Wikivoyage Answers World's Need For A Wikipedia For Travel

The Wikimedia Foundation launched Wikivoyage Tuesday, adding a travel site to its stable of free resources edited by anyone and everyone. Travel, and all the local advertising money that comes with it, is a hotly contested market on the Web, so having Wikivoyage as a non-commercial alternative feels like a breath of fresh air.

Why isn't it called Wikitravel? Well, because that already exists. It's independent, and it has been around since 2003, and it will stick around, presumably. But Wikivoyage is now backed by the Wikimedia Foundation, home of Wikipedia. That means there will be marketing muscle behind it.

Anyone can create or edit a Wikivoyage post, and the collaborative editing works basically the same way it does on Wikipedia. People who care a lot will do the work, and everyone gets the benefits. Wikivoyage has a long and exhaustive list of policies about what does and does not fly. Examples: "The traveler comes first," "Do not wage edit war," "Generally, if an attraction or business is not worth going to, leave it out."

Wikivoyage content is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. That means you can read, copy, share, print, save, download, modify and even sell the content if you want. The only condition is that you uphold the terms of the license by attributing the work to its creators and freely licensing any reuse or derivative works. There are no ads. The only agenda is to get you to contribute work or money if you believe in the concept.

The State Of Travel Sites

Contrast Wikivoyage with established travel sites like TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is a content business. Between its exhaustive listings and ratings, its hooks into social networks through Facebook, and its active community forums and photo galleries, it's a gold mine for searching for all kinds of destinations. It's a very busy site that's all organized around its ad business.

Then there's Google, which has put the pieces in place to utterly dominate online travel research. Google already has your maps, it has your search history, it probably has your email and now it's tying that all together with your name on Google+. It knows what you're into. Then it bought ITA Software for flights, Zagat for restaurants and Frommer's for the rest of the stuff in travel guides. Google can serve you for travel just like it can for other kinds of searches.

There's a lot of money in travel sites and applications, and the for-profit ones will surely keep improving. But as they do, there's room for a strongly backed non-profit alternative like Wikivoyage, where the motivations are at least slightly more pure. That means what you see is less likely to be influenced by the service's commercial interests. It also means less clutter.

The Wiki's Voyage

Wikivoyage was actually founded independently in Germany in 2006. Like many wiki projects, it emerged as a self-motivated passion project before being picked up by the Wikimedia Foundation. The content and brand was donated to the Wikimedia Foundation in October 2012, and the site was moved over in November. It has been in beta since then, and it launches today with around 50,000 articles and 200 editors on board.

"There's a huge global demand for travel information, but very few sources are both comprehensive and non-commercial. That's about to change," said Sue Gardner, executive director of Wikimedia, in a press release.

"The purpose of the Wikivoyage Association is to promote education and knowledge of all countries and regions in the world, as well as understanding among nations,” said Stefan Fussan, Chairman of the board of the Wikivoyage Association, in the same press release. "We're very excited about the launch of Wikivoyage as a Wikimedia project, and about the future role of the Association in supporting the Wikivoyage community through its programs."

Image via Wikimedia Commons.