There seem to be so many people starting new travel related websites these days that I really don’t spent that much time trying to keep up with everything happening in this area. That said, I did take notice of a recent profile of TripAha that was featured on Tnooz. This post is not an analysis of the TripAha site itself, but more as a lead in to a wider piece on blending social into the travel purchase process.

What I did like were some of the quotes from the team behind TripAha on social search.

TripAha will change that [low trust, unpersonalized content farms] by creating a massive database of trusted content by sourcing recommendations from your extended social graph. Your social graph will be naturally incented to write and share recommendations via our “shared context” technology. Shared context is – “What do you and I have in common”? These attributes could be – “friend” “Fof”, common school/college/workplace, common travel interests, common demography/ethnicity/place-of-origin.

And then towards the end of the profile:

They [so called travel industry experts]think social travel has been tried before. We disagree. We don’t believe people understand social. Social is more than slapping facebook connect. Its about shared context – “what do you and I have in common?”.

Like I said, I’m not endorsing TripAha, I just thought some of their comments were worthy of being repeated here.

Just last week I was sitting through a demo from a group building a Facebook iPhone travel app. The team in question was sitting on a golden egg and they didn’t even realize it – instead of trying to turn some proprierary travel related data they had into something giving social insight, they instead were more focussed on using the Facebook API to get the same information about someone’s network that anyone else building a travel app on the Facebook API would also be able to access. 

Back when I made my travel tech predicitons for 2011, I wrote the following:

I was surprisingly impressed at Phocuswright with Tripalertz and their model of bringing a group buying dynamic to hotels. No-one can argue with the success of Groupon; how this trend finds its way into online travel will almost certainly be much clearer by the end of 2011 than it is today. Paypal have launched Shoptimist, Facebook have set up a commerce partnerships unit, the rise of sites like RueLaLa during 2010 brought many immitators, and even KLM got into the act with a flight for ravers filled in 5 hours using a social group buying dynamic. Social commerce is only going to get bigger, but this is not a tide that will lift all boats – some airline websites will really struggle, thereby losing power to individuals when those individuals act in a concerted and socially interconnected manner.

So whilst no one has yet cracked social and travel, I am convinced that in order to be useful it needs to be much more than just looking at my friend network – even if I have 1,000 so called friends on Facebook, the usefulness of my “fringe friends” will be nowhere near as good as data from people outside of my network but who share similar interests to me and have purchased or intend to purchase similar vacations to those that I am interested in.

The lesson here is, don’t get so hooked on the social graph that you ignore the taste graph. Blending the two will be key to getting sufficient sample size to drive a meaningful social context into the online travel search and shopping experience.