Jani Patokallio is the managing editor of Wikitravel Press, a company who produce print on demand travel guides based on content from Wikitravel and recently, from OpenStreetMap. I caught up with Jani to ask him a few questions about publishing, open content and OpenStreetMap.
What first got you interested in Wikitravel?
I’ve contributed to collaborative knowledge projects like Usenet, Everything2 and Wikipedia as long as I’ve been hanging around on the Internet, but Wikitravel was finally the one that managed to synthesize most of my interests together: I get to read about weird and wonderful places, travel to them myself, take pretty pictures and then write about it for all the world to see! And the comprehensiveness and immediacy of Wikitravel just blows away any traditional guidebooks.
Tell us a bit about what Wikitravel Press do?
We publish printed guidebooks using Wikitravel (and OpenStreetMap) content. Our books are updated every month and printed on demand, so you’ll always get the latest copy, and the information in that copy will be much more up to date than your average guidebook.
You recently published a guidebook that included OpenStreetMap maps. What made you choose OSM and what did you find the most difficult challenge you faced trying to integrate OSM maps?
As an open-content project, we needed maps that were Creative Commons-compatible, and OpenStreetMap is by far and away the best source of such map data. The hardest part of the integration was just figuring out how it all works and setting up all the necessary software: there just isn’t that much documentation on how to select the bits of the database you’re interested in, manipulate the resulting XML, turn it into an SVG and finally spool it out to PNG, especially if you’re coming into this with minimal mapping experience and if you have to do quite a bit of customization to the output. My hat’s off to our Paris editor Mark Jaroski, who had the background and persistence to figure out many things I initially found perplexing.
Where do you see wikis going over the next few years? Will there be one travel-wiki and one map-wiki to rule them all, or do you think we’ll see lots of specialised wikis emerging?
The network effect means that it’s to everyone’s advantage to contribute to the same site, and also that it’s very hard to achieve critical mass as a competitor. Wikitravel has always explicitly aimed at all travellers: there are tips on where to find the best 10-baht noodles in Bangkok’s backpacker district and there are listings of resorts in the Bahamas that cost $1000 a night, and there are specialized travel topic pages for people who golf and for people who climb volcanoes. What I do see more of in the future, though, are sites like TripTouch.com that syndicate and mash up Wikitravel (or OSM) content, not just as mirrors but as part of a larger whole.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a business based on publishing open content?
Remember that being “open” in and of itself is irrelevant. On the web, people will contribute to open projects out of idealism and because they can, but to survive in the marketplace, your product also has to be better than the “closed” competition if you expect the general public to pay for it.