Sunday, August 15, 2010

TripAdvisor Sessions: Talking to TripAdvisor VP Adam Medros about Trip Friends and living in a Facebook world

It has taken me a while to type it up but I wanted to share with you my interview with TripAdvisor Product Vice President Adam Medros on their (now not so new) Trip Friends feature that allows review and destination surfing on TripAdvisor to be combined with Facebook social search features.

If you have not come across the Trip Friends product yet, it allows you to connect your TripAdvisor search to your Facebook network. Practical results are an ability to see who in your network may live, have visited or have knowledge about a destination. This data comes from Facebook friend's profiles and Cities I've Visited "pins". Targeted questions can be asked and answered combining the mass crowd input of Tripadvisor's UGC information and the sociograph responses of a user's Facebook friends (for more on the product see the Tnooz review).

The BOOT is full of stories from me about the evolution of online travel from a transactional activity to a recommendation and inspiration service. You will have seen my interviews with various inspiration and discovery start-up CEOs (Triporati, Joobili, Tripbase, LikeCube) as well as my general posts on the Travel Discovery & Inspiration sector. In part 1 of my discussion with Medros of Expedia's TripAdvisor we discussed discovery, inspiration, product development, lead generation and having to live in a world ruled by Facebook (part 2 here). Here are the details of the discussion

BOOT: How long did it take to build the feature?

Medros of TripAdvisor: TripAdvisor does weekly releases covering 10 or 12 different projects at any one time. We have a building and launching mentality. It helps that we are a content company, not not transactional based as transactional sites need to be much slower and more careful in their launches. This feature took 5 months of work. Some was working through the detail of how it would work – some rewriting code as Facebook changed their feed. 2 weeks before launch we had to rewrite the private messaging functionally because of changes on the Facebook side.

BOOT: What are the future plans for the feature?

Medros of TripAdvisor:There are a couple directions we want to take the product
  1. Big Picture – pushing on working more closely with partners in the industry to talk to travellers and users that helps plan a better trip to add advice from experts to advice from Facebook friends;
  2. Mobile - We re-launched our mobile site in Dec 2009. Want to add this feature to that platform. Currently getting more than 2 million users a month on mobile; and
  3. Network effect – expanding the buckets of things consumers can share with each other.
BOOT: What is like being tied to Facebook? Must be hard and challenging to give up so much control to them?

Medros of TripAdvisor: Without a doubt (a challenge to be tied to the Facebook experience). The benefits are clear but also a number of dependencies we have to manage:
  1. General dependency: What would we do if Facebook build their own travel Q&A product? We can't worry about it as we can't stop something like that happening and it would go against public claims by Facebook to be independent;
  2. API dependencies: Facebook have a tendency to change features and the API often. For example app notification went away and was never replaced; and
  3. Downtime dependency: What happens if the Facebook API has downtime? Figuring out how to message to users when there is latency coming from not you.
Despite this we need Facebook. We tried to build a version of Trip Friends on our own a few years ago – did not take off because consumers did not want to maintain another social network.

BOOT: Do you think Facebook is or will become a place for consumers to do transactions?

Medros of TripAdvisor: Facebook (the platform) is ready but users do not think that way just yet. Have yet to see any real interest in transacting on Facebook other than within games. Good innovators dilemma. Is like the early days of Google. Both Facebook and Google are going to get closer and closer to the lead generation side of marketing through delivering people to sites that can transact.

BOOT: Any thoughts on letting hotels participate - to get involved like they can in responding to reviews?

Medros of TripAdvisor: Starting to think about that. TripAdvisor serves two sides of the trip equation. The user side of recommending and the industry side as well. Hoteliers should be able to contribute to trip planning experience. As long as users know the bias of the advice. There is room for us to take this functionality and add advice from experts as well as friends.

In part 2 I talk to Medros about the differences between the sociograph and the tastegraph.

What are your early impressions?


visitnormandy said...

A waste of time. None of my Facebook friends bothers 'pinning' places they've visited. If I want their opinion on something I ask them on my FB Wall.


Tim Hughes said...

@Phil - fair point. TripAdvisor are claiming a "billion pins" out there. Wait for part 2 of the interview were I give my thoughts more on whether or not Trip Friend's will be a success