The TripAdvisor website is a popular site that allows users to read, raise questions, and provide comments on travel experiences. It was an early adopter of user-generated content and produces ratings on travel destinations and providers based on user content. They are successfully ‘managing the human cloud‘ and utilising a ‘virtual workforce’ – but how are they doing it and why is it successful?
Companies have increasing opportunities to tap into a virtual, on-demand workforce.
To give some framework, I’m using the pattern “Harnessing Collective Intelligence” from ‘What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software’. This concept of ‘harnessing the crowd’ means that others outside your organisation provide information to your business that can become a ‘powerful asset’. So, in the spirit of user reviews, this post explores “how does it rate?“.
1. Reward the user first: TripAdvisor allows user to achieve their objectives by either accessing other people’s reviews and comments or posting their own questions or comments. Their users seem happy, based on their recent milestone of 100 million reviews and opinions. (My rating: 5/5)
2. Set network effects by default: Network effects are critical for TripAdvisor who need a good supply of content and reviews to attract and retain their users. The network effects start to show when TripAdvisor ratings are quoted on other travel booking sites. (My rating: 4/5)
3. Involve users, explicitly and implicitly: TripAdvisor clearly has explicit user participation covered through their user-created content, and guessing by their advertising they would not be losing the implicit user information around user actions and preferences. The site has attracted a strong user base and there are good indicators of this increasing. (My rating: 4/5)
4. Provide a meaningful context for creation: The TripAdvisor context of travel is an easy attractor, but I think the loose structure means posts can end up in the wrong location and “findability” is currently not great. Some users, may be happy to ‘wander a while’ as they plan their trip, but it seems TripAdvisor has identified some improvements with new search functionality in the pipeline. (My rating: 3/5)
5. Trust your users: A true Web 2.0 application must trust the users to provide content and to share control. TripAdvisor allows users to provide comments, start new threads, and provide advice to other users on where their thread should go. The users also seem to trust each other since the majority of users won’t book a hotel that has no reviews. (My rating: 5/5)
6. Software design that improves with more users : The goal here is to ensure more users produces more value and benefits not more mess and chaos. Their large user base also gives TripAdvisor credibility in the competitive landscape and means their ratings are actually quoted on other travel sites. (My rating: 5/5)
7. Application that facilitates emergence : This is all about giving the application enough flexibility to change to suit the emerging needs of the users. It means not presuming all features up-front, but instead adding extras in as required. TripAdvisor has some new innovations with stats and infographics for businesses, advice for hoteliers to increase user engagement and support for providers under attack. (My rating: 4/5)
So, according to O’Reilly’s pattern of “Harnessing Collective Intelligence”, TripAdvisor should be on your “must see” list of social media sites. But is this the whole story?
There are some issues around the “Harnessing Collective Intelligence” and TripAdvisor has experienced a few of them.
Privacy and liability for individuals: The anonymous posting allowed under TripAdvisor leaves few risks to the posting individuals. However, there is still a chance that individuals associated with the provider could be at risk based on negative reviews or comments.
Privacy and liability for providers: This seems to be causing the most challenges for TripAdvisor. Their policy of accepting all anonymous posts has led to legal battles in Australia and the UK from providers who believe they are the target of untrue, malicious, or adverse commercial attacks.
Quality, not just quantity, matters: At the end of the day, the site content needs to be credible and reliable. Some comments suggest that if TripAdvisor develops strategies for verifying posts and checking the credentials of posters, then the quality of this site will strengthen.
So, how does TripAdvisor rate as a social media site? According to the Web 2.0 pattern of “Harnessing Collective Intelligence” it gets top-marks.
Their founder journey is a great story about ‘Harnessing Collective Intelligence’ and also explains how they had to fight to retain the value they had built up against big players like Google.
Disclaimer: Bronwyn is not associated with TripAdvisor but she does have a love of travel and is a frequent visitor to their site.
Updated 12/4/2013 – added Related Article on ‘using the crowd’