: links 'not working').
I wouldn't object violently to allowing people to use a split view if they like, but I think the default should definitely be the 'whole story' version. Jpatokal 21:52, 15 Feb 2006 (EST)
There is one use case I can think of where this sort of splitting makes some sense: Cell phones. There's usually a limit on the size of a page which one can load on a cell phone connection, so our longer articles won't load on a cell phone. That said one still pays per link followed, and it's a real PITA to have to follow a bunch of links to get to the data you want, so maybe the thing that needs to be fixed is the phones themselves, not Wikitravel.
Still if you and MAJ want this really really badly and it's totally optional and not the default then I guess OK. I don't think it will solve the "problem" of "backed-out" edits, because I don't think that's what they are. -- Mark 05:14, 17 Feb 2006 (EST)
A Wikitravel article with the standard stylesheet will still be unreadable on a cellphone, even if it is split into chunks. The correct ways to handle this are to either recognize that it's a phone browser and reformat accordingly, or (better yet) create a for phone-formatted content. Jpatokal 11:10, 17 Feb 2006 (EST)
I just finished honing a one-column stylesheet for the new skin should it ever be adapted. It's designed to work with a 270px screen. -- Mark 11:39, 17 Feb 2006 (EST)

I don't know what the current situation on this is, but i'd tend to favour just splitting the listings for hotels, restaurants, shops and bars into their own subsections. It seems to me that as wikitravel takes off, the volumes of listings and the number of links added will increase and increase, especially for larger cities, and make it easier and easier to drown under a load of information - and people might not necessarily want to scroll down past some ridiculous number of bars to reach, say, places to get out. Obviously there should be an option to view and/or print all as one page. I'm not advocating splitting everything: the examples of that above seem a bit 'clunky', just the sections that are prone to fill up in that way. (No more bongos 09:19, 20 July 2006 (EDT))

There are two ways to prevent the list of bars from getting too long: splitting a city into districts, and simply limiting the number of bars listed. We're not trying to be the Yellow Pages, listing every bar you could go to, but a travel guide, listing the bars you should go to. If the Drink section's that long, it's time to trim it. Also, they don't have to scroll; clicking the table of contents will take them directly to whichever section they want, literally as easy as linking to another page. - Todd VerBeek 09:27, 20 July 2006 (EDT)
I suppose that could work as described, but there should at least be some kind of policy on the number of bars/hotels/shops/etc to be listed on the main city page, just as the number of cities on a country page is limited. There should probably be some kind of criteria as well (these may already exist without my knowledge). This is where we start getting drawn into the struggle between abridgement and completeness - for example, I myself would consider it essential when visiting a city to know where to find live music and bars of the kind that I like. And if it was entirely down to me, I'd write about it somewhere like this - but i know the majority would consider it irrelevant. (No more bongos 10:33, 20 July 2006 (EDT))
There aren't any policies for a maximum number of bars/restaurants/hotels. We don't have that problem very often (more often the opposite), so it hasn't been a pressing issue, and it's left up to individual discretion. If I see an article where it looks like someone copied the "Resturants" section of the yellow pages, I'll take out all the chains I recognize, figuring that if someone really wants an Olive Garden, they can find that easily enough on their own. If someone's taken the trouble to categorize bars by different kinds, that makes a long list more useful, so I'm less likely to trim those listings. - Todd VerBeek 11:45, 20 July 2006 (EDT)
As a data point, I have refrained from adding hotelmaker entries for major cities because the list is too long for places like Vegas, San Diego, or San Francisco. -- Colin 16:34, 20 July 2006 (EDT)

Lost discussion

For guide and star articles, it would be nice for some users to browse the articles one section per page, rather than as one long page. Any such feature would have to allow people to read and/or print the entire article as a single page, though. See en:Wikitravel talk:Article templates#The best Wikitravel articles are too damn long. --Evan 16:48, 17 June 2006 (EDT)

I've got a start of this feature working on review; see There's still a lot to do:
  • There's no link to the first section (no title) of the page in the Table of Contents.
  • There's no link to show the entire article in one page.
  • The edit links need to be fixed up so that if the user is on "Montreal - Do", clicking the edit tab edits only the do section.
  • We should probably group some of the sections together -- especially the first section, any geographical lists, and possibly "Understand".
  • It needs to be made optional by user.
That last one is going to be the hairiest -- it's going to require a lot of processing power that our caching system currently keeps us from having to use. --Evan 13:52, 19 June 2007 (EDT)
Looks like a good idea once you've done the above. So by "optional by user", would it be that we set in our preferences how to view all articles, or there would be a toggle link on the individual page to go from one page to multiple pages? It certainly would be cool to have the ability to print just the section you need, that will be great. I think everything through Understand makes sense to group, that sounds right – cacahuate talk 00:24, 20 June 2007 (EDT)