Monday, August 30, 2010

Tnooz: 5 tips for launching a social media strategy

My largest post ever is now live in four parts over at Tnooz. 2,500 words on "5 steps for a travel supplier looking to launch a social media strategy". 5 steps in four parts. Here they are with links to the individual pieces

Critical to this analysis is that it is not until Step 5 that full blown social media content creation is recommended.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

TRAVELtech 2010: BOOT will be tweeting Tuesday #travtech

TRAVELtech 2010 is on this Tuesday in Sydney (Aug 31). Registration details here. I will be tweeting all day with the hashtag #travtech from 9am.

Speakers I am most looking forward to are

Let me know if I will see you there and follow updates from Tuesday via #travtech.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TripAdvisor Sessions: talking tastegraph and sociograph with TripAdvisor Product VP Adam Medros

In part 1 of my interview with TripAdvisor VP of Product Adam Medros we talked through the launch of the TripAdvisor Trip Friends product and the challenges/benefits of living in a Facebook world.

In this part 2 we review the sociograph vs the tastegraph as a means for recommending. Recommendation through the sociograph means drawing advice and responses from those in the same social network as a user. The tastegraph refers to basing recommendations and search results on the preferences of and feedback from people who like the same things as the user regardless of the existence or not of a social connection.

I asked Medros what he thought about these two trends and whether or not he thought the tastegraph was a better recommendation process than the sociograph. Here is what he had to say

Medros of TripAdvisor: When we talk recommendations at TripAdvisor we talk about a hierarchy of advice. The top of the hierarchy is the wisdom of friends and this is what Trip Friends enables. Trip Friends does more than allowing you to ask your friends, it lets you know which friends to ask. At the other end of the hierarchy is what TripAdvisor has been doing for 10 years – wisdom of crowds. [The crowd providing] A broader set of advice and opinions than available from a transaction provider. In the middle there is the tastegraph – we call it “people like me”. Where you can filter down the recommendations and wisdom of friends through “people like you” filters. The tastegraph is better than wisdom of crowd but not as good as wisdom of friends.

There are three approaches to collecting data for recommendation engines. Two don’t work.

  1. Give to Get: Asking consumers to do a survey of who they are and use the results of the survey to show recommendations. It doesn't work and no one does it;
  2. Black box: Take all of the click steam data – put it into the "black box" and produce an answer for the consumer. Does not work. No matter how much consumers tell you they want recommendations this way, they (the consumers) do not believe the results when they come out. This method is easier for a transaction site that has only transaction data to rely on. But for research site consumers are all over the site for many different reasons. Too noisy to trust the click data; and
  3. People Like Me and Finger Printing: Try to finger print a hotel or travel experience by asking people to choose similar experiences. The best version of this is, "If you like this hotel in city X you will like hotel Z in city Y".
Almost all of these approaches have a scale component. The wisdom of friends needs the scale of a billion pins from the Cities I've Visited app. People like me need scale to aggregate up the different finger print characteristics.

My Take

I see the value in having access to friends to complement the crowd content on TripAdvisor. This is also a very good implementation by TripAdvisor. That said I feel that the path to recommendations is through the tastegraph/people like me approach more than the sociograph. I have lots of friends, close friends, that have very different interests to me and whose recommendations I won't take.

The first time I used Trip Friends it took a few clicks more than I expected to get logged in and up and running. Once in, I found the product easy to use and easy to integrate into a search. But looking down the list of friends connected for the destination I was interested in (Hong Kong) I was not convinced that any of them knew any more than I did. The one friend I do have that lives and grew up in Hong Kong did not have that in her profile so was missed.

I think the "like button" is going to rule the world one day. By that I mean that tools and products to allow content consumers (online or off) to positively or negatively vote for an item or content (including Facebook, Digg, StumbledUpon and more) will drive the future of content and transactional consumption. But I think this is more likely to happen in a "people like me" or tastegraph environment than an environment driven by "what do my friends think".

Now to you - tastegraph or sociograph - which one will rule?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seat Review - Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy

After my BA Premium Economy experience I said that it was appropriate that Premium Economy was linked to the worded economy because the product is s step up from economy but is not a half way point of the Business class Product. Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy is a good looking product from a far but there are too many niggling problems and annoyances that take off the good looking shine and drive

the BOOT to rate Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy as 2.5 stars out of 6 or "Bad Seat". I don’t think Premium Economy is worth the extra money. Here is the detailed review (Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews)

Getting on Board

Score 0.5

Premium Economy does not get me lounge access in Sydney. Which would be a loss for the regular traveller but my top status on QFF gives me access to the Qantas Business Class Lounge even when not on a oneworld carrier. That said, the Air NZ lounge used by VS in Sydney is a handicap, not a bonus for VS, when compared to the great Hong Kong clubhouse and the outstanding Heathrow Clubhouse. The location of VS Premium Economy seats on the plane is an early bonus. It is just to the right of the door facilitating speedy on and off boarding. Drinks are offered but I boarded too late to get one.

The Seat

Score 0

The seat looks really good. Wide, cushioned and draped in purple hues of leather. But there are also some uncomfortable niggles. The legroom in front was blocked by something. Forced by feet into uncomfortable angles unless I sat bolt upright. The headphone plug is at my thigh height and when plugged in jabs the headphone plug connector into my thigh. Constantly jabbed and annoyed me unless I shifted into an odd position. Final niggles was the seat pocket. It is large and loose but is at my knee height. Means putting anything in it blocked by knees – pushing me into the headphone plug. As a result I had to keep everything on the floor – further cramping my leg room.

The Service

Score 0.5

The staff were very polite and pleasant. They were attentive when called upon but not to be found regularly moving up and down the aisle pro-actively looking to help out.

The Food

Score 0

I have to remind myself that I am in premium economy and not Business Class – so that I judge the food appropriately. And that I started the trip with an incredible melted French cheese fondue like experience in the Qantas Business Class lounge. This does not give VS a fair starting point of comparison. The food disappointed. I had a beef stew which required all of the salt and pepper I could find to compensate for the lack of flavour. . The salad was bitter and the desert rubbery. The fresh roles were hot and fluffy but the wine was cask like in acidity. The snack at the end was insufficient and I left the plane hungry for more in terms of quantity and quality..

The Entertainment

Score 0.5

A great selection of movies and TV shows. It is very entertaining to find British TV shows available – a change from the more common US and Asian ones that I am used to on other airlines. But again the niggles hurt the rating. The minor niggle is that it takes too long to start. It makes not sense that VS continues to wait until cruising altitude before turning the system on. Even then it forces the watcher to sit through a welcome video. The video is bizarre as it take 4 or 5 minutes of linear content that cannot be skipped to tell you how exciting it is that the entertainment system is full interactive and on demand. But the major niggle is the screen. It is a fair size for the seat it is too reflective in light. During meal services it was almost mirror like – impossible to watch. I saw more of my face watching Iron Man 2 than Robert Downey Jr. It dark scenes the picture was effectively black.

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

Business Class is sold as being about the seat. Another fear in moving from Business Class to Premium Economy is the luggage allowances. Key to getting off the plane and on your way home/to the hotel as fast as possible is the ability to take all of your luggage on board. Technically VS Premium economy comes with a one piece limit on board. The check-in staff let me take on three pieces weighing 20kg. I am grateful for that.

Final Score

2.5 – Bad Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

thanks to maynard on flickr for the photo

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?

Monday, August 09, 2010

EveryYou: Wharton on Mobile Networks and E-Commerce getting personal

Madame BOOT is a long time consumer of the Knowledge@Wharton series. She has pointed me to this short but interesting post titled "In the Age of Mobile Networks, E-Commerce Gets Personal". The piece talks to how mobile networks will be an enabler or micro targeting. How the next generation of services such as 4square will be key to retailers be able to target consumers with individuated deals and "transform how people shop". Is the BOOT's recommended read of the week.

For more background on this - my concept of EveryYou can be quickly described as "micro-targeting at scale". The detailed definition is
“The development of a specific and targeted recommendation of one based on the unique combination of desires, needs and interests of each individual at any moment in time”
This theory I am working on says that we have reached a state of computational power, data collection levels and social trend in favour of interaction and information sharing that retailers will be able to target offers not only at individuals but at the different versions of each individal that appears at a particular point in time.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Hatton of Google on Mobile and ITA

Claire Hatton - Google's Industry lead for Travel, Local and Government in AU/NZ - spoke last week at the Asia Pacific Aviation Outlook Summit. In the speech she had a lot to say about mobile and a little to say about the ITA deal.

On the mobile web Hatton's advice was clear - if you do not have a mobile strategy including an app, then get one. She said (and confirmed via twitter) that "mobile searches on some search terms are higher than on PC for Google in Japan and Indonesia.". In some critical Asian markets half of the internet connections are via mobile. She conceded that iPhone was the largest platform but reminded the audience not to forget about Android. Google are claiming that they are "activating 160k android devices a day".

This has translated into consumers engaging in simultaneous consumption of media. True multi-media. Hatton quoted a Nielsen stat that 49% of Australians are online at the same time as they are watching television.

On the ITA deal she was more circumspect. In her defence, the ink is barely dry on the contract. While she would not say what Google intends to do with the product, she was very clear on Google's rationale for making the acquisition.

"because we believe the flight search experience is not good enough"

Understandably she would not be drawn on what the product would look like but did say that it would improve that qualified nature of click throughs to supplier and intermediary sites. Indicating that the likely pressure will be more on other meta search companies rather than OTAs.

As a side note. Later that day an industry insider told me that Google would not be able to bring the ITA functionality to Asia any time soon. They told me that that ITA product does not have the net fare connectivity to be competitive in air search in Asia.