User:Wrh2/Why Wikivoyage was not my primary travel planning tool

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I recently spent three months traveling through five different countries (Turkey, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Madagascar). This trip required extensive planning, both before the trip started and once it was in progress. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I have had success using Wikivoyage city and park articles on trips within the United States, for a lengthy trip through countries that I was completely unfamiliar with I found that our site was inferior to other travel guides (specifically Lonely Planet's guide to Turkey, Bradt's guide to Madagascar, and Tripadvisor). It is my hope that by highlighting three issues that I faced that solutions can be found to address them.

Note that this essay is not meant to disparage Wikivoyage, but to highlight what I perceived as deficiencies that were particularly problematic while planning a long trip through countries that do not have large and active editor communities on this site.

Overview[edit]

In planning a trip through Turkey and Africa I was frustrated in trying to use Wikivoyage in three specific ways:

  1. Wikivoyage's regional articles are currently mostly just skeletons used to sub-divide the geographic hierarchy, are difficult for editors to expand due to the subjective judgement of what a region's "highlights" are, and are not particularly useful to readers who are unfamiliar with the area and trying to plan a trip through the region.
    Suggested fix: The concept of a "region article" should be changed so that the focus of the region article is on presenting an overview of its child cities/regions, rather than the region as a whole.
  2. Wikivoyage's listings fail to provide any indication of whether the information is reliable or not, and often are not structured in a way that allows a reader to easily differentiate between options (especially for restaurants, bars and hotels).
    Suggested fix: Find ways to both provide indications of listing "freshness" and accuracy, while also offering ways for readers who want more information to get it.
  3. Wikivoyage needs to provide better support for offline usage. The original goal of "printed guides" was good for its time, but more than a decade later printed pages are an anachronism as users have turned to smartphones and tablets to store content.
    Suggested fix: Change the focus from "printed guides" to "offline usage", with more focus given to generation of e-books and similar tools.

Below is a more detailed overview of the problems I faced and the reasons for the suggested fixes.

Regions[edit]

My experience: In planning a trip, I started at the country level and then attempted to browse the regions of the country. In the vast majority of cases, the region articles I found contained little information, and worse, they were not structured in a way that helped me determine where I might want to visit. The end result was that I ended up purchasing printed travel guides, which did a far better job of organizing content in a way that allowed me to plan an itinerary.

The problem: The goals of the current region template are to provide an overview of the region's sights, cuisine, etc. However, in practice the vast majority of region articles are simply lists of child regions used to fill out the geographic hierarchy, with Wikivoyage:One-liner listings constraining the description to a vague, flowery blurb about each child destination (if any overview at all is provided). Most people planning a trip will be browsing region articles trying to determine what parks and cities to visit, and the current Wikivoyage region template does not provide sufficient information to make informed decisions. For example, see Marmara (region), which provides only a vague indication of what is in each child region, and certainly not enough to use for a user to choose between child regions.

Suggested fix (Updated 23-October-2015): Change the focus of the region articles to reflect the reality that regions are used primarily to organize the geographic hierarchy. The focus of the region articles would thus shift from providing an overview of the region as a whole to providing an overview of each child city/region by treating those child cities/regions similarly to listings in city articles, with 2-5 sentence descriptions meant to give the reader enough of an overview to decide whether or not to click on the article link to read more. The "See", "Do", "Buy", "Eat" and "Drink" sections, which have proven very difficult to write using the current template, would be made optional (leaving them out in most cases). See Central Coast (California) for an example of what this proposal might look like in practice. The region template would be adjusted as follows, with optional headings removed from the default template:

'''Region name''' is in [[Country name]].

== Regions ==
* '''[[Sub-region #1]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this child region is of interest.
* '''[[Sub-region #2]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this child region is of interest.
* '''[[Sub-region #3]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this child region is of interest.

== Cities ==
* '''[[City #1]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this city is of interest.
* '''[[City #2]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this city is of interest.
* '''[[City #3]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this city is of interest.

== Other destinations ==
* '''[[Other destination #1]]]''' - 2-5 sentences about why this destination is of interest.

== Understand ==

== Get in ==

== Get around ==

== Go next ==
* '''[[Neighboring Region #1]]''' - 2-5 sentences about getting to this neighboring region and why it is of interest.
* '''[[Neighboring Region #2]]''' - 2-5 sentences about getting to this neighboring region and why it is of interest.

Following this approach, headings like "See", "Do", "Eat", "Talk", etc would be eliminated from the default template, and only used in a region article when needed for a specific reason (for example, if the region has a famous cuisine). This approach would offer the following benefits:

  • This approach would better reflect how people actually plan travel by giving them a way to browse through regions and gain an understanding of what the highlights of each part of the region are, allowing them to focus on portions of a region that interest them most.
  • Editors, who currently struggle to make determinations about what to put in the "See", "Do" and other sections of a region article, would have a more-manageable task that involved summarizing each child destination. That approach would allow our region articles to be quickly improved even by someone unfamiliar with the region, since anyone can summarize the highlights of an article into 2-5 paragraphs and add that summary to the parent region.

See also:

Quality of listings[edit]

My experience: In trying to choose restaurants, hotels, etc based on Wikivoyage articles, there was no way to know if a listing was for a business that had closed years ago, if the information was still accurate, or to make an educated decision on which business to patronize. The end result was that I relied almost exclusively on Tripadvisor and ignored Wikivoyage listings completely.

The problem: One of the key factors that led to the creation of Wikivoyage was frustration by the creators that their printed guide book contained out of date information, but we now face the same problem on Wikivoyage, and perhaps a worse one since printed guide books at least indicate that the information was accurate when the book was published. Similarly, we have no easy way of knowing if the author of a listing provided an accurate representation of a place - just because the original author loves a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant doesn't mean that others will like it.

Suggested fix: There may not be a single solution to issues with listings, but in general it would seem that it would be valuable to to make it far easier for readers to provide feedback about listings, and for us to include more information in listings for those who want it. Some possibilities:

  • When articles contain lists of businesses where a significant number are closed or out of date it throws into doubt whether any of the listings are accurate. To deal with stale information, a simple way to indicate "last updated" or some similar piece of info would be useful. That information could be automatically added by the listing template editor, and if desired that info could be hidden by default.
  • By their nature, the brief listings in Wikivoyage can provide only a limited amount of information, and while that limited detail might be sufficient to narrow down the list of possibilities, it is often insufficient for making a final choice. While the primary link for a business might help in obtaining further info, travel planning requires non-biased information, so options for providing that information, or providing links to that information, need to be considered. Tripadvisor has a wealth of helpful reviews on businesses worldwide, and the much-discussed step of linking to Wikipedia articles would at least provide an option to get more information while also providing an indication of notability. Other links might also be useful, provided there was some way to easily determine what links were allowed and what links were not allowed. To deal with the expected fallout from those who oppose such links, it would probably not be difficult to allow user preferences to hide some or all such links if desired.
  • It would not be too difficult to implement simple icons next to listings allowing readers to either flag listings ("out of date", "just visited", etc), to rate them, etc with a single click. Reflecting that 100 people had visited a place in the past year, or that people generally rated a place "must see", would give some indication that a place was of particular interest.

An unpolished example of what such a listing might look like:

  • El Rancho Hotel & Motel, 1000 E. Highway 66, ☎ +1 505 863-9311 (El Rancho Hotel & Motel article on Wikipedia, TA). This historic Route 66 motel has been the site of numerous film productions over the years, and today offers an upscale lodging and dining option for travelers. Blah blah blah... (last updated 04-Oct-2013 | rate it! | edit listing)

See also: Wikivoyage:Business listings reliability Expedition

Offline usage[edit]

My experience: My frustration related to Wikivoyage's ability to generate content for offline usage was primarily due to the fact that the Special:Book functionality is not promoted and not well supported on Wikivoyage, and thus I was unaware of capabilities that would have allowed creation of useful offline content. Having now investigated this functionality further, there is a lot that can be done with it, but Wikivoyage is not promoting and supporting book creation nearly as much as such a valuable feature warrants.

The problem: One of the original goals of Wikivoyage was to allow "printable guides". That goal pre-dated the advent of smart phones and e-books, and it is time to update the site's guiding principles to reflect the reality that "offline use" is far, far more common (and valuable for travelers) than printed pages. Users want to be able to select an area that they are traveling to and generate a collection of all content available for that area. Unfortunately, that capability is not a current focus of the site's goals.

Suggested fix: Update Wikivoyage:Goals and non-goals to replace the focus on "print-outs" with a focus on "offline usage", and put more effort into making the site friendlier for offline usage. That effort might entail promoting tools related to e-book downloading and creation at the top of each article. Similarly, we can focus on ensuring that it is as easy as possible for a user to generate a collection that includes all articles within a region, or all districts within a huge city. For example, the Special:Book capability allows users to generate a book that contains all articles within a category, and such functionality could easily be promoted in a way that makes valuable offline content easily available to all users.

The ability to print a page may still be important to a small minority of users, but in today's world our focus should instead be on allowing users to generate e-books and similar content for offline usage, which is a far more common use-case.

See also: Wikivoyage:Offline reader Expedition, w:Help:Books

Conclusion[edit]

Wikivoyage does many things well, but while I have used it repeatedly for visits to specific cities, it failed me in planning a trip to countries that I was not familiar with. Others may have had different experiences, but those were mine, and I'd like this essay to stand as a suggestion for how things might be improved so that my next trip can be done with Wikivoyage as the primary travel planning tool.