Well, first of all, let me say that I didn't mean to be flip. I really was kicking myself for not answering the abuse question in the article itself, since it's been the main question I've gotten on K5 so far.
Now, to the meat of the question: Wikitravel has a few means of countering abuse. First, let me point out that rampant abuse is a problem of success. I only hope we have to deal with abuse problems. It means lots of people are looking at the site.
The first, and most effective, is simply have a large number of dedicated Wikitravellers watching for changes to the site, and reversing any changes that look abusive. The software we use has a lot of tools for this: lists of recent changes, "diff" utilities to show what's changed on an article, page histories, etc. Administrators can also protect a page -- keep it from being edited from anyone except an admin -- if it's the subject of an edit war, with people reverting each other's changes right and left.
I can't overstate how effective this is. We have a handful of abuse cases per week, and they're usually reverted within minutes.
Second, all changes are logged either by user name (for logged-in users) or IP address (for anonymous users). If a particular user or IP address continues to be abusive, we can simply block that user or address from editing Wikitravel pages. Yes, it's a crude tool -- abusers can simply create a new user ID, or go to a different computer, or whatever -- but it's the second line of defense.
And that's it. But what if a concerted attack comes against the site, such as a DDOS attack, from thousands of computers, automated so editors can't keep up with the changes? The answer is simply that we haven't seen it yet, and neither has Wikipedia. They get thousands of changes a day, and have 160K+ articles. If this happened, we could always lock down the database so no new changes can happen, until we figure out how to deal with the attack. Damage can be kept to a minimum.
Now, what I'm getting from your concern is that you think that this is not enough, for two reasons:
- Commercial advertising is a subtle enough abuse that it will fly under the radar of a cadre of dedicated editors.
- People who want to do commercial advertising are motivated enough to launch continuous abuse attacks that go around our two levels of protection.
My response to the first is that if advertising attacks occur, they'll either be a) not subtle or b) harmless. If they're not subtle, they'll get zarked. Other editors will keep them honest and fair, and within the bounds of our manual of style. Super-huge blink-tagged stuff with
inappropriate claims of excellent deals will be fixed just as well as "HULAGHULAGHL LIK MY BALLZ!!!1!".
If the advertisements are subtle, that is, well-written listings that fit in with our MoS, well, then, who cares? Truthful, accurate information that is helpful to travellers... what's the problem? Frankly, I'd love to have businesses keep their own listings on Wikitravel up-to-date. I'm not particularly interested in the motivations of contributors, but rather with the quality of their contributions. It's not our job to look into the hearts of whoever's on the other side of the screen. If a single destination gets overloaded with listings by umpteen restaurants or hotels, an editor will come in and trim them.
To your second argument -- that businesses are more motivated -- I agree in theory, but not in practice. As I said, I only hope someone gets motivated enough to want to spend big bucks to put their listing on our site. When being listed in Wikitravel is worth
mounting a huge attack against the site... I mean,
isn't that pretty much a sign that we've made it?
I also wonder what businesses would bother with this -- either paying someone to sit and edit, edit, edit a single page, or develop an automated attack.
I also want to point out that any talk of travel and destinations is necessarily going to name names of actual businesses, with addresses, phone numbers, and reviews. There's no way we're going to have pure content without any businesses listed -- that's just not worthwhile for travelers. Unless you're a hobo, you have to pay someone to get you from point A to point B, to feed you, to give you space to sleep. It's better to have names for these people than not. That's part of what a travel guide is for.
Your expectation that we provide some other kind of "protection" seems a little strange. What do you expect us to do? Get certified affidavits from each and every contributor that they have no commercial interest in the subjects they're writing about? Have an elaborate submission process, where certified editors review each and every spelling correction to make sure it doesn't have a subliminal advertisement in it?
The power of Wiki is that anyone can edit a page. By opening the floodgates, you allow anything, the good along with the bad. Experience with Wikis such as Wikipedia shows that the good far outweighs, and overpowers, the bad. Until we see otherwise, I don't think we're going to hobble Wikitravel with obstacles to contributing, and lose the power of open, anonymous editing, until we really see that the model doesn't work.
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