Playing with the social graph is just the beginning for the travel industry
Whether this information is shared openly on the web or through interaction on “closed” networks, travel has a tremendous opportunity to do incredibly powerful things with it. Eventually.
At least this is the direction where TripAdvisor is heading next, says Adam Medros, vice president of global product at the user review giant during a recent trip to London.
Almost two years on from launching its widely talked about Trip Friends integration with Facebook, a service which allows visitors to TripAdvisor to ask their friends about a hotel or destination via the social network, only now is the potential finally being realised.
The reason is all to do with timelines, gestures, the sheer volume of people using social networks and travel being a natural fit for content included in a user’s social graph.
Facebook is driving it all, of course, not least because it has probably harnessed and driven the social graph more than any other social-led platform on the web, especially since last year when it announced the string of new features.
What is clear at TripAdvisor is that user reviews are the foundation of the business, but there is a lot more room for development elsewhere.
Medros says the brand has a myriad of ways to truly tap into the social graph.
Cities I’ve Visited, for example, TripAdvisor’s popular Facebook application which allows users to pinpoint (with, inevitably, a pin) destinations on a map, is already evolving beyond locations.
Travellers will also be able to “pin” services, attractions and other things to do in a destination, rate each item, and share on their Facebook walls.
Think about where this could head next, Medros suggests. Instead of the application it being retrospective, perhaps use it as a way to plan itineraries to any incredibly detailed level.
Couple all this to the timeline element of member pages and, lo and behold, there is a dynamic trip planning service (hello startups?), where friends (who will see the content on their own walls) can chime in with tips or recommendations of their own.
“It’s all about discoverability,” Medros says, “capturing self-expression on Facebook.”
Pinning is one thing, but subjectivity is another. Gestures is one of the most important developments at Facebook in years, allowing users to do more than just LIKE something.
This drive to bring other “emotions” to content (visited, stayed, watched, read, etc) allows travel brands such as TripAdvisor to find out so much more about what a user is doing, has done, wants to do.
Allow that level of data to be used by other travellers who are actively trying to find out more about a trip and there is immediately a valuable connection.
Of course this happening elsewhere, on a number of open, social media-led trip planning sites.
Medros will never say so, but clearly where TripAdvisor thinks it has an advantage over all of these is because of the sheer volume of content and users that it already has. And it has two years experience of Trip Friends.
While not fully formed, as Medros admits, Trip Friends is clearly the interface on TripAdvisor where the social graph content, as it evolves, will to be fed into.
At this stage it is just throwing ideas around, but imagine how all the travel-related “gestures”, pins (both at city and attraction level), plans would look when integrated further into the Trip Friends interface.
It becomes, arguably, an infinitely better (and valuable) platform than in its current form, not least because of hugely detailed level data being streamed in from a user’s friends.
For TripAdvisor, of course, it doesn’t just do these things for the love of it – it has a business model to support, after all.
The things to do/attractions/tours element of a user’s trip is probably the next big area for TripAdvisor to try and conquer, especially as so much of the data it can see coming down the pipe from users via Facebook will, inevitably, be the interesting things about a trip – the stuff people actually do in a destination.
“The attractions space is actually less developed than others,” Medros says. “We want to be able to develop [using the data and tools outlined above] a tours and activities and attractions marketplace.”
And that, alongside the social planning element of what TripAdvisor is eyeing, should be yet another wake-up call to another part of the industry.
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.