Stop me if you've heard this one before. From today's Washington Post:
Crowdsourcing a Panama trip
Less than 24 hours after I announced on Facebook that I was heading to Panama, the tips started rolling in.
... Never mind that I hadn't seen these people in years. They were my Facebook friends, and I was willing to take their advice. I am, after all, a Facebook junkie.
Which is why I was thrilled to discover several new Web sites that merge my two favorite things: social media and travel. TripAdvisor recently integrated its site with Facebook so that you can see where your "friends" have visited and read any reviews they've posted. Other Web sites - Gogobot, IgoUgo,Travellerspoint and Tripping, among others - are creating communities of travelers Facebook-style.
So I wondered: Could I toss aside my guidebooks and plan an entire trip based on tips from virtual friends? Could I, in social media lingo, crowdsource a vacation?
Now, if you just read the first page (of three) and the last couple of paragraphs of the article, you could easily get the distinct impression that the conclusion is this: guidebooks are dead--social media is the only way to go! All hail social media! Now, I've already
I'm guessing various bloggers and Facebookers are going to latch onto those themes without a second thought, never mind that the writer, Nancy Trejos, encounters some serious setbacks, namely: (a) she gets too many tips and ends up trying to do too many things, and (b) a bunch of the tips are total duds.
In short, the experience is hit-or-miss--like most travel methods. But here's a kind of maybe REALLY IMPORTANT observation that passes by without any real comment: the things that save the trip are:
- A local expert.
After a series of frustrations, Ms. Trejos comes to prefer the advice of that local expert, a friend-of-a-friend who works for the UN.
In other words, the true lesson to draw from the article is that you're ultimately best-served by relying on the exact same thing that travelers have been relying on for, well ... forever. The person on the ground. The local expert. Also, it helps if that person works for the UN or is otherwise someone with an outsider's perspective but an insider's knowledge.
And, yes, social media can help you work your network to find that expert. Granted. But, let's face it, there are many other ways, aside from Facebook and the like, to make those contacts. Online crowdsourcing is just one more means to that end. And sometimes it just gets in the way.
Of course, that conclusion won't get you a lot of Diggs and "likes" and retweets. It's not great SEO. A few months back, the Post's inimitable Gene Weingarten had a column about the "new media"-oriented newsroom.
Every few days at The Washington Post, staffers get a notice like this: "Please welcome Dylan Feldman-Suarez, who will be joining the fact-integration team as a multiplatform idea triage specialist, reporting to the deputy director of word-flow management and video branding strategy. Dylan comes to us from the social media utilization division of Sikorsky Helicopters."I can't help but wonder if that social media emphasis becomes self-perpetuating: social media loves social media, so social media types get all excited when someone talks about social media. (Still with me?)
And I strongly suspect that's the ultimate reason that this travel article doesn't play up what seem to be its most important points: not much has changed, actually. At the top of page one of that article, there's a slide show sidebar (say that five times fast). The caption reads:
Panama: Off the beaten path
Nancy Trejos discovered Panama's hidden gems thanks to recommendations from her online social network.
Wait. No, she didn't. At least, not really, since her online friends led her astray just as often, and her best guide was--say it with me now--THE LOCAL EXPERT.
I guess honesty isn't very SEO-friendly.
(You know what is SEO-friendly, though? Cliches. Can we please please have a moratorium on "off the beaten path," at least in headlines?)