Wikivoyage, the newest project by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), was launched on January 15, 2013, the 12th anniversary of Wikipedia. Like its sister projects, the ad-free worldwide travel guide available in nine languages can be edited by anyone. All its content is available under a free (CC-BY-SA) license. WikiVoyage claims to have approximately 50,000 articles as of launch. Wikivoyage is an attempt to club the detailed, personal and up-to-date nature of content on travel websites with broader and authoritative travel content.
Homepage of Wikivoyage
Many travel guides in one
A typical Wikivoyage page for a travel destination has a few photos and sections like any other travel guide: places of interest, history, shopping, accommodation, sightseeing, climate, medical care, getting around, camping, cuisine and so on. The listings are further drilled down to suit various categorisations – hotels are classified as budget hotels, mid-range hotels and high-end hotels; places for eating out range from roadside kiosks to fine dining restaurants. Ready reckoner-like information about hospitals, postal and courier services, emergency phone numbers, rules for general safety, local laws everyone should know etc. is included under the 'Contact' section. Wikivoyage contains various types of maps/guides to language and everyday conversation, itineraries and general travel related topics. Each page is also available in PDF and printable versions for offline access. One grouse we have is that the map selection for Indian destinations is rather thin.
Different kinds of maps on Wikivoyage
Handling difference of opinion
Wikiyoyage policies clarify that the project intends to be comprehensive but does not serve as a directory of travel listings. This leaves room for difference of opinion between editors about the content that can be included and that which should be left out. An editor who has found the service rude at a restaurant would want it struck off the list, whereras another would opine that it has great food. As with other Wikiprojects, difference of opinion is handled at Wikivoyage by trying to achieve consensus. Contentious topics could also include many different points of view in the final article.
Wikivoyage in more languages
Wikivoyage is currently available in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. Contributors who wish to start a version in their own language can do so by submitting a request to the WMF.
Comparison with Wikipedia
Wikipedia has articles on notable travel destinations and enterprises across the world (and a new page can be created for those that don’t have one already). As Wikipedia is structured as an encyclopedia, unverifiable information is tossed out of Wikipedia. Content on Wikivoyage is less encyclopaedic than Wikipedia. Wikivoyage focuses more on content of practical use to the traveller. Content on Wikivoyage does not need to be strictly verifiable; it allows for more informal and personal experiences to take precedence over prosaic travel guide-like information. Unlike Wikipedia, Wikivoyage does not insist on a neutral point of view. On the contrary, the point of view of a traveller seeking information is assumed.
How is it different from Wikitravel?
Wikitravel, another travel wiki available under the CC-BY-SA license, is run by a for-profit organisation, Internet Brands. A section of editors from the German and Italian versions of Wikitravel broke away from the website and launched the WikiVoyage Association in 2006. The project was migrated to the Wikimedia Foundation in 2012, where it was in beta for two months till November. The content present at the launch of the public beta of Wikivoyage was forked from content published on Wikitravel. All Wikivoyage policies too have been inherited from Wikitravel. They are currently being tweaked to suit the new setup. The images from Wikitravel have also been duplicated to the Wikimedia Commons.
What about other travel guides both online and offline?
A big drawback of offline travel guides is that they go through a publishing cycle during which a part of the information is likely to become outdated. Travel blogs, however acclaimed, provide but one view of the traveller or the group of travellers. Travel and location-specific websites with reviews and opinions do not provide the larger picture of an exhaustive travel guide, and also involve the labourious task of piecing together the information posted by other travellers to come to a decision. Wikivoyage, which attempts to bridge them all, has gone live at a time when it faces stiff competition from established travel guides such as Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor. However, it is the only non-commercial guide yet that aims to be reliable, all-inclusive and comprehensive. The idea behind WikiVoyage is to let you plan your travel and not try to get you to book hotels and flights from certain sources.
Tingatinga painting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Wikivoyage Destination of the Month (November). Source: Wikimedia Commons
The road ahead
According to Ravikiran Rao, an administrator on Wikivoyage, the project has quite a few challenges.
- Wikivoyage needs to have better and more maps for places in India, where the focus is now on getting more static maps.
- More listings (places of interest, restaurants etc.) need to be added to make articles more comprehensive. One way to streamline these listings would be to add them all to Wikidata, a centralised data repository that currently works only with content on Wikipedia. This would enable content posted across Wikipedia and Wikivoyage to be accessed from one place – preventing duplication of content as well as saving editors the effort of searching for such content.
- Images from the Wikimedia Commons need to be selected and added to the appropriate pages.
- The development of a web interface and mobile apps for Wikivoyage is another essential task. Making it easy to add new content while the traveller is still on-the-go helps keep the content up-to-date and also encourages more contributions. Photos can already be added/uploaded using smartphone apps to the Wikimedia Commons, from where they can be added to Wikivoyage pages.
- Business travellers have different needs and objectives than those of tourists (and indeed of road-runners). It is essential to factor in every kind of traveller.
- The casual contributor needs to be encouraged so that dedicated contributors do not face the daunting two-fold task of both content curation and content creation. With an editor count of merely 200, Wikivoyage needs to recruit and retain more.
- Collaborators can come together and start Wikivoyage in their choice of language. There is no version of Wikivoyage in the Indic languages yet.
- Another challenge is fighting spam from the different businesses trying to put a plug for themselves in the listings.
Peter Fitzgerald, another administrator on Wikivoyage, says, "Some of the plans we have involve new and more interactive ways for contributors to review businesses. New features planned by our community will allow trusted users to mark listings as accurate and up-to-date, all users will be able to up-vote or down-vote based on their experiences, and users will be able to write personalized reviews linked to listings a la Tripadvisor. The other major feature that we are planning is the addition of interactive maps based on Open Street Map, customized to suit our guides and plot our listings."
The success of Wikivoyage success will be determined by how it is shaped in the time to come by the volunteer community. It remains to be seen how Wikivoyage is delineated by the shifting sands of crowdsourced content, by travellers and their travails, the writers of travelogues, the seekers of adventure, the footloose, the jetsetters, and maybe even the couchsurfers. Here's wishing it bon voyage.
Disclosure: The author is a member of the Wikimedia India Chapter and an editor at various Wiki projects.
Cover image: Wikimedia Commons