Archive for the ‘travel’ category

Triporama: A Long Road Ahead

7, August, 2007

They used to say that journalists are people who write news on the back of car dealer ads. These days members of social communities are people who gather under the heat lamp of Internet commerce.

Yes, there are a few high-visibility exceptions that recall the “information wants to be free” era: Craiglist, Wikipedia, and the antedeluvian versions of the YouFace/MyBook/SpaceTube trio.

But any community worth spending time in has to be built, developed, maintained and (therefore) monetized by someone. Ultimately we social creatures foot the bill by paying to play (LinkedIn) or sacrificing tiny flutters of attention to somebody’s hustle.

As I see it, this is only bad when the social community is window dressing for a selling floor. I hereby christen these sites “2.offal.”

This came to mind the other day when I first visited Triporama, a site that presents itself, and indeed at first pass appears to be, a collaboration tool for folks who want to travel together.

At second pass, however, it’s clear that the site at its core is an aggregator of qualified leads for travel suppliers. The site presents destinations, trip ideas, deals and travel supplier tabs. But click on any of these and you ultimately wind up on a supplier’s site, being told–get this–that Las Vegas “delivers spectacle on a grand scale, with entertainment, nightlife, and accommodation options that are truly unique.” Who knew?! 

All right, Triporama publishes partner travel brochures and booking tools. I’m fine with that. I’m American.

The problem is, the integration between the sales and group-planning functions is below poor.

Here you are, using Triporama to see if you can pull together the river-raft thing next summer, say. You create a trip, invite your potential raftmates to join by e-mail. But then, one of the first things you discover you can’t search the freaking site using the word “rafting.” You have to choose Adventure travel and start your sad, solo clickroam through Peru (Michu Picchu seems to be going cheap), Amazon, Costa Rica. And you’re thinking, Dude, where’s my raft?

To answer that question, you have to stub your toe on a vacation package that is tagged “rafting” at the bottom. Click on the rafting tag, get a list of rafting options–but you can’t narrow it to, say, the continental U.S. Click on U.S. domestic and–I swear to god–you’re back in Las Vegas, which of course delivers spectacle on a grand scale. My kingdom for a  search tool!

Let’s say you do like one of these trips. Click on it and you’re in someone else’s booking site. You can share this with your group by bookmarking it and sticking the book mark in the joint trip planning space. Not fully integrated, but a decent kludge for linking booking and your group trip. Of course, you haven’t been able to compare prices and features without dipping in and out of many sites and doing the ol’ apples-to-oranges-to-kumquats-to-chocolate comparisons in your noggin.

To be fair–and readers of this blog know I try diligently to be fair, even if it means having to do the Valsalva maneuver until the apoplexy passes–the collaboration tools are. . .well, let’s look.

  • After creating a trip and inviting the principals, you can perform a date poll–a cool feature that lets folks declare what dates do and don’t work for them. You can share bookmarks to said travel package/destinations options or other things, add notes, etc. Work at it long enough, you can cobble together an itinerary that everybody’s signed off on.
  • But want to rough out a budget? The FAQ directs you to give Google Docs a try, or maybe Excel. I am being serious here. Trying to keep track of who’s paid and what they owe?  Use any old spreadsheet for that, too.
  • Want opinions from others who have done what you’re doing? Why, just visit TripAdvisor! [Of course, you may wind up booking your trip there too.]
  • Want to compare prices on air fares or hotels? The “Advice” tab tells you which other sites that provide such a service. Coordinating flights? Other sites can help you do that.

As I said, I’m an American. And I know I am about to purchase a bunch of stuff–a guided trip, hotels, airfare, etc.–and I want help. If the group planning tools were integrated with the booking/sorting tools, this could be a very useful site.

And (speaking of apoplexy) I’m sure this posting will generate e-mails from the Triporama team saying it is a work in progress, the missing features I am whining about are under development, etc. All good. I wish them well.

But in the meantime, Triporama is a sales floor with a set of 2.0ish tools tacked on. It has a long road ahead.

Wikitravel: Leave Home Without It

3, July, 2007

There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical about the Webby Awards. One is the crowning of  Wikitravel as the top travel site at the latest winners ceremony, held a couple of weeks ago. From what I can tell, the site got the tiara because it is a wiki, not because it’s any good. It’s not.

Wikitravel is yet another iteration of Wikipedia, the ubiquitous experiment in global content creation that is responsible for, among other important developments, a worldwide rash of errors in student papers. Wikis are mutiplying wiki-wiki (“quick” or “quickly” in Hawaiian. Ahem) in the 2.0 garden. We will know the End of Days is upon us when there is a Web 2.0 Wiki. (Actually, I tried to find one, and could only come up with this entry on Web 2.0 in Wikipedia. Say, is that a locust on my screen?) 

With knowledgable potential authors living in or near the places people want to travel, this wiki could be a powerful proof of the crowdsourcing concept.

Alas. Every time Ivisit Wikitravel, I’m struck by what a lousy travel guide it is.  Stick your finger on a map (or don’t; there’s no graphical navigation for this global infosource) and the place you’re pointing to is likely better served by a guidebook from one of those 1.0 throwbacks Lonely Planet, Fodor’s or Michelin–or, to cut to the toughest truth, by brief consult with  Brother Google. Much of the material on Wikitravel sounds like it comes from a travel brochure or tourism authority handout (it may have) rather than from a chorus of knowing, clear-eyed locals and veteran visitors determined to plank out the truth. Two random examples: The entries for Cleveland and Barcelona.

The winner of the People’s Choice Webby in the travel category is one of my personal favorites, Tripadvisor. Sure, it’s full of commercial clutter and a mess to navigate, but the message boards are full of frank, detailed, occasionally brutal testimony from fellow travelers, often with digital photos to prove it. (To be fair, Wikitravel has WikitravelExtra, but it’s a rickety social networky add-on that feels like a talented high school kid’s Web design project.)

When I’m planning a trip, I visit Tripadvisor.

I cannot imagine why I’d visit Wikitravel.

I will not launch into either my wiki- or Webby-bashing jeremiads here. But back to the point: By rewarding form over substance–or, worse, voguish style over user value–the Webocracy demonstrates again that it misses the point of 2.0: Forget about the user and you’re dead.