I am totally not a big fan of company-driven crowd sourcing. Don’t get me wrong: I am definitely part of the crowd for which content generated by the crowd is essential. Stackoverflow has had a huge impact on every programmer’s life. Review systems like Amazon or Tripadvisor empower the consumer and this is definitely a good thing. Yet, I am hesitant to contribute myself. I cannot shake off the feeling that I am investing a good portion of my time (a jumbled unintelligible review is a disservice) and in return, all I get is a pat on the back by an automated mail system. You get the pats, the company gets the bucks.
Two types of experiences made me enlist for Tripadvisor recently. Tripadvisor is a profit-oriented company, backed by an even larger travel company and apparently has accumulated a more than critical number of users and reviews up until now. Their vest has remained mostly clean up until now. So why posting a review on Tripadvisor?
Firstly, tourist traps. I am sure, everyone sooner or later has walked into one. Be it overpriced meals, rude service or poor location. Specifically, the less vacation time you have (apparently, 10 days are optimal), one spoiled evening lowers the relaxation value a lot.
Secondly, a recent stay in Dubai: One may be skeptical about whether this is the future of tourism and whether it is sustainable, once oil or cheap labor force is not available any more. Yet, the standards of service in Dubai are unmatched. One thing I found amazing is how Tripadvisor-optimized tourism in Dubai is (I wonder whether they will soon have dedicated employees similar to SEO managers). I have been to a somewhat hidden hotel and later visiset a similarly hidden restaurant. After checking in, I soon received a welcome email by the receptionist suggesting to rate the hotel on Tripadvisor. In the restaurant, the owner personally wanted to discuss our dining experience and asked kindly to rate him. This appeared reasonable to me, since the food and view were perfect, only his place was a bit off-site. So this made me write my first review.
Afterwards, the pendulum started to swing into the opposite direction: Tripadvisor helped me discover another rather hidden place, which seemed to have no problems attracting customers. While the experience was as excellent as expected, the waiter also asked how I found it and (upon referencing Tripadvisor) suggested to leave a review and to mention his name. In fact, in a lot of reviews, service personal gets name-dropped (possibly to allow identifying who induced the review). Almost all reviews I have read also have been responded to by the owner of the respective establishment. This made me wonder: Do owners incentivize their staff to urge customers to leave reviews? Are all these boilerplate responses taking it too far?
As mentioned, these observations may very well be the result of a bias to visit secluded places, which have to fight for customers in a highly competitive environment. But maybe not. If not so, then how does review-begging impact Tripadvisor’s value as a recommendation site? Is it a good thing that a sole company potentially gains that much power over an entire industry? So far, Tripadvisor works and has not turned evil. I am optimistic that they will not abuse their power. In the days of social media, loosing the goodwill and trust of your user base quickly turns exponential growth into exponential shrink.