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March 12, 2009

Social Media and Travel Guides: Trends and Challenges

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Travellers are turning to social media to help make decisions about their next trip. Photo courtesy Corvair Owner

A round-table discussion at PhoCusWright@ITB was held this morning with the leaders of four social media companies. They aimed to unpack the difficulties of finding, organising and matching relevant user-generated content with the individual preferences of the traveller. There is so much information out there from diverse sources and of varied quality that the traveller can easily be overwhelmed. The opportunity for companies lies in helping the traveller manage this plethora of information.

The round-table included the online giant Lonely Planet, an innovative trip planning start-up called Tripwolf, a niche social media company, HotelVideoReviews.com, and a social media networking travel site called Where Are You Now? (WAYN) – making for an interesting, diverse and knowledgeable bunch.

Unfortunately, the discussion battled to do much more than define the challenge and the opportunity: making all this user-generated content relevant, and making money by doing so.

Now, this “problem statement” is useful, because we need to understand where things are now and where they’re headed. We’re a long way, however, from dealing with this problem. The massive diversity of user-generated content sources and the sheer volume of it are one side of the issue. The other side being the credibility and quality of the content source - who is posting this material and why? Are they paid to post it by a company? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they just making things up for kicks?

These are non-trivial problems to solve. And with a billion people on Earth able to contribute content through mobile applications on cell phones as well as through PCs and laptops, the problem isn’t going to get any easier. For those tracking such matters, the Semantic Web will likely help, but won’t make the problem go away – but that is a lengthy and technical side-discussion for another time.

My take-away from this session is that a great deal of energy, investment and innovation is going to take place around this two-part issue of relevance and credibility. It’s one to watch closely, because a solution will mean that an entirely new category of business value will be unlocked for travel companies.

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