Is FriendSourced Travel The Next Big Thing?

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Imagine the ability to tap into everything your friends know about travel. Every destination they’ve been, every activity they’ve done, every hotel they’ve stayed in, every trip they’ve taken. If you could bottle that up and use it for your next trip, wouldn’t that be valuable to you? That’s the power of FriendSourced Travel.

What Is FriendSourced Travel?

FriendSourced Travel describes the process of tabulating input from your Facebook friends for the sole purpose of making a more informed and personalized travel decision. Facebook friend covers friends/family/acquaintances that are your ‘friends’ on Facebook.

FriendSourced travel falls under the banner of social travel.

Simple Example

If you were trying to decide where to go for your honeymoon, you’d FriendSource this to all your married FaceBook friends. You could suggest a few destinations and gauge their input or leave the destination list entirely up to them.

It’s a conscious decision to include a cross section of your friends in the travel decision making process and not just a few random phone calls or emails asking where you should go.

Why Would You FriendSource your Travel?

FriendSourcing your Travel captures conscious and subconscious nuggets of information we all collect from one another, through initial and ongoing interactions, for the purpose of making more informed travel decisions.

When I recommend a trip or a destination or activity to you, I automatically use what I know in the decision making process. That’s the beauty of FriendSourced Travel.

Even in very loose interactions, people get to know you. By meeting you at a party, I’d get to know a little about you (first impressions, what do you do, interests, where you work, who else you know here, where you went to school, whether you’re smart or not, how much I like you …). Maybe we see each other at church or over dinner, we talk some more. Fast forward a few months and we become Facebook Friends. By this point, we know quite a bit about one another don’t we? Maybe you find out I’ve been to Fiji and London and Hong Kong. I find out you’ve been to Italy and Morocco.

With FriendSourcing, we can tap into each others travel knowledge to make our next trip better.

FriendSourcing Travel Done Right

FriendSourcing Travel can’t be done through wall posts and comments. There needs to be a Facebook application built around the components of FriendSourcing Travel.

That allows for suggestions on where to go/what to do/where to stay.

To allow for a healthy discourse (read arguments) so people can share their experiences and influence one another. Think a few one liners and not lengthy soliloquy’s like this blog post.

Last but not least, to allow for people to rank the collective suggestions and vote on them like you would a Digg post.

There needs to be a mechanism to give more weight to some friends than others — so friends who’ve been to that destination before (because their profile says so) get more weight in the decision making process. I can assign a 3.0X multiple to my friend John who lives on a plane. I could assign more weight to a destination my wife “votes” up. Even the ability to remove friends from the decision making process all together.

The application should allow me to segment my friends by geography, status, age, etc. I should be able to ask just my married friends about where to go for my honeymoon, or only my single friends on where I should go for my bachelor party. I should be able to ask my friends in New York for what Indian Restaurant I should go to next time I’m there. I should be able to leverage the “Facebook Lists” functionality.

The use of ‘game mechanics’ to drive friends to share their views and a reward system (points, karma, goodwill..).

The application needs to assign all my friends a ‘score’ based on where they’ve been. This can be derived literally from the  ‘Where I’ve Been‘ Facebook Application but not everybody has that installed so we’d have to look at interests, tags, destinations and more nuances sources like “Our Fiji Honeymoon Pictures” or “Fiji Videos”.

I’m just scratching the surface on functionality.

Where Can I FriendSource my Travel?

There are a few companies that are starting to do this but none that warrant me listing them here. I’ll post a list in October 2010. Sorry!

What to FriendSource

Any trip qualifies. Even business trips (imagine a LinkedIn FriendSourcded Travel application).

When to FriendSource your Travel

When you have enough of a “network” of friends, when you have some connection to your friends, when (on the whole) you trust your friends, when you’re open to the idea of outside influence in your travel decision making process.

When NOT to FriendSource your Travel

This approach is based on the premise that your online friends (Facebook friends for example) have some connection to you. If you accept every Facebook Friend Request regardless of whether you know them or not, this doesn’t apply to you. I would argue you’re getting closer to CrowdSourcing your Travel there.

If you don’t have a large enough pool of Friends, don’t bother. If it’s just you and 3 Facebook friends, this isn’t going to work. You need at least 50 friends or more and ideally more. On the whole, certainly after 6 months to a year, you’re going to have enough friends to qualify for FriendSourcing your Travel.

Rebuttals

Can’t you just search travel review sites and do a little homework? Sure you can but FriendSourcing can extend that research even further. It’s not an either or, you can do both. Even if you compare FriendSourcing to individual research, done right, FriendSourcing yields a better result.

What if I’m friends with someone who’s travel opinion I don’t want? The application should allow to ‘ignore’ a persons recommendation in the final tally.

Can I use this with Twitter or Ning or other networks? Possibly. Preferably social networks that mimic the social dynamics of Facebook.  Networks where anybody can friend or follow you do not apply.

Tell me what you think!

Share some comments and follow me on Twitter (@travelalchemist) for updates.

The first company that does this will offer a leap forward in social travel in a way we have yet to see.

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What the Google Travel Platform Could Look Like

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Image by ryantxr via Flickr

I see Google coming out with its own travel platform based on my  ‘connecting the dots’ between Google’s existing product line and previous travel acquisitions. It certainly has all the pieces to.

The exponential growth in possibilities given this list allows for multiple revenue opportunities makes it a compelling reason why Google would and at the very least could come out with it’s own travel platform.

I see the ITA Platform being the parent travel architecture — the Mother Ship — which it’ll use to plug existing and future travel products/services into. Throw a few acquisitions in there to balance out the platform offering.

  • Airfare Pricing — The billions of combinations of fares, schedules and availability available through the ITA QPX product.
  • Mobile Booking Engine or Mobile Travel Platform through the OnTheFly product ITA currently has.
  • Travel Content — through Ruba (there are better content companies to buy but that’s for another blog post!). Coupled with YouTube travel videos.
  • Visual Travel — add ITA Software to Google Earth and the notion of visual travel that many travel startups are attempting. Where a traveler can “see” their destination in 3D as part of researching a trip. How nice would that be – if their Visual Travel Offering is really good, maybe I won’t need to go on vacation at all. Just zooming in and “walking around” will be good enough.
  • Visual Travel Lite — add ITA Software to Google Maps for what I’ll describe as visual travel lite. Ability to pick multiple points on a Google Map and automatically get pricing. Where it’s a 2D experience akin to what Kayak Explore does (which I love by the way – we need that but with the right inventory so I don’t have to search another site but Kayak!).
  • Google Checkout Travel Merchant Services — Google Checkout, with changes in feature and policy, could easily offer a Travel Merchant Account Product. Anybody that sells travel knows how much of a problem taking credit cards is.
  • Google Social Travel play through the integration of ITA Software/Engine and the launch of (potential) Googles Kayak Killer coupled with its upcoming Facebook Killer. I agree that’s a lot of ‘theory’ but the stage is being set – whether they do it or not is a different story. A true social travel play could be in the making and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a number of social travel startups doing some very exciting things in this space. Google if you want to acquire any of them, please be in touch.
  • Predictive Travel. Take Google Insights for Search (for travel keywords for example) coupled with the QPX pricing engine coupled with the “predictive” algorithms in Google Trends and you could have a pretty interesting “travel suggestion engine” play going. End goal? For Google to tell me where I should go on vacation without having to think about it. 1 less thing I need to do.
  • The Door to Door Travel Company Play – take a number of “lesser” services like Google City Tours, Google Transit and add it to the ITA Software (and others on the page) along the lines of what Zoombu and other “door to door journey” sites want to do. Particularly as a differentiator within the (potential) Google Kayak Killer.
  • Location Based Travel — the opportunities within location based travel is just getting started. Google Places + Google Latitude + others on this list will make for a compelling advertising platform for Google. Check in to a place and you’ll get a coupon. Search for directions, GPS identifies your location, Google Places for local businesses with Google AdSense serving up advertisements/coupons.
  • YouTube Travel Videos and User Generated Travel Content.
  • Customer Service — Post purchase assistance with ticket changes and refunds and by addressing other “post purchase’ pain points based on the ITA Software ReShop product. Then integrating these services via an API.

Only the powers that be within Google truly know — I’m just thinking out loud here.

Agree? Disagree?

Please RETWEET!