Wikitravel: Leave Home Without It
There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical about the Webby Awards. One is the crowning of Wikitravel as the top travel site at the latest winners ceremony, held a couple of weeks ago. From what I can tell, the site got the tiara because it is a wiki, not because it’s any good. It’s not.
Wikitravel is yet another iteration of Wikipedia, the ubiquitous experiment in global content creation that is responsible for, among other important developments, a worldwide rash of errors in student papers. Wikis are mutiplying wiki-wiki (“quick” or “quickly” in Hawaiian. Ahem) in the 2.0 garden. We will know the End of Days is upon us when there is a Web 2.0 Wiki. (Actually, I tried to find one, and could only come up with this entry on Web 2.0 in Wikipedia. Say, is that a locust on my screen?)
With knowledgable potential authors living in or near the places people want to travel, this wiki could be a powerful proof of the crowdsourcing concept.
Alas. Every time Ivisit Wikitravel, I’m struck by what a lousy travel guide it is. Stick your finger on a map (or don’t; there’s no graphical navigation for this global infosource) and the place you’re pointing to is likely better served by a guidebook from one of those 1.0 throwbacks Lonely Planet, Fodor’s or Michelin–or, to cut to the toughest truth, by brief consult with Brother Google. Much of the material on Wikitravel sounds like it comes from a travel brochure or tourism authority handout (it may have) rather than from a chorus of knowing, clear-eyed locals and veteran visitors determined to plank out the truth. Two random examples: The entries for Cleveland and Barcelona.
The winner of the People’s Choice Webby in the travel category is one of my personal favorites, Tripadvisor. Sure, it’s full of commercial clutter and a mess to navigate, but the message boards are full of frank, detailed, occasionally brutal testimony from fellow travelers, often with digital photos to prove it. (To be fair, Wikitravel has WikitravelExtra, but it’s a rickety social networky add-on that feels like a talented high school kid’s Web design project.)
When I’m planning a trip, I visit Tripadvisor.
I cannot imagine why I’d visit Wikitravel.
I will not launch into either my wiki- or Webby-bashing jeremiads here. But back to the point: By rewarding form over substance–or, worse, voguish style over user value–the Webocracy demonstrates again that it misses the point of 2.0: Forget about the user and you’re dead.