As someone who just spent forty weeks traveling around the world, there is no category of consumer Web sites that makes me angrier than online travel sites. More than any other category on the Web, the early incumbents– online travel agents like Expedia and Travelocity– rafted on an early tidal wave of massive convenience and cost savings only to get lazy and never innovate again. They equated more inventory with innovation and treated every category of travel like the perishable commodity of booking a flight or a rental car.
But hotels and getaway packages aren’t commodities. The role of a flight is ultimately getting you from point A to point B as painlessly and on time as possible. Aside from racking up miles, there’s little difference between the major carriers: You’ve always got bad legroom, always get a free softdrink, always pay a few dollars for a snack box. And besides, even an awful flight ends when you arrive. But the hotel is your homebase throughout the trip. Even on a business trip, a modest hotel with better food or better service can make a huge difference.
And, no, TripAdvisor doesn’t solve this problem. I’ve found that my experiences rarely match up with the wisdom of crowds. Maybe they hit the property on an off-day, or maybe I did. Or maybe it’s just that hotels are incredibly personal and subjective. While Paul Carr wants every hotel to have a club sandwich, I get sick of the standard room service fare and want something a bit more local and adventurous. Likewise, some travelers want to be smothered with service, others want to be left alone.
As I’ve written before, I’m thrilled by a new wave — finally!– of innovative travel sites that bring curation, editorial and style to the category and boldly aim to be the destination site for a segment of travelers– not all things to all people. The leader in this category is Jetsetter, a sister-site of Gilt Group.
Yes, Jetsetter has phenomenal design, gorgeous photos and detailed write-ups. But what makes me so loyal to the site is I trust it. Several of my favorite properties around the world– places that aren’t particularly well known– have been offered on Jetsetter, and every property I’ve tried from the site has not only lived up the write-up, it’s been a unique experience.
Jetsetter has just launched a new iPad app today and the device is the perfect showcase for what Jetsetter is great at– melding the line between transaction engine and glossy travel magazine. The navigation isn’t completely intuitive, but it doesn’t take too long to figure out. There aren’t tons of new features– the main one being a 360 degree view of several properties that really does make you feel like your standing there and looking up, down and all-around. Jetsetter adroitly makes use of the uniquenesses of the iPad like the intimate touch interface that mimics scrolling through a magazine, the lush screen, and the gyro-effect to use the iPad like a porthole to look around a room. (Actually the latter was promised by the Jetsetter press team. It didn’t work for me, but it might be user error, my iPad or a day one glitch. The app also crashed a few times on me. So there’s a little more technical work to do, it seems.)
But really this app– like a good stay at a hotel– is about the little things, small design touches here and there combined with glossy photos and the company’s expert eye. It’s a world away from commodity transacting; it’s about dreaming.
Jetsetter CEO Drew Patterson describes his target market as the affluent traveler– a huge market made up of 7 million travelers with more than $100 million in liquid assets that’s barely online, because it’s been justifiably turned off by the Wal-Mart approach of the big online travel agents. But I think he limits the company with that description. After all, while I’ve gawked at $40,000 cruises to the North Pole that I could never afford in my wildest dreams, there are plenty of affordable properties on Jetsetter that are comparable in price to a big, boring chain hotel. It’s not about affluence– what Jetsetter has nailed is aspiration.
And because there’s such a range of inventory, Jetsetter doesn’t make you feel like you can only afford the lame trips. No sooner did I get sucked into a Machu Picchu Trek– not exactly practical in my five month pregnant state– than did I fall in love with a totally-doable weekend getaway in La Jolla, a perfect last childless weekend away once I’m banned from getting on a plane.
My only gripe with the app is my same gripe with Jetsetter on the Web– it always leaves me wanting more. I run out of properties to look at and things to do, just when I master the interface and get sucked into full vacation dreaming mode. This site — both the technology and the content– elevates shopping to a time-suck. But if you’re stuck on dreadful commute or on a terminally long layover, it doesn’t give you enough stuff to do with that time.
Patterson talked about how the site is moving into more of a curator role, with a high-end concierge travel planning service now in beta and a catalog of past Jetsetter-recommended properties. But with an iPad app that makes you want to waste time on the site, the company needs to run in this direction faster.
Exclusive - Ranker has secured a $1.3 million Series A round of funding led by Tim Draper at Draper Associates. Other investors who are backing the list making service include Rincon Venture Partners, Newport Coast Investments, Factual founder Gil Elbaz, Pasadena Angels and previous investor Siemer Venture Capital.
Ranker is a consumer web services that utilizes the concept of lists to harness ‘the wisdom of crowds’ to provide credible answers to questions like “what are the best beers from around the world?” and “what are the 13 craziest objects ever found inside people?”.
Visitors can vote on or rank topics with various levels of engagement, and Ranker’s technology aggregates this interest graph data into so-called CrowdRankings such as The Best TV Shows and, evidently, The Hottest Celebrities.
Ranker utilizes semantic, linked datasets to power this ‘connected list-making’ for users across a wide variety of topics, and has partnered with Freebase, Factual, and other sources of big data to pull that off. The site originally launched in August 2009 and currently boasts some 1.6 million monthly unique visitors (March 2011).
Ranker plans to use the proceeds from the financing round to staff up and continue development on adding more datasets and porting the ranking technology to other platforms and sites. I hope some of it goes to a thorough redesign of the site as well.
Ranker had earlier secured $1.8 million in two seed funding rounds, with participation from numerous angels as well as Ranker founder and CEO Clark Benson.
An anonymous reader writes “ZDNet takes a look at how crowd-moderation can capture and reflect the prejudice of individuals. ‘As more web content is crowd sourced and crowd moderated, are we seeing only the wisdom of crowds? No, we’re also seeing their prejudice. The Internet reflects both the good and ugly in human nature. … Any system relying on people implicitly encodes prejudices as well. In a world where one politician with a call girl is forced to resign and another is handily reelected, there is no hope for moral or intellectual consistency in crowd-sourced or moderated content.’”
GovTechGuy writes with some harsh words from Fark.com founder Drew Curti, speaking at a conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C.: “‘The “wisdom of the crowds” is the most ridiculous statement I’ve heard in my life. Crowds are dumb,’ Curtis said. ‘It takes people to move crowds in the right direction, crowds by themselves just stand around and mutter.’ Curtis pointed to his own experience moderating comments on Fark, which allows users to give their often humorous take on the news of the day. He said only one percent of Web comments have any value and called the rest ‘garbage.’ Another example Curtis pointed to is the America Speaking Out website recently launched by House Republicans to allow the public to weigh in on the issues and vote for policy positions they support. Curtis called the site an ‘absolute train wreck.’ ‘It’s an absolute disaster. It’s impossible to tell who was kidding and who wasn’t,’ Curtis said.”
databuff writes “Predictions are critical to modern life. Police predict where and when crimes are most likely to take place, banks predict which loan applicants are most likely to default, and hotels forecast seasonal demand to set room rates. A new project called Kaggle facilitates better predictions by providing a platform for forecasting competitions. The platform allows organizations to post their data and have it scrutinized by the world’s best statisticians. It will offer a robust rating system, so it’s easy to identify those with a proven track record. Organizations can choose either to follow the experts, or to follow the consensus of the crowd — which, according to New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki, is likely to be more accurate than the vast majority of individual predictions. The power of a pool of predictions was demonstrated by the Netflix Prize, a $1m data-prediction competition, which was won by a team of teams that combined 700 models. Kaggle’s first competition is underway, and it is accessing the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to predict the winner of this May’s Eurovision Song Contest.” Understandably, participation requires registration.