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Do something with "non-obscure" / popular Places#296

I’m probably not alone in considering that what sets AO apart from other tourism sites is right there in the name, it highlights Obscure locations. The guides on the site say “Cool, Hidden, and Unusual Things”, two of these adjectives could be seen as opposite the notion of well-known.

However, this is not always the case on the site. As confirmed by the Places team, their selection criteria has changed over time, so some of the most well-known attractions on the website date to previous years. On the other hand, some have been published recently (a couple even submitted by myself).

What to me seems like a good way to create a genuine quantifiable quality of when a Place isn’t obscure is its “Been There/Want to Go” ratio. If far more people have been to a Place than want to go, then it’s probably too well-known and easily accessible to be called “obscure”. Examples are the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (published in 2013) and the Fourth Plinth in London (published 2022). Both have nearly or more than triple the “visits” than stars:
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/sagrada-familia
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-fourth-plinth

The ratio idea is not perfect, as there is no verification whether someone actually visited or not, but it’s still a method. The way I see it, there are two possible “deadlines”. One could be time-related: if a Place has double the visits after a year or two, then it’s “popular”. The other could be just numbers, if it’s double after 100 or 200 “wants”, same result.

I had previously suggested a “Legacy” header along with a deprioritizing of these Places on the guides, but the team said it wasn’t being considered at the time: #19. That being said, maybe this is something that could be reevaluated now or in the near future.

I’m opening this to debate, what do people think about the ratio, should it be double, maybe triple? Time or number-based, and if so, what are the cutoffs? Finally, if you don’t like the previous idea, what would be your suggestion?

8 months ago
1

I support removing sites that are overly popular. I created a list of subjectively-selected sites that are too famous at https://www.atlasobscura.com/users/dark-nebula-deluxe/lists/atlas-obscura-locations-that-are-not-obscure . My general subjective criteria is whether the location is heavily visited by people (not necessarily just toursts) or whether the location is so famous that it would appear prominently within a tour guide for the destination (or the country). Some locations on my list (the Forth Bridge; https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/forth-railway-bridge) meet the first criteria. Some locations (Snowdon; https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/snowdon) meet the second. Some locations (Stonehenge; https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/stonehenge) meet both. (Also note that Hollywood Sign has a page at https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hollywood-sign, but that article really describes the overlook and not the sign itself and should probably be renamed.)

When the Atlas Obscura forums were still online, I recall seeing a de-listed webpage for the Space Needle in Seattle. This would seem to have set a precedent for removing overly famous places.

8 months ago
1

I agree in general, but a problem that’s been mentioned when this topic has been discussed before is that something can be very well-known locally but still “obscure” to outsiders. An example I’ve mentioned before is Rhyolite, Nevada:
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/rhyolite-ghost-town
which has got to be the least obscure ghost town in the whole state. (I’ve added a number that are considerably more obscure.) But I’m willing to grant that it might be much more obscure to people from outside the area.
Also, note that if people are serious about their “wanna go”s, the ratio of “been there” to “wanna go” will decrease over time because people will update their “wanna go”s to “been there”s!

Btw, here’s the link for the Space Needle:
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/space-needle
I still have it in my “been there “ list, but I would agree that it’s pretty non-obscure.

8 months ago
2

The way I always saw it was, have I ever heard of the place before googling the town/city. So the Eiffel tower or the leaning tower of pisa don’t apply, but objects of similar magnitude in other places can, e.g. the atomium in Brussels or the Vasa museum in Stockholm. As even though everyone in the city and maybe even country will have heard of it, anyone from the outside will not.

The AO team seems to be doing something similar, as I noticed tbst it is disproportionately more difficult to publish US places. I think that for the Non-US places I get 90+% published, while in the US more than half get rejected without any reasoning. This while to people like me, a lot of them have similar levels of obscurity.

E.g. I know the space needle from mars attacks, but have no idea about it’s story, etc.

So personally I would actually argue for letting more stuff onto the atlas, especially in the US to make it more friendly for foreign visitors. In the end it is up to the traveler to see if they care about a place or not.

8 months ago
2

@CoolCrab I see your point about “relative obscurity” but disagree about letting more Places in the Atlas. I mentioned TripAdvisor and I think AO shouldn’t aim to become a replacement for it, but rather a complement. I assume that people visiting Seattle might start by looking up “things to do” online. Google’s suggestions are likely to show the Space Needle right away, and the top results include TripAdvisor, maybe Lonely Planet, and I bet THEY have the Needle right on the front page for the city.

Now, AO to me ideally would be the website that people visit when they’re looking for stuff that ISN’T the Needle, what you’d maybe have to go to the 3rd page on TripAdvisor to find, and might not even be there. Same for Stockholm, Brussels, etc. Now the Places team obviously don’t have a “local perspective” on every place in the world, hence the idea of a quantifiable rate that is allowed to evolve over time, depending on how many Swedish people or residents visit the site, for example. To find Vasa and the Needle, there’s a ton of other sites already, is what I’m trying to say ultimately. AO might be more unique if it doesn’t compete with those other sites to show the same things, but instead ONLY has its own niche Places.

@slgwv, I guess that I’m also responding to your take on “relative obscurity” here. Rhyolite was published in 2011 and, while it has maybe been visited by over 1000 site users, a higher Want ratio shows that it’s still obscure enough for the total userbase of the site, which is likely to only have a small percentage of Nevadans. I can think of several similar examples in Mexico and Scotland. Everyone in the country knows about the Guanajuato Mummies, for example, but its ratio shows that it’s still not as visited when considering the global nature of the userbase (Anglophone-biased as it might be). So, as much as I disagre on its inclusion given my cultural awareness, they currently still have a place on the Atlas based purely on math. That’s why I’m trying to focus my idea on a numeric concept, and then let those numbers guide “obscurity” for the purpose of prioritizing the Places on the site. A similar ratio could also be a part of this other suggestion: https://atlas-obscura-digital-product.nolt.io/21

8 months ago
1

@linkogecko what about towns and such which are obscure on their own? People go to Stockholm, but no one will plan a vacation to say Simrishamn (to stay in the Sweden theme), which is know for its petrogeyphs and geological structures. Having a map point it out can make you go on a detour or even rent a car instead of staying in the nearest city. (In this case Malmo)

I would agree for this maybe only for hub towns that people visit for whatever reason you could do this, but anything beyond that it should not.

Also, the whole ‘is it good enough’ also just feels gatekeepy.

8 months ago
1

@CoolCrab both Places in Simrishamn currently have significantly more Wants than Beens, so I don’t think they’re relevant to this discussion ATM. This might be a good opportunity to clarify that what I’m proposing here is what to do with existing Places that are not obscure. I am not trying to determine how the Places team decides if a Place is worthy BEFORE it is published. I would consider that to be a different, if related discussion.

“Gatekeeping/selectiveness” might be similar concepts to describe a general action. However you choose to call it, I think the action is necessary if AO wants to set itself apart. My suggestion therefore considers that this selectiveness shouldn’t be instant, but rather something that is allowed to become clear over time. If the ratio is fulfilled after a year or two from publication (or a numeric deadline), that will have given a Place a chance to be shared and be a part of the Atlas, before it becomes clear maybe it wasn’t a good fit. Personally, I think that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be unpublished, maybe just deprioritized in some manner to give newer or overlooked Places their own chance.

8 months ago
1

@linkogecko ok I could get behind that if we don’t delete but just put them below the rest. I do agree that a lot of legacy places don’t deserve the top spots in cities.

8 months ago
3

Speaking of non-obscure:
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mount-rainier-2
Probably the least obscure place in Washington state!

8 months ago
2

Hi everyone – thanks for the thoughtful discussion on non-obscure places. In general, we favor keeping things published for reasons mentioned above such as obscurity being relative to each traveler and many non-obscure places can also have lesser-known histories or stories.

This has been a longtime internal discussion and we will consider all the arguments made here including unpublishing and labeling non-obscura places.

In the mobile app, you have the ability to report a place as “Does not belong in the Atlas”. We monitor these reports and may consider using them in future design iterations or exposing them to community members. If you feel strongly that a place does not belong, I’d recommend reporting it as such so that data can be recorded in our database.

7 months ago
2

@Nicola , based on what you wrote, it sounds like most of the discussion you have had on this topic has been internal. Have you sought community feedback on this question, possibly through a panel or focus group or some sort of community meeting or something? If you did, I would be interested in reading what people though (and I think it would be a good article to post on the Atlas Obscura front page).

I really find the feedback in the mobile app a little dissatisfying. In general, I don’t get any feedback after submitting anything in the app, which makes me feel like my comments just disappear. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good suggestions on how the people at Atlas Obscura could address this point.

I also find the “Does not belong in Atlas Obscura” option seems limited or vague. I would like options such as “Does not belong in Atlas Obscura because it is too famous” or “Does not belong in Atlas Obscura because it is too mundane”. (Atlas Obscura occasionally posts articles for sites that are more mundane than the staff think, although that is my opinion.)

7 months ago
2

@Dark Nebula Deluxe

We haven’t done any official community research or interviews regarding non-obscure places but this thread is a good start. If we decide to make changes as to how non-obscure places are treated on the site we would definitely be interested in doing more product research with the community to evaluate the best solutions. I agree that in the meantime it could be an interesting topic for a community-generated list or article so I’ll pass that feedback onto the editorial team.

Re: feedback in the mobile app. I hear you that it’s dissatisfying not to receive a response after reporting a place. What I like about the report option is that it goes into our database so we can very easily see statistics like X number of people reported this place as closed or does not belong. When people make edits, send emails, or leave tips with this information it would take a lot of manual time collecting that information to get the same statistic.

Once you click “Next” after selecting “Does not belong”, it should open up a comment field where you can add why you are reporting such as “too famous” or “too mundane” and these comments are saved in our database alongside the instance of the report, in case you are worried they are not being read or stored.

7 months ago
1
A

I do not mind the non obscure listed along side the genuinely obscure as they serve as landmarks along the way..

5 months ago