August 8, 2011
Question: why the heck hasn’t anyone gotten the social web for travel right yet? And by that I mean, why, in a world where I can find out who amongst my friends knows the senior brand manager for Tide at P&G, or get an infinite array of music or movie recommendations from friends and people with similar tastes, yet when I’m planning a trip or trying to imagine where to go, I can’t tap into my existing networks and find out who’s been where and what they thought of it? It should be so simple, and it would be so valuable to those of us who are avid travelers. The social web needs to do this. Not necessarily through a fully online experience, but by helping us make online connections that can lead to offline discussions and information sharing.
I’ve had two recent experiences that highlight the opportunity and need. First, I was very late in the game planning the specifics of my family’s recent trip to the UK. We had four unscheduled days in Scotland to fill, no ideas, and no time to do a bunch of research. Fortunately, I happened to mention to a casual acquaintance that we were going. He promptly set me up with Anne, an old friend of his whom it turned out lives very near where we were going to be. She subsequently had a 45 minute phone call with me, a follow-up call, and we had probably 5 pages worth of email correspondence (with Anne filling up 4.5 of the pages). I got incredible inside scoop, steered to the right place to stay in the right little village, and a ton of ideas on what to do once we were there. It was radically better than any guidebook could’ve been, and it was customized just for me. If I hadn’t stumbled into that conversation, I never would’ve made the connection.
Then last week, just after we got back, my friend Adam reached out and told me that a good friend of his was planning a trip to South Africa. I lived in South Africa for a year in my 20s, traveled all over the country, and took my wife there 5 years ago on a “South Africa’s Greatest Hits” tour. I have incredibly passionate feelings about the place.
Adam asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing some thoughts with his friend. As I’ve done many times before, I shifted into voyeuristic traveler mode, and did exactly for this guy what Anne in Scotland had done for me. And I loved it.
Travel can be one of the most emotional, soul-stirring, and memory creating experiences in our lives. It is something that people love to talk about, and which many people are very opinionated about. When we’ve been somewhere and had a good experience, there can be great joy in sharing that experience with others and nudging friends to go do what we did. And for people who live or have lived somewhere that’s a tourist destination, the feelings can be even stronger. I have a love for South Africa that leaves me wanting to help others experience the very best of it; and Anne clearly felt incredibly passionate about showing off some of Scotland’s gems to me.
When I think of other life experiences and activities that can stir the emotions like travel and place, food and music come to mind. Like travel people have deep passions about them, love to share their experiences around them, and are avid recruiters of friends to listen to their favorite bands and eat at their favorite restaurants. The social web is working hard, and pretty effectively, on both of these markets.
On the music side, the array of social music streaming services – Spotify, Last.fm, Rdio, turntable.fm, etc. – has proven the ability of social to drive music discovery and exploration, leading millions of consumers to listen to a whole lot more music than they were listening to before. And our portfolio company Ticketfly is bringing social to the live music ticketing business with great success.
On the food/wine side, Snooth is doing a nice job of creating a social experience around wine, and is now expanding beyond that. Dinevore is doing for restaurants much of what I’m looking for on the travel side.
What I need a simple, LinkedIn type experience – something that is built right on top of Facebook, most likely – that very simply let’s me enter in a place and then tells me who in my social graph has been there. Ideally, maybe it has some self-ascribed qualitative ranking of expertise and a statement of the recency of the experience. No need to build a lot of information into it – I don’t actually want a user-generated guidebook. Just a simple directory that tells me who to reach out to in my network for advice and ideas. Just like LinkedIn will help me find my way to people in my network who have worked at Google or Procter & Gamble, I want a guide to who in my network knows something about traveling with kids in Scotland.
TripAdvisor, one of the great online travel success stories (but which has a product I quite dislike), just recently bought a company called WhereI’veBeen. These guys have a simple little app that let’s me tag all the countries/states/cities I’ve been to as “I’ve been” “I’ve lived” or “I want to go.” That’s the right data. WhereI’veBeen then encourages consumers to build photo albums from the places they’ve been and write some commentary. So if I go search on a place I’ll get a whole boatload of pictures and comments from people I don’t know – not that helpful. But inexplicably, WhereI’veBeen doesn’t take the obvious next step and make it easy for me to find out who amongst my friends actually know something about a place. They got great early traction because the app is cool and fun to use when you’re entering your travel history. But usage has since slid precipitously, because there’s not much to do there. Note to TripAdvisor: if you want to get me using this service a lot and help stop the sliding usage of the WIB app, make this feature change. Do it well, and there will no doubt be a robust lead gen and advertising supported business model to be had.
Bottom line here. . .this fairly obvious little example provides a good bit of proof of the fact that – bubble or no bubble – we remain a long, long way from having fully tapped the opportunities inherent in the social web. Both from a consumer value standpoint and a business opportunity standpoint.
And so my partners and I remain eyes peeled, looking for our next Ticketfly – a social enabled service that doesn’t create a new network, but builds a valuable business on the back of the networks and platforms that already exist and dominate. Who knows, maybe we’ll find it in the travel world. The opportunity is there, for sure.