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2005-11-29 20:25:27.957016+00 by Dan Lyke 6 comments

A few days ago I linked to WikiTravel, even updated information on a few pages and added some images. My first pass at some of those changes was a more personal style, but after discussion with a few regulars I revised things to match the more community style, even though I thought that those changes made the pages less useful.

In fact i thought that those changes reduced the usability of the system to that of the average travel book: A listing of stuff that'll be out of date in six months with no way to tell if those making the statements have anything in common with me.

Next month I'm going up to Portland Oregon to hang out with my sister and parents for a few days. So I figured this would be a good dry run; I popped up the WikiTravel page on Portland Oregon and, sure enough, found nothing that was really useful.

The Wiki[Wiki] has been a really cool tool on some levels, but the beauty of the web has been in the decentralization tendencies, and a Wiki[Wiki] is almost directly counter to that: Rather than celebrating a diversity of opinion it enforces a bland monochromaticism. This may be useful in cutting down on the flame wars in a service like Wikipedia, but when I'm looking for information that's more personally aligned that lack of color removes the cues that tell me how to relate to the information presented.

The tools that offer the next big leaps in web experience will embrace that diversity and decentralization rather than spurning it.

[ related topics: Web development Net Culture Community ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-11-29 22:57:40.856332+00 by: DaveP

When I pointed to the Twin Cities WikiTravel a while back and said "I don't know how to get started", this was what I was getting at. There's some useful information, but there could be so much more. But how to fit it into what's there?

I also find that at my new job, they have a lot of wikis. But even though I've found some problems (especially in the materials aimed at new hires), I can't fix them because 1) I don't know the answer, and 2) I'm not authorized for the corporate wikis yet.

Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-11-30 00:50:42.051096+00 by: Evan Prodromou

I think that a combination of the two -- objective, community-oriented wiki content combined with opinionated, personal content like blogs, forums, per-attraction, -restaurant, -hotel reviews, etc. We're going to try to enhance the site with this kind of feature in 2006. I'm confused by your problems with Portland, though. I count about a hundred listings of things to do and see, places to eat and drink, info on getting in and good getaways from the city. Seems pretty useful to me.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-11-30 15:47:37.165735+00 by: Dan Lyke

The issue I have with the Portland (Oregon) entry is that there's no way for me to cull through that hundred things and find the ones that matter to me. When I'm looking at a hundred descriptions like:

I'm at a loss: What does "a nice line of storefronts" mean? For that matter, what does "more like a small town than a neighborhood" mean? Because all personality has been removed from the writing style, the semantic content of the language has been reduced to some sort of pidgin dialect; I've no idea if the stores there are interspersed head-shops and comic book stores (yes, a neighborhood I'd visit) or doggie salons and antiques sellers (seen too many of them already). There's a little bit more of this down in the "Buy" section, but overall there's nothing there I can't find in a trip through the yellow pages, or in an AAA guide.

If I can find the weblog or journal of someone who lives there and read a bit of that, then there's a good chance I can find, say, a good 5-8 mile day hike that gives me some good views, or a restaurant that offers me a distinctive food experience, but without enough personality to figure out how to gauge those judgements I'm at a loss to tell if "...dark, but fully local and noisier" means "like an upscale steak house, but with families" or what.

I'm going to Portland. I know I'm wanting to visit Powells Books. I know they have a decent public transportation system. I know they have restaurants and coffee shops and a few parks. I already know this stuff, and the WikiTravel Portland page doesn't really tell me anything more. That's the failure of it.

To look at it another way, I've been to Hong Kong[Wiki] a couple of times. There are a few useful tips on the WikiTravel Hong Kong page: buy an Octopus card, use the MTR to get in from the airport, that sort of thing. But a few days of reading Big White Guy or Shenzhen Zen will give me a much better idea about the experiences that are going to be unique to the region, and give me cultural observations that'll help me understand how I'm fitting into the city.

The former I can get from any existing tourist book, so finding that transferred to the web does little for me. The latter is an experience that could happen before the web, but not easily, and still needs some better tools to help sort and find.

#Comment Having spent some time made: 2005-12-02 15:10:19.851779+00 by: baylink

with several wikis, I feel the need to make a point here.

The problem's not the medium, it's the policy.

Many non-Wikipedia public information wikis feel the need to imitate WP's Neutral Point Of View policy, and while that policy has done as much for WP as the GPL has for Linux (or the Constitution for America), it's not a given that all wikis must use it, and as you've noticed, it's often counterproductive.

If I were you, I'd find the administrators, and raise your points.

#Comment Re: Portland made: 2005-12-07 20:44:38.003031+00 by: Evan Prodromou [edit history]

OK, so, I think you're mistaken about our goals for Wikitravel. Our mission, after all, is "to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide." Our point is to provide a higher-quality travel guide than can be made by traditional travel guide publishers, since we have such a huge pool of contributors and the ability to update so quickly.

If Wikitravel is appearing to you to be just as good as another travel guide, well... great! That's a ringing endorsement -- it's exactly what we're trying to do.

I'd like to enhance this level of content with personal reviews, discussion forums, opinions, travel logs, etc. in the next year, but if you're finding straight, objective, practical advice in Wikitravel, you're getting what we want to give you.

Also, I strongly disagree that a neutral point of view is inappropriate for a travel guide. I think it's absolutely appropriate, but it could be enhanced with some other styles of information, too.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-07 21:29:23.444203+00 by: Dan Lyke

Actually, Evan, I think we're in violent agreement. I see you creating a very competent alternative to print travel guides. I find them darned nigh worthless, and I find the same flaws in WikiTravel, mostly because it's taking the paper paradigm and transferring it to the net.

Yeah, personal preference, but also an observation that there's a market niche here that's not being served.