On February 15, Wikimedia Foundation announced the settlement of litigation between itself and Internet Brands.
The news means smooth sailing ahead for new wiki-based travel site Wikivoyage — which officially launched in January.
It also means a loss for Internet Brands, which had attempted to build a commercial business on the back of user-generated, Creative Commons-licensed travel content with an ad-supported website, Wikitravel.
Internet Brands did not find support in court for its legal argument that Wikivoyage, the fork to which Wikimedia volunteers ported user-generated content, was an "Infringing Website," violating the company's intellectual property rights.
It also failed to gain traction with its claims of trademark infringement.
The SERPs battle commences
Now it's a battle for primacy in search engine rankings. As of today, Wikivoyage has more than 27,000 English-language entries, versus 84,000 on Wikitravel.
Yet Wikivoyage now claims it has about 200 volunteer editors. (See a typical day's edits, here.) Time is on its side.
Wikitravel articles were never as informative as Wikipedia articles or guidebook excerpts. Its successor, Wikivoyage, hasn't yet revealed any major innovation that will tackle the underlying reasons why.
TripAdvisor's hotel reviews work, to the extent that they do, because their focus is narrow: Is this specific hotel good or bad?
In contrast, Wikivoyage's articles are wide-ranging and open-ended. So when a particular destination or travel-related topic lacks a passionate editor, Wikivoyage will have a gap in its content or will become the victim of PR-marketing.
Why hasn't there been a successful Wikpedia of travel?
Wikipedia works, in part, because its entries are created out of a finely tuned set of rules and norms regarding things like citations. But as Jani Patokallio, the publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet has blogged:
Wikitravel has to rely on the subjective opinions of anonymous travellers, and when they are in conflict, it is not possible to say who is "right" and who is "wrong": the only possible route is to strip out anything disputable and leave behind bland trivia.
This is not helped by the steady stream of Wikipedians coming in under the misconception that, as in Wikipedia, dull, unopinionated writing is a good thing.
If writing a neutral review is hard enough, then curating a neutral list of top attractions, best places to eat etc is even harder, especially for country or region-level articles.
These tend to be constantly subject to edit wars, with residents and business owners pitching for their own places and surreptitiously trying to remove others.
Patokallio is ultimately hopefully that a solution will be found, perhaps if a for-profit company is able to build a mutually beneficial, nurturing, and symbiotic relationship with the community of volunteer writers.
He's also published insightful comments on a related project he directly worked on: Wikitravel Press: Seven lessons from a startup that failed.
But as the outlets for user-generated content in travel proliferates — reddit forums, Gogobot, Quora, etc. — Wikivoyage seems like a long-shot endeavor. But no less valuable as a labor of love.
NB: Image of Wikivoyage staff celebrating the site's official launch, courtesy of James Alexander/ Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain