Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Online Travel Business Mines Facebook Data

CNET: Posting on your own Facebook wall that you're headed to Ancorage, Alaska and need travel tips might not result in answers. Posting direct questions on friends' walls who have been to Anchorage does. Uptake, an online travel planner, today announced a social travel service that sifts through Facebook to find the friends that can help answer travel questions.

"Friends don't leave friends hanging," says CEO Yen Lee, who says he believes customers of trip advice companies like TripAdvisor don't get their travel questions personally answered.

"Just because you have the same destination and travel same budget as someone who shared on TripAdvisor doesn't mean you're taking a trip for the same reasons," says Lee. "They could have been on a bachelorette trip while you're going on a family vacation."

Travel Q&A is the newest way Menlo Park-based Uptake is helping travelers create vacations based on their Facebook friends' recommendations. Lee says this new approach mimics "natural travel planning behavior."

Uptake has patent-pending "destination mining" technology that picks up friends' explicit location data, such as hometowns and check-ins, as well as friends' less-obvious, implicit location data in the form of photos, status updates, and comments. That final category, according to Lee, contains nearly 70% of friends' destinations.

Lee explains that since your friends have already shared their explicit and implicit location data with you there shouldn't be any concerns about privacy. Uptake is just automating the Facebook homework you are capable of doing on your own.

Once Uptake identifies friends in your Facebook network who have been to a particular destination you can select the specific friends you want to ask about your destination. There's also a way to organize the feedback you receive.

Prior to Travel Q&A, Uptake analyzed and organized people's travel histories along with travel information from 30,000 web sites to help them plan future trips. Those earlier techniques will be bolstered by Travel Q&A, according to Lee.

Founded in 2008, Uptake become the third most popular search and discovery travel site in the world, behind TripAdvisor and Yahoo Travel, according to Lee. Uptake currently has four million unique visitors every month. It also claims the largest library of vacation experiences in the United States, with 1.8 million destination ideas, hotels, restaurants, activities and attractions.

Lee didn't share his revenue or profit stats, but he did say the company will start fundraising in January.

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