Message Of The Day

Mon, 08 Dec 2003

20:43 [zork(~)] cat discontents.txt


So, Nick seems to be less than impressed with the <a http="">Wikitravel</a> interface. And with good reason: Wiki interfaces are to suck. Editing text in a browser is miserable, and Wiki markup is laughable for anyone who's done serious markup in a reasonable markup language. The process is frustrating, especially for non-trivial edits.

There's a project to make a <a href="">dedicated client</a> for the <a href="">MediaWiki</a> software. We'll see how that goes. There's also a <a href="">modes for VIM and Emacs</a> to edit MediaWiki articles, and I believe someone's coded a full client in Emacs lisp.

One thing he didn't point out is that the navigational interface on the pages is nearly impossible to handle. Every single function you could ever need is on every page -- a serious faceblast of links. Hard to find what you need from all that linkage. I think there's some possibilities for fixing that -- maybe with Javurscript to do twist-down interface menus or something. I dunno.

Nick also pointed out that the templates can be kind of intimidating. I'm also kind of ambivalent about <a href="">templates</a>. It's a three-edged sword: if we have no guidance on how to structure articles, people get weirded out, and argue a lot about what should go where. If we <i>have</i> guidance, they complain about the rigidity, or they feel like they can't make free-form edits. I don't remember what the third edge is.

There's also a problem with too many or too few articles. People seem to feel more comfy adding to an existing article than making a new one. If a page is empty when people start, they get freaked out that they don't know where to begin. If a page has stuff on it already, they get worried they're going to mess something up, or they can't find the area they want to edit in all the Wiki markup.

The <a href=""> CIA World Factbook 2002 imports</a> are probably the worst culprit for this. We wanted to get something in place early, to give at least a little navigation structure to the site, but they ended up being more problem then they were worth. They're just placeholders for real articles, of course. We're trying to <a href="">defactbookize</a> them as they get edited, but it's a slow process. You can compare the <a href="">Central African Republic</a>, a purely CIA Factbook import article, with the <a href="">USA</a>), which is defactbookized and pretty well fleshed out.

Overall, it's good to hear some criticism. I actually am employed right now -- doing some contract work -- but Wikitravel does take up some time. I was happy that Mister Bad Jr. was able to do such a fantastic job on <a href="">Oahu</a>, <a href="">Hawaii</a>, <a href="">Honolulu</a>, and <a href="">Oakland</a>. Hearing about her initial problems makes this even more of an impressive task. Despite all the interface obstacles, she r0x0red again. Beaujolais to her!

Tue, 25 Nov 2003

18:20 [zork(~)] cat postnow.txt


I know a lot of good writers, and I have a lot of friends that support our effort with <a href="">Wikitravel</a>. Many have offered to "submit something", or "help out", but I've noticed a tendency on their parts to think of wiki pages as magazine articles. In their mind, the page must be complete and exquisitely crafted on initial posting.

This is a daunting task, and most people just don't have the time or energy for it. Some folks have, in fact, come through in this way: Johnny Royale wrote up the hilarious <a href="">Walnut Creek guide</a>, and Siduri started <a href="">a guide to the Tenderloin</a>. Tjames made <a href="">Santa Barbara</a>, which is such a great professional page. I love it.

But most people don't, or can't, and then they get intimidated and guilty and they don't want to talk to me about Wikitravel anymore. Which is kind of a bummer for me, because I never wanted a magazine article in the first place. It's like if your Dad promises you some expensive gift for Christmas, and then he can't afford it, so he doesn't get you anything and feels guilty and goes and gets schnockered at the pub on Christmas Eve instead.

The thing I'm starting to grok about wiki -- and I'm not a wiki expert by any means -- is that <a href="">Worse is Better</a>. You don't have to create something beautiful the first time around. In fact, great initial postings may actually be counterproductive. They kind of discourage editing by readers, meaning that community knowledge doesn't get included. It's the <a href="">stub articles</a> that seem to really grow into something information-rich.

I love my friends and I appreciate their goodwill. I know some of the best people in the world. But I wish I could think of an easy way to tell friends who offer to create a new article for Wikitravel that that's not what I really want. Just come over and help out. Create a stub for something that's not there. Expand a stub that is there. Correct someone else's spelling. Look up the phone number for a restaurant listing. Just, y'know, <a href="">plunge forward</a>. It's more fun that way, anyways.

So, Nick, if you really want to help out, check out the pages for <a href="">the Bay Area</a>, for <a href="">San Francisco</a>, or for <a href="">the East Bay</a> and <a href="">Oakland</a>, and just start dribbling in bits and pieces of transit info. You know plenty more about <a href="">Seattle</a> and the <a href="">the Pacific Northwest</a> than is on those stub pages. That's really what I want.

Fri, 07 Nov 2003

18:26 [zork(~)] cat kuro5hin.txt


In my endless quest to promote Wikitravel, I wrote an <a href="">article</a> for Kuro5hin about the site. Talk about your hostile crowd -- I got voted down to almost dump status before I decided to pull the story and submit it for editing. After some simple editorial comments -- "You use '--' too much" -- the mood was much better, and when I submit it for voting it was posted within a few hours.

I think this article is better than the Advogato one. For one, I wasn't drunk when I wrote it. It abuses the Cathedral-and-Bazaar metaphor something terrible, but I figure that's OK. The big problem is that most readers seem to have all kinds of fear about Wiki abuse, vandalism, commercial advertising, etc. I have been fielding questions in the K5 comments area, but most foks just don't seem to get that dedicated Wiki users can overpower transitory abuse. I'm going to have to put info about that in the next article I write.

The articles I've written this week have had good effect. People seem to really dig the idea behind Wikitravel, and there's been a lot of activity and new users. We jumped up over 100 registered users last night -- how long till we have 1000? It's been a little hard absorbing the new user base, but I think we're proceeding apace. I'm kind of glad we've had the last few months to figure out what we're doing, since our <a href="">help text</a> and <a href="">manual of style</a> are more or less complete and ready for newbies to peruse. We'll see -- I'm fearing the first mention on slashdot.

Wed, 05 Nov 2003

19:08 [zork(~)] cat advogato.txt


So, I wrote an <a href="">article</a> for Advogato last night about <a href="">Wikitravel</a>. Me and Maj have been having Tuesday night dinner parties, and we had about 8 people over, and drank everything vaguely alcoholic in the house, so when folks were leaving around 2AM, I figured it'd be a good time to scratch something out and post it. OK, maybe not such a good idea, but it seemed really reasonable at the time.

Anyways, I don't seem to be getting the same kind of hostility towards my UFO beliefs there as I got from travel sites. It might just be more of a comment on the state of Advogato than anything else. I dunno.

I re-read the article today. It's way too long, and full of grammar and spelling mistakes. Advogato has no interface for editing articles, either. Lesson learned: don't try to write serious articles when you've been guzzling Windex.

Tue, 04 Nov 2003

03:44 [zork(~)] cat ufobeliefs.txt


URGH. So, I think I mentioned my stupid <a href="">Wikitravel</a> fetish, right? Anyways, today I was thinking that it'd be a good idea to spend some time telling other people about the site. Like, people who actually give a shit, instead of MOTD readers.

So I looked on <a href="">Open Directory</a> for some sites that had something to do with <a href="">travel</a>. And there's two sites that are featured: <a href="">Virtual Tourist</a> and <a href="">Lonely Planet</a>. So, I went and I signed in to both services, reviewed their terms of service, spent about an hour on each to get a feel for the lay of the land, and scanned around their crufty Web fora for the right area to post in, and then wrote brief posts saying that if anyone was interested in making their own, free travel guide, well, Wikitravel was for them. No vitriol, no money-changer cursing, just a gentle URL and an explanation of what we're doing.

Big mistake.

When I got back to my computer tonight, and went to check on the status of my posts, I found that both accounts -- one at each service -- were locked out. I guess Free Content is too much for the Man to handle. But I kinda feel like I was <a href="">fired from Waldenbooks for my UFO beliefs</a>.

Webzines face tough times.

Thu, 30 Oct 2003

20:35 [zork(~)] cat wikitravel.txt


So, my beautiful <a href="">fiancee</a> is a travel writer. She's really good. And I'm a Text Libre advocate. That's really annoying.

Anyways, we started a site to make a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide. It's like <a href="">Wikipedia</a>, only for travel. And it uses the <a href="">Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License</a>, rather than the crufty <a href="">GFDL</a>.

It's called <a href="">Wikitravel</a>. It's fun, but it's hard, too. Which I guess the best things in life are like that.

[zork(~)] cal
[zork(~)] tree
[zork(~)] cat README