Trip Planner was Yahoo!’s user-generated content travel experiment until today, when it came out of beta. And in many ways it’s the most impressive expression to date of Yahoo!’s social media strategy. Yahoo! Answers has received a great deal of attention recently (there’s an Answers integration with Travel) but the new Trip Planner is more fully realized as a product.
Trip Planner has been out for maybe just under a year, but has received little or no promotion and was somewhat buried among Yahoo!’s several travel sites, which include Yahoo! Travel, Yahoo! Travel Guides and FareChase. Trip Planner has been building an archive of user-generated content, which Yahoo! has determined has now reached a kind of critical mass to justify the general release and promotion of the product (with various contests and a big MasterCard tie-in).
First here’s what’s new in the general release:
- “Trip Journals” (blog diaries; photos [“trip albums”] can be imported from Flickr)
- Map-Based Travel Search (This is a great integration of photos and travel content into a dynamic map. One can drag the map and zoom to areas within countries for more specific options)
- Yahoo! Search Integration (although I had trouble finding evidence of that when I performed several standard travel searches, though I found plenty of Yahoo! Travel and FareChase links. I did find Trip Planner content when I used the Yahoo! prescribed “Las Vegas Trips” query).
There’s also a travel recommendations engine based on travel search history, as well as clipping and tagging functionality.
Director of Yahoo! Travel, Jasper Malcolmson, told me that each “object” (any individual entry or reference) on Trip Planner is capable of being disaggregated, sliced and diced and distributed throughout the Yahoo! Network. Trip Planner is thus the “Web2.0″ community site that creates extremely rich editorial content, which then can be distributed to any appropriate domain within Yahoo! Travel and beyond. This shows the promise and flexibility of Yahoo!’s “FUSE” platform strategy (Find, Use, Share, Extend).
Yahoo! has also built in Answers-like functionality into Trip Planner.
Before the community sharing dimensions, there is personal trip planning. As with content on Yahoo!’s MyWeb, all trips may be labeled private or shared with a select group of friends and contacts. Alternatively they can be made public and become part of the database that anyone can access. It appears that the site has a great deal of content and people have been very happy to share their trips and photos (similar to the culture of Flickr).
To use the site, I can search on specific keywords and see what comes up (e.g., “Budget Paris“) or I can browse trips (with pull-downs for country and city). The site also let’s me “explore” with the map interface. (This was described by Malcolmson as one of the site’s “wow” features.)
As I drill down in conducting my research, each individual trip has various “views” that allow me to see a “schedule view,” a “map view” and a “trip journal” (if one exists). In each case a right-hand navigational menu lets me drill down to particular locations or entries to get more detail. (I’m also noticing lots of phone numbers associated with entries, which may be a PPCall experiment or a prelude to PPCall.)
I can also make copies of any public trips and save those in a My Trips area (I thought one could also save individual entries, but I can’t find that functionality now). The blogging tools (Trip Journal) are a great deal easier to use than what’s available via 360 and should result in more and more Journals over time (this is one of the new additions in this release).
And several of Trip Planner’s various components are impressively integrated with other parts of the Yahoo! Network.
In short, Trip Planner is a valuable resource for those doing active vacation planning or just fantasizing about where to go “next time.” One could argue that there may already be too much information there, and the product is just getting going.
Stepping back, Trip Planner is really the fullest expression yet of what’s possible with Yahoo!’s social media platform and strategy: providing relatively simple and intuitive tools to the community to enable it to generate incredibly valuable content that can then be repurposed anywhere throughout Yahoo! and served up in Yahoo! Search.
The almost cliche question at this point is: But will this help Yahoo! gain search market share? In the near term probably not, but long term Yahoo!’s social media strategy may well move the needle.
But in a way that question totally misses the point. Yahoo! is executing on a very effective strategy and producing an extremely valuable application for consumers. And, believe me, it’s going to be able to monetize the hell out of it.