User Generated Content is just not enough

User Generated Content (UGC) continues to be a
hot topic for big chunks of the on-line travel industry. I posted recently
about Visit Britain's recent decision to launch a reviews site for people to
post reviews and comments about places they've visited, hotels they've stayed
in and more.

UGC has a seriously important role to play - witness the amazing reach of Trip Advisor - and the impact that incorporating Trip Advisor reviews into a website can have on conversions. It doubles conversion rates in some cases.

But there's a slew of content-focussed sites based around the idea of 'community' which seem to think that they can get people to do the content for them - words, pics and video - and create a site that travellers and holiday purchasers will really value. Just a few include Tripwolf, Tripsay, Travelpost, Addictedtotravel, Travellerspoint, Travbuddy, Driftr, Dodo and of course WAYN

I don't think UGC alone is the final solution. Specifically sites like this tend to lack...

Structure: Reviews in particular are meant to act as
comparison tools. To easily compare reviews for one hotel with those for
another, the reviews need to be in similar formats. It's not enough to just let
people ramble and rant. A few key
elements: limit the number of characters; give people
categories to work with; use tick boxes; make it possible to see other reviews
by the same reviewer. The same goes for images and videos - particularly in the way they are tagged. People use all sorts of different ways to tag stuff like this which makes it really hard to search successfully.

Moderation: Most professional journalists know when a
line has been crossed. They write all the time - they have perspective. They
are used to thinking about their audience and appreciate that different
attributes are appreciated by different people in different ways. Most UGC reviewers
absolutely don't. Read any review site and you'll see that reviews tend
to be at extremes. A place is either the best in the world or it's absolutely
awful. There needs to be an overall editorial voice to adminster balance and objectivity.

Consolidation: Guess what? Lots of people will probably say the same thing over and again about some places and some activities. That in itself is very significant - the more people saying the same thing the more likely it is to be correct. (Well you'd imagine that... but see my previous post about the Truthification cycle and you might think otherwise). Anyway, I'd rather know that 30 out of 45 people loved the food at this restaurant than to have wade through tons of reviews to work that out for myself.

Stimulation: And for any community site to succeed people need to be encouraged to contribute. So stimulating debate and interaction makes a lot of sense: setting up polls, asking questions, creating competitions with prizes are just a few examples.

Some of the examples above are doing some of these already. Tripwolf has done a deal in the UK with Footprints guides for English pro content. So clearly they see a need for more than just UGC.

I think community management (ie the stimulation and moderation bits) could be another element of the future online travel editor's skillset. I also think that the vast majority of these sites that are just based on wiki architecture - hoping people will gladly participate and add reviews and information - will disappear leaving just a few biggies at the top of the pile. And undoubtedly the winners will have invested in pro-editorial elements to compliment the UGC elements. 

Do you think I've lumped together all the sites I mention above unfairly? Do some have distinguishing features that make them better than the others?

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