This was originally posted as a private reply, but really there's no
reason why I shouldn't go public with it.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: a first shot at some questions....
Date: Mon, 03 Apr 2006 22:15:09 +0100
From: Ivor Williams
To: M.B.Gaved <M.B.Gaved(a)open.ac.uk>uk>, t.heath(a)open.ac.uk
A. Your Open Guide
1. How would you describe the Open Guide to somebody who wanted to find out about it?
My answer to this question depends on how technical or otherwise, the
person is. For the completely non-technical, I describe the Guide as a
website with lots of reviews of pubs and restaurants, and useful
information about anything in London. For the more technical, I use the
word wiki, and explain (if they don't know the concept) that anyone can
2. Who is the anticipated audience for your Open Guide?
Who are your users right now?
I think it's quite a broad portfolio. The initial intention was
targetting the guide at geeks. As such, the initial subjects we were
covering were ones of interest to geeks, particularly London.pm.
However, I saw the guide as having a much broader scope, and started
writing pages that could be of interest to anybody, and the content has
developed along those lines.
In terms of the current user base, I think it's quite diverse. I keep
running into people who've already heard of OpenGuides. I have
personally had feedback from CAMRA, from an employee of London
Transport, and from trade unionists finding my page on the West London
Trades Union Club.
3. What do you see as the purpose of the open guides?
(feel free to get philosophical!) e.g. how is it different from other wikis/city guides?
I think the primary function is to inform. A second aim is to be
objective. A third is to provide a vehicle for feedback, and rapid
updating by the virtual community that exists on account of their
Other city guides tend to be commercial, pandering to the wishes of
paying sponsors, and of limited use and limited objectivity. Also,
because "anyone can edit", I feel comfortable that I can visit an
establishment listed in the guide, and update it with my findings.
Compared with other wikis, the structured metadata is what sets
OpenGuides apart. In particular, the geodata can be used for finding
distances and plotting points on maps. I've not seen other wikis that
can do this.
4. Are there rules and regulations users must follow?
How about your admin team (e.g. how do you make decisions)?
My rules for contributors are set down in the page "Wiki Etiquette",
which was entirely my own wording. Common sense is the principle that
applies - I translated this into the Wiki Etiquette page so that others
would have a reference point where we could all agree on our policy.
This page has had to evolve over time, with changes in software, changes
in copyright and licensing policy, and in the light of various kinds of
abuse and attacks.
When it comes to admin decisions, the "common sense" rule applies. If
we're unsure we'll probably make a change (or change the node back) but
keeping the controvertial revision available. Something that's blatant
spam or offensive, will just get deleted. More recently, I have been
keeping an admin log page for deletes, so that we have a record,
including recording the IP addresses of any spammers and suchlike. I
tend to email the other admins directly (not via a list) for matters
which are sensitive, e.g. a security hole I discovered early on.
B. Your role in the Open Guide
1. How did you come to be involved in the Open Guide?- can you tell me what you do?
This was through London Perl Mongers. I was one of the 3 founders of the
first guide - involved both as a major contributor, and as a software
In terms of roles, I do pretty much everything bar the hosting. I don't
have access to the box OGLondon is running on, but I run a mirrored copy
on a couple of my machines.
2. What was your goal when your Open Guide (or your
involvement in it) started? What are the current goals?
The original goal of a useful guide to London that people can edit and
keep up to date, has definitely been met, and is continuing to be met.
The goal of sharing data and building a community of mutually supporting
websites is being met, albeit from a specialist niche.
I'm finding it difficult to separate the goals of OGLondon and the goals
of the OpenGuides project as a whole, since I am involved with the big
picture, including software development. In many ways, I now think it's
important to keep a standard common code base that all guides can share.
It's tempting to look at ways of improving the software for London, but
this feels wrong to me. Many of the developments that have happened,
have been applied to individual guides, leading to a fragmented picture
- this has created work for developers merging these patches in order
for everyone to get the benefit.
3. How long do you see yourself being involved in your
This is one of my main hobbies and loves. I don't see myself losing
4. Have people used the Guide in any ways you
didn't expect? (and has 'vandalism' been a problem?)
The most extreme case of vandalism was in September 2005, when Brazilian
hackers managed to trash the London database. This took us offline for a
few weeks, and lost some updates.
We also get regular spam attacks, though we are looking at ways of
combatting them in software. Version history has been a godsend here, as
we can always see what was there before, and indeed "diff" the content.
The spam situation for London is under control, as enough admins watch
the recent changes, and spam gets deleted fairly promptly.
We've also had salesmen creating pages for their own establishments -
restaurants, aromatherapy, a chain of car showrooms, even TimeOut
magazine! What happens is that we tend to blockquote what has been
written as "Some anonymous contributor, presumably from XYZ, wrote the
following:" and add that one of our regular contributors will review the
There was also the skating wars - two rival skate clubs, one of which
was defacing the entry for the other, which resulted in a ban. And there
was the pedicabs page, where someone keeps changing some of the web
links so they don't work. I tend to spot edits like that, and reach for
the "delete" and file the IP address in the Admin Log. I don't actually
have the power to ban anybody, but I would drop a mail to those that do.
C. Publicity and outreach
1. Do you publicise your Guide? How?
Word of mouth, and internet. We don't have any paid advertising, as this
is not only a potential waste of money, but would also probably upset a
few of our community as getting commercial. We had the same reaction
when we tried running Google ads.
Sometimes if I'm in the mood in a pub or restaurant, I'll mention to the
proprietor that I have a website that does reviews, and will be writing
one when I get home. This has got me a free drink on a couple of occasions.
D. Future of the Guide
1. How successful do you think the project is? Which goals have been met? Which remain
In terms of London, I think the goal of a useful guide has been met. Our
coverage is patchy, but that is due to the distribution of our
contributors' homes and workplaces. Over time this will improve. I think
we have built a successful community of contributors. In terms of Google
search league ladders, we are well up there.
For OpenGuides as a whole, there is still much to do. Much of this is in
the realm of software development, but we could also do more in terms of
spreading the word across the globe. There are many cities that have
potential for a guide - it's just a matter of people who are there
linking up to create guides.
2. How long do you see the project going on for?
I see this as a continuous process, rather than a project with a defined
3. If someone told you they were planning to start an
open guide, what advice would you give them?
How serious about it are you? How much time have you got to put into it?
This is going to occupy you if you want to get it off the ground.
How many people have you got to help as contributors? You need a minimum
of 3 (counting yourself), ideally between 3 and 12. Once you have
launched, you will hopefully acquire new contributors.
How long before you can get to 100 pages? Set this as your first
milestone. Don't try and launch until you've got 100 pages.
If you are talking about siphoning content from somewhere else, that's
different - you may be able to launch straight away. If this is the
Don't worry too much about the technicalities of hosting - we can offer
that to you as a service if you need it (but if you want to host your
own guide, that's OK too). What we can't do for you is: (a) be there at
your city and (b) have all the local knowledge to write detailed pages.
Have a good look at the other guides that are out there, and make use of
the best ideas (in your mind).
Join the dev list if you are running a guide. That's the best way of
finding out what else is happening to OpenGuides elsewhere. Also hang
out on IRC, where you'll find plenty of others running guides.