Uptake Q&A: Mining Facebook Data for Travel Tips

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on November 10 2011 6:49 PM

The travel research site Uptake may be the largest travel search company that you've never heard of. In the business for nearly four years, Uptake has grown into a mature site that now attracts some four million unique visitors per month.

Now, they're taking things to the next level. On Wednesday, Uptake debuted a Facebook app called Travel Q&A that gathers information from your Facebook account to help you locate the best people from your existing friends to ask about certain destinations and activities.

Using Uptake's destination mining technology, the new Travel Q&A analyzes friends' explicit location data, such as hometowns and check-ins, as well as friends' less-obvious, implicit location data, which contains nearly 70 percent of your friends' destinations in the form of photos, status updates and comments.

When you know where and when you want to travel, existing travel booking sites excel, said Uptake's president and co-founder Yen Lee. But today's booking sites don't help you to shop based on why you are traveling or who you are traveling with. Uptake is designed to give you better recommendations based on these fundamental questions of 'who' and 'why.'

Lee left Yahoo Travel to start Uptake nearly four years ago. The Q&A function is the most significant addition to the site since Uptake extended its services.

You have to be careful when you launch a new feature. You don't know if it's going to be a lion, a fox or a bunny, Lee said. I think we have a fox.

So how does the new Q&A function work?

Travel Q&A allows users to identify friends who may have knowledge on a particular destination, browse, select, ask specific friends about destinations and activities, and organize the advice they receive.

Let's say you're going to Santa Barbara for a quick trip this weekend but you're not familiar with the area. By allowing Uptake to access your Facebook information, you can type in Santa Barbara and see which of your friends have been there. Let's say 12 friends pop up, you can then choose which ones you'd like to ask for advice.

Say you don't have any friends that have been to Santa Barbara, Uptake may recommend that you ask your 35 friends who know about California.

The new Travel Q&A hinges on the fact that people would prefer advice and recommendations from their friends over reviews and star-ratings from bona fide travel sites.

A lot of people are saying 'Huh? What are you doing differently,' Lee said. When they see how the site works they have an aha moment.

With the explosion of reviews there is too much info on the web and consumers are drowning out there. The average consumer does 12 searches and visits 22 websites before booking a trip - and that takes the fun out of the vacation. We provide a personal travel and leisure magazine. It's a personal travel guide based on your friends' travel histories, supplemented by Uptake's library.

If you don't have a whole lot of friends on Facebook, you can still rely on Uptake's 1.8 million destination ideas, hotels, restaurants, activities and attractions.

Uptake is on track to become the leader in social travel, aiming to fundamentally change how consumers plan and make the most of every journey.

The site uses sentiment and attribute analysis technology to collect, organize, and harness information from 30,000 websites, as well as your friends implicit Facebook travel histories to give you highly personalized recommendations.

The next layer for the Q&A program -- other than adding more social media platforms-- will be adding sentiment to the function. For now, you need to know what destination you'd like to go to first. In the future, the site will help you decide.

We believe that one day people are going to say 'Duh! Of course that's the way you do it,' Lee said. With Uptake, we're just trying to mimic natural offline behavior.

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