Travel and travel websites Blog

With the recent death/hibernation of Travelhog.net, where all working travelogues were moved to oneview, I haven't stopped being interested in travel nor travel websites.

Recently, a friend alerted me to the Dutch site vakantiegangers.nl, which is a slick looking travel-centered social networking website, where you can log your travels, add photos, also from photo sharing websites, and share trips with other members traveling with you. So, in effect, vakantiegangers.nl is something of a collaborative travelogue platform. This has potential though I think the major pitfall for this platform will be the challenge in finding the right target audience.
Though the interface is pretty, very web 2.0, usage is a bit more complex than for most social networks, while many of those that are truly interested in logging their travel stories are probably already doing that on other platforms, needing a good incentive to actually move over to this new platform, however slick.

Another new platform, this one publicly launched only two months ago, is GeckoGo, which seemingly goes for 'the minimal look', a bit comparable to Flickr (and, yes, I know, I just haven't shot any photos in the last 5 weeks!), but not really getting it right. There's, visually, clearly still some tweaking to be done.
However, one interesting feature is the interactive map on the homepage which shows you the best countries to visit based on the type of holiday you're looking for and the month of the year you want to travel. Not very complex to build, sure, but quirky and, more importantly, useful. At least for the armchair adventurist.

As you might know, I like mapping applications (and I'm close to building a new one for Johannesburg), so it's nice to see that GeckoGo uses maps on other pages as well. For example, if you take a look at the Thailand page, a small Google map displays user contributed attractions in a reasonably accessible way. Downside, though, is that it only shows five locations at a time. I would want to see all hotspots shown on the map concurrently. Likewise, Chiang Mai has no less than 50 attractions listed, but spread over 10 pages. It would be much more practical if I would be able to see all locations on one map, without having to page through them.
Lots of user contributed photos too, which is nice, but what seems to be lacking is someone actually checking them for quality. And what, really, is the advantage for users of submitting photos to a travel site over, say, Flickr? Wouldn't it make more sense to match the GeckoGo user's account with their Flickr account and then matching on, say, tags?

But, I'm impressed with the amount of information available. At least for Chiang Mai. Compare GeckoGo's Chiang Mai page with the comparable page on WikiTravel. Also not bad, and the latter has the lovely clean look copied from Wikipedia, but the user oriented GeckoGo does have a potential edge over WikiTravel. Though, as said earlier, they should revisit the way they present their information.
Also, they seem to make a point of not being WikiTravel. One of the benefits of themselves which they mention is that the user can "Get REAL travel info, not encyclopaedia entries".

Above, I mentioned vakantiegangers.nl. Their USP is the ability for their users to keep track of their trips. This is one thing lacking from GeckoGo. You can select the countries you've been to, a gimmicky thing which has been available on the web for years, but also without real value.
GeckoGo does tie your location to other users going there in the near future. It's something which other travel websites have been doing for a while, but still a nice bit of functionality. Though I don't think I would initiate contact with someone coming to the city I'm in, unless I was traveling myself perhaps. What might be better is if I could see who's coming to my neck of the woods and resides in my extended network. This would be a form of implicit quality control of these individuals and would lower the barrier for contacting them.
Not surprisingly, GeckoGo allows you to import contacts through your email accounts. Out of the 3110 contacts in my gmail account, a sum total of zero were already on GeckoGo. And that's pretty much where the interaction with other websites ends. I would have liked Flickr integration, to name one. But why not throw in Twitter (or, say, FriendFeed) integration as well? Then, the only way to blog about your travels and have them show up on GeckoGo is to blog directly on GeckoGo. What if I'm already blogging somewhere else? I'm not going to then blog in two locations. Why can't I simply show my existing blog posts from elsewhere with my GeckoGo profile? Or link to my blog posts on particular locations?

Still, the difference in objective and setup between GeckoGo and vakantiegangers or WikiTravel is obvious. GeckoGo wants to create a user-driven global tourist guide, like, for example, the Italy Travel Guide, or the Thailand one mentioned above. Not so much with neutral information, like WikiTravel, but with personal opinions.
This is clever as the personal aspect has a certain value more objective information doesn't have. However, it can be only a matter of time, assuming GeckoGo gains a significant user base, before spammers and advertisers will infiltrate the ranks and start polluting the data. And I suspect this is already happening. Take a look at the comments for the entry for the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. The later comments are much shorter.
Though it seems GeckoGo also sorts comments and reviews by length, not by date. This promotion of verbosity I have not seen before and is intriguing. Obviously, this won't really work with comments, as you immediately lose the threading.

That GeckoGo's presentation still leaves something to be desired can also be seen in how it displays accommodation options for the area you're checking out. Although booking is possible through a special tab in the top level menu, it's not possible to book accommodation directly from their respective pages when actually looking at the details of a hostel or guest house. This means that if you find a hotel to your liking, you have to note down the name and location, and then hope it will come up when you go through the booking process.
The hotel search engine they use, by the way, is courtesy of hotelscombined.com, which is also still available on Travelhog.net. It's an excellent service for it checks multiple booking engines at the same time, able to offer each hotel at the cheapest rate.

GeckoGo also mimics Yahoo's answers forum, focusing on travel questions. Interesting and practical, but with now only some 1500 questions in the list, this will need some time to become truly useful.

You can currently win a trip to Indochina if you sign up with GeckoGo, though I'm not sure if this covers more than Vietnam and Thailand.

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