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How the new Facebook will impact travel

Watching the livestream of the Facebook F8 event last week, I was curious to see what “BIG” news the young billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was about to announce, writes Travis Pittman, co-founder and CEO of TourRadar. Curious on one hand to know how their updates would affect my own business, but also curious to see how Facebook was going to extend its lead over the recently launched Google+ platform. Facebook promised a lot and, in some ways, delivered on that promise.

 

As with any Facebook update (when you have 800 million users to please), there has been many an opinion already thrown out to the blogosphere and tech world.

Opinions ranging from praise for its Apple-like foresight of producing a product that we didn’t know we needed until they built it for us, to more angered opinions at how Facebook is attempting to further infiltrate everything we do by becoming the ultimate online receptacle for our entire lives.

In the last couple of days I’ve dug further into the new Open Graph developer documentation Facebook. In doing so, I have attempted to briefly summarise how the Open Graph changes may affect its users and the travel industry.

There is no doubt the Facebook Engineering team has given this latest Open Graph update some thought.

With its “Gestures” update, Facebook has gone from a single-dimensional “Like” button to something so multi-dimensional and limitless that it makes Google’s new +1 button look a little, well, basic.

A year ago, the use of the “Like” button went crazy as soon as Facebook allowed people to integrate it to any website.

Through its experiences of the past year, Facebook discovered that a “Like” button is now mostly clicked by a person when they are making an endorsement for a product or service to their friends.

So what started out as Facebook users going all out and liking everything and anything (of course creating tons of content for other Facebook users to additionally like and comment on) has no scaled back to a point where people are much more selective in what they appreciate digitally these days.

So, Facebook needed a way to turn this trend around and start another content sharing explosion. Now instead of just being able to “like” a book, users will be able tell friends when they have “read” a book. Or “listened” to a song. Or, in the case of the travel industry, “booked” a flight, “hired” a car, stayed” in a hotel, “‘done” a tour, “reviewed” a point of interest.

I think you get the point.

The possibilities are literally endless now as to what a user can share in a structured way using the Facebook Open Graph.

Now I’m no expert on the semantic web, but from what I can understand, this is one of the biggest steps I’ve seen to achieving the utopia outlined by Tim Berners-Lee ten years ago.

I believe the “Like” button was more of a macro action about any object, whereas with these gestures, we can get down to micro actions and determine relationships between distinct objects.

Essentially, Facebook is hoping that app developers will help them create a micro-structured way of bringing actions around every day objects to the web and, in turn, publish this to its user’s new timeline profile.

This might sound rosy, with some of you salivating at the possibilities. However, there could be some negative impact, too.

With the Gestures launch, and the new live Ticker on the top right of a user’s homepage, we are entering a new level of content consumption.

The Ticker is what I would call a live commentary to friends of your actions both on Facebook and on websites/apps outside of Facebook, but which you have authorised to connect to the system.

For example, as you “listen” to a new song using the Spotify app which you’ve granted permission, a message is automatically sent to the Ticker on all your friends home pages to say that “Travis is listening to Barbie Girl by Aqua on Spotify”, which you can click and start doing the same.

Ultimately, this means that after giving permission to an app, little messages are automatically (what they’ve named “Frictionless sharing”) being sent back to Facebook, your girlfriend, your co-workers and your friends about your actions on external websites.

For those of you who can remember, doesn’t this remind you very much of “Beacon”, Zuckerberg’s first and ill-fated attempt to capture every bit of info about our online activities?

Of course, this time around it has been much better thought out, with all of the correct permissions/opt-out options available for users (I’m sure privacy will still be an issue though).

However, I still believe there may be some ramifications from this latest update:

1. Caution

Users could become more cautious and hesitant when granting permissions to Facebook Apps they come across which may lead, initially, to less people using this new wave of apps.

On the flip-side, I guess Facebook is betting that the additional messages showing up in the ticker of friends will eventually mean more engagement and, hence, more people using the apps.

2. Information overload.

Don’t you think Facebook users are already overloaded with the updates from friends and businesses they’ve liked? Isn’t this freshly launched Ticker just the current News Feed on steroids? How much information can an average Facebook user handle?

What about travel?

So what does this all mean for the humble traveller? And for the businesses in the travel industry such as hotels, travel agencies, airlines and tour operators?

1. Travellers

As more businesses integrate the new frictionless sharing feature of the Open Graph to their websites and Fan Pages, there is an increased chance of friends being inspired by their friend’s activities during the planning phase and potentially joining them (or at the very least, telling them which sites their friends use in their travel planning).

I’m sure it would be interesting/distracting for people who are about to plan a trip of their own, are having a bad week at work or haven’t taken a holiday in a while when they see a flow of messages like:

■“Travis booked a flight on Expedia to Cape Town”
■“Travis read a review about xyz hotel in Cape Town on TripAdvisor”
■“Travis compared 5 tours of South Africa on TourRadar”
■“Travis installed tripwolf’s Cape Town iPhone city guide”
■“Travis booked his travel insurance with World Nomads”
■“Travis read an article on news.com.au about The Garden Route”
…to eventually things like:

■“Travis boarded his flight to Cape Town on Virgin Atlantic”
■“Travis ate a steak at a Cape Town steak restaurant”
■“Travis was at Kruger National Park”
■“Travis added 154 new photos to the album “South Africa Safari”
2. Businesses

Even before this change, Facebook provided a great channel for businesses to engage socially with its customers. With this update, the opportunity is now even bigger and it would be very naive for any business to ignore Facebook.

Whether this created easily by adding pre-built apps to your Fan Pages (where 3rd party app developers have to deal with the complexities and continual updates of the Facebook developer platform) or through custom apps built to heavily integrate into a business’s website, mobile apps, etc to capture and broadcast information back to Facebook about the stuff people are doing.

I see the challenges for businesses will be in what messages they push from their apps to the ticker. Too many messages about every single activity a user does will flood the ticker very quickly and cause a user’s friends to select the “Report story or spam” option – a move which no doubt will harm the performance of the app.

Conversely, too few messages and you’re information may be lost amongst your competitor’s messages as a person clicks around the many different websites and fan pages when researching their next holiday.

In short

It’s a fascinating and landmark move, which will affect every one of Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users, as well as the thousands of travel companies using it to engage with customers.

But what are your thoughts and how will it affect the travel industry?