The Signpost

News and notes

Tough journey for new travel guide

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Jan eissfeldt and Tony1
The Portuguese town of Oporto, a destination of the month featured on the WikiVoyage front page. WikiVoyage, which is set to migrate to the Wikimedia Foundation, is already in the process of picking up freely licensed material from

Wikimedia editors have been debating a community proposal for the adoption of a new project to host free travel-guide content. The debate reached a new stage when a three-month request for comment on Meta came to an end, with a decision to set up the first new type of Wikimedia project in half a decade (Signpost coverage). The original proposal for the travel guide unfolded during April on Meta and the Wikimedia-l mailing lists (I, II, and III; Signpost coverage), centring around the wish of volunteer contributors to the WikiTravel project to work in a non-commercial environment.

WikiTravel ( is owned by the for-profit California-based company Internet Brands (website), which operates online media, community, and e-commerce sites in vertical markets. Internet Brands is in turn owned by private equity investors Hellman & Friedman LLC, which bought the company in a US$640M deal almost a year ago. According to The New York Times, Investopedia, and Small Cap Investor, Internet Brands' strategy is to focus on specific target audiences that tend to be attractive to advertisers. The company's portfolio of websites includes many with social-media features, and has a monthly average of 112 million unique visitors (up from 70 million at the end of 2010), and 805 million page views; the company has more than 40,000 direct advertisers. The English-language version of consists of some 25,000 freely licensed articles.

Early discussions

The initial proposal was backed by many volunteer editors at, including project founders Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins, as well as Stefan Fussan, chairman of the board of the German non-profit Wikivoyage Association. The association and its project Wikivoyage—a long-standing fork from, run by a mainly German volunteer community with some input from Italian volunteers—formally joined the proposal in June 2012, when the association's general assembly unanimously endorsed it (Signpost coverage). The association offered the domain, and is currently seeking recognition by Wikimedia as an independent thematic organisation. The travel-guide proposal, for which Doc James was a key advocate, quickly gathered support among editors.

RfC Mark 1

The RfC, conducted in several stages, focused on issues such as whether travel content can be regarded as educational, potential conflict-of-interest issues, and how the new project would interact with other Wikimedia projects and with those hosted by third parties.

Proponents have argued that starting with the existing CC-by-SA freely licensed travel content and giving existing volunteer communities a new home would bring significant benefits to those communities, to readers, and to the Wikimedia movement. Editors and readers of travel content would gain advantages from being part of a large and powerful non-commercial movement, and Wikimedia would be able to broaden the scope of its free educational material. The ability of the current travel-content communities to create a properly functioning new project would be facilitated by the improved software available from being hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation (the current travel-guide content is run on an older version of MediaWiki).

Opponents of the move have argued that travel content is not sufficiently educational and is therefore inconsistent with Wikimedia's mission, that setting up a wiki for travel-guide content would offer no conceivable benefit to anyone, that other Wikimedia projects could be disrupted by a potentially resource-intensive move, that travel content involves inherent conflicts of interest, and that there could be technical problems such as the transfer of page histories.

Wikimania 2012—the debate crystallises

In the run-up to Wikimania 2012 last month, the ayes in the Meta RfC had taken an early lead, although several contested issues remained unresolved and there were concerns about limited participation in the debate (Signpost coverage). On 11 July there were 107 ayes, with 11 nays focusing on unresolved issues. Within two days the WMF board, meeting at Wikimania, had examined the proposal and issued a letter to the community, stating the board's opinion that several free travel-content projects can coexist and emphasising the value the Wikimedia movement places on community-consensus decision-making. At the same time, the board announced that it wanted to see an extension of the RfC for at least a further six weeks before looking at the possibility of limited technical support for the community-led initiative. During Wikimania, interested community members met in person for the first time to chart a way ahead.

RfC rebooted

To tackle the participation issue, the community set up a globally displayed notice on Meta in the second half of July (after just a side-notice in April), significantly boosting involvement. At the same time, Internet Brands increased its engagement in the debate through the participation of IBobi, one of its community managers. On 13 August, IBobi issued a company response to the proposal, pointing to the results of its reader survey as evidence that the project has been working well under its stewardship. IBobi proposed that could become an Internet Brands–hosted Wikimedia sister project, as long as Wikimedia refrained from setting up a new travel-guide project. However, community members disputed the neutrality of the survey questions, among other issues raised by the company.

A senior Wikimedian volunteer who supports the creation of the new project told the Signpost that Internet Brands nevertheless has a perfect right to put its case as to why the status quo should be maintained. Indeed, Wikitravel's Terms of use clearly states that "if you continue to use the service against our wishes, we reserve the right to use whatever means available—technical or legal—to prevent you from disrupting our work together." On 21 August, Internet Brands' legal department set up an account on the site and issued this warning to eight volunteer editors: "Please be advised that your recent actions communicating directly with members of Wikitravel could put you in violation of numerous federal and state laws. We strongly urge you to cease and desist all action detrimental to If you persist in this course of conduct, you will potentially be a named defendant, and therefore liable for any and all resulting damages."

Community consensus and the way forward

On 23 August, the RfC ended with 78% support for setting up a Wikimedia travel-guide project (540 ayes to 152 nays). A member of the WMF board has said "the board is reviewing the RfC and its talk page over the next week. We are going to share our thoughts with you soon on the RfC's talk page. Please feel free to leave comments there, that's still possible and will be read."

Meanwhile, the Commons community has established a task force to manage the transfer of freely licensed files in any event, and Wikivoyage has moved to import and host freely licensed articles. WikiVoyage has also begun a clean-up of its own policies to align itself with Wikimedia standards.

The Signpost invited Internet Brands to put its views on editors' complaints that the version of wiki software used on is outmoded, and that there has been an intensification of advertising on the site that may undermine neutrality. We also asked about the strategy behind the talk-page warnings in the light of the company's stated desire to "bring back old non-admin regulars". Although we responded to Internet Brands' subsequent request that we clarify the Signpost's affiliations, at the time of publication we have received no reply to our questions.

A Turkish field gun in the Gallipoli gallery of the Australian War Memorial

In brief

Participating countries in Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 are in red
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.
Not directly, Wikipedia being shielded by anonymity and all. But remember that to them this smells like a hostile takeover. ResMar 15:24, 29 August 2012 (UTC)[reply]
And I can understand why they feel that way. While I would support a travel sister project, I am rather uncomfortable about this whole situation. It feels like we're bullying another company to either join us or we'll just create our own site and put you out of business. That's...kinda wrong. In a number of ways. SilverserenC 05:22, 30 August 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Wikivoyage has asked to join us. The fact that a number of editors from Wikitravel is joining Wikivoyage right now as they have had issues with IB is an issue for IB. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) (if I write on your page reply on mine) 21:09, 30 August 2012 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0