TripAdvisor: sliding down the trust curve?

TripAdvisor changes its logo yet again in the face of reality.

For a long time I’ve been watching TripAdvisor. This online hotel review site is a classic ‘user generated content’ business: it has to juggle making it easy for users to add content (reviews) from a position of effective anonymity, with trying to ensure those reviews aren’t gamed for advantage (or disadvantage). It has to try to do these while avoiding litigation from hotel owners and disgruntled travellers alike. And it has to somehow make the content relevant enough to drive valuable and qualified traffic to parent company Expedia.

As I’ve said previously, I think this is an equation that can’t possibly work out. Not particularly because TripAdvisor is doing something wrong, but because you simply can’t mix anonymous reviews with commercial interests and create ‘trust’.

Without trust, a business like TripAdvisor has nothing.

While the ‘downgrading’ of its strapline from claims about truth and objectivity (what the traveller REALLY needs) to claims about itself being a big site (who cares??) is at least realistic, it’s a shame. It goes to prove that somewhere in TripAdvisor, the decision has already been made not to try to build a business with trust at its core and to pursue a shorter term strategy instead.

Why shorter term? Because many people using TripAdvisor or watching it professionally get the impression that hotel owners (and others) are gaming the system. Given the precariousness of the economy and the struggle that most hotels are experiencing, it is hardly surprising that many will seek to raise their standing in what is still the most frequently-consulted hotel review site.

Erik Erikson and Gospel tv strikes gold

Erik Erikson, founder of Gospel TV uses the lure of gold to secure donations in a distinctly ungodly way

Gospel TV is not a good channel for me to watch.

A few weeks ago, I came across Peter Popoff ripping off the faithful with his ludicrous (but hugely lucrative) ‘Supernatural Debt Cancellation Miracle Water’ scam.  No, I’m not joking. Read that post and weep.

Last week, I came across Erik Erikson, founder of the Gospel Channel, talking to (surely be-wigged?) Welshman Robin Rees. They were talking about gold, not god. That struck me as odd – on a religious channel.

According to Erik, God told him to ask his viewers for donations for the Gospel TV channel. But not just a straightforward donation of the kind we’re familiar with. No, this was different. Special. Valuable. Different. According to Erik, this donation isn’t just a donation, it’s an investment.

If this was the Dragon’s Den, you’d see Deborah Meaden suddenly sit up and start paying attention. An investment? That sounds more promising. The numbers, Erik, what about the numbers?

‘Well, it works like this’ he’d say ‘you send us $1000 and we’ll keep half of it as a donation to Gospel TV and invest the other half in pure, 24 carat gold and send it to you’

WOW, you can hear the old folks thinking

‘Then over the years, that $500 worth of gold will be worth more than the original investment’

They then launch into a long and confused ramble about the massive rate of growth in the price of gold year on year.

A fellow outraged internet scam-baiter, who recorded, the show wrote to me afterwards to say:

Despite waffling, Erikson said that gold increased against the pound at 32% a year over the past ten years and at 45% over the last five which Rees described as ‘threefold’.  According to my reckoning if it increased at 45% a year over five years that amounts to an increased of 6.4 fold so he underestimated the increase that would have happened if Erikson’s statement was true; the ten year increase I estimate would have been 16.1.

After the strange statistics Erikson then went on to say that some people have said the increase will be even greater in future. He’s clearly using this as a selling point, all the while smiling benignly like a dodgy salesman.

You can almost see Deborah Meaden shaking her head and Duncan Bannatyne looking at the floor in disgust.

All that’s happening here is that Erik Erikson is using a shiny ‘gift’ (er… purchase) with the promise of a great future value as a crude device to lower the critical faculties of the gullible viewer so they’ll part with the money.

It would be laughable if it were not going on night after night – and lining the pockets of BSkyB in the process.

And as for Gospel TV – the new home of religious fraud Peter Popoff? A quick check this morning revealed that at least 6 of the channel’s listed celebrity preachers have scandalous past or present lives.  More to follow soon.

Tripadvisor RSS feeds: dumped, apparently…

TripAdvisor’s quiet dumping of RSS feeds raises interesting issues

RSS – on the surface, a great mechanism for delivering your content to a wider world. In reality – as it appears that TripAdvisor has quietly concluded – completely counter-productive for sites dependent on on-site advertising for their revenues.

For a short time, RSS feeds allowed the traveller to monitor a hotel over time to pick up any worrying reports before booking or travelling. A hotel owner could use RSS to have latest reviews delivered so he could monitor and respond to any potential reputation problems as they arose.

It all sounded good – until somebody at TripAdvisor presumably realised that providing RSS feeds of reviews achieved absolutely nothing except keeping the potential clickers at a distance from the on-site sponsors. Doh.

What’s interesting is that now, if you search Google for Tripadvisor RSS feeds, there’s no clear information. TripAdvisor seems to mumble on a bit about RSS being available at various places on the site, but I didn’t see any when I did a quick search just now.

So if you’ve arrived here trying to work out why something that seemed so useful to the general public suddenly disappeared, the answer can only be that RSS, pushing content TO subscribers doesn’t work with the Google Ad Revenue model.

This also hints at something I’ve thought for a while – that online revenue mechanisms default to the Ad revenue model when direct monetisation or other methods fail.

5 reasons you should be scared of Google

You should be scared of Google. I’ve been saying it for years… here are 5 good reasons from Cracked.com

Some people think that ‘Google’ exists to… help them.

These same people think Facebook is a way for people, to, like connect with each other?  In their worlds, Schmidt, Page and Zuckerberg are just cool people who got really rich by creating really useful stuff.  They don’t care what it means.  Jeez, stop getting all serious about it and just, like, use it, mkay?

If you’re one of these people, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sorry to poop your party. Google stopped being about ‘just finding things’ the second Schmidt and Page worked out that being able to know what people were looking for was the goldmine.

The same applies to Facebook. For about five minutes, it was about a guy just trying to be popular with girls. Pretty soon, it was about harnessing that same basic desire in everyone else to create a world that people would pay – a lot – to sell into.

Both these organisations are now so powerful they (along with others like eBay and PayPal) are effectively laws unto themselves, effectively free from control by any body, nation or even groups of nations.

I’ve never visited Cracked.com (strapline ‘America’s only humour & video site since 1958′) before and I came across this piece about why you should be afraid of Google by accident but it’s worth a read.

All I can say is that I hope we’re going to live long enough to regret allowing Google and Facebook to do exactly what they want.