I was busy enough in June that I didn’t take time to blog about an interesting social-media experience. But when a similar thing happened this week, I decided it was time to take note.
I can’t recall how I first learned about TripIt, though it probably was from Mark Briggs, who was my first TripIt contact. I had already joined Dopplr, a travel-oriented social tool co-founded by my friend Dan Gillmor (who was a reporter assigned to me at the Kansas City Times before he became a new-media star). I travel a lot, so I figured I would try them both out and see which one I liked better.
Frankly, I was too busy to really dig into either. But I tried to plug my travel itineraries into both of them. I forgot to add a few trips and wasn’t finding much use from them, though I could see intriguing possibilities. I added the LinkedIn application for TripIt (Dopplr doesn’t have an application, at least not one listed on LinkedIn’s applications page).
Out of the blue in June, I received an email from a friend in Washington, Deborah Gump, who noticed I was going to be in Reno (doing a presentation about innovation for Swift Communications). She saw it on LinkedIn. Debbie was going to be working at the University of Nevada Reno in a Maynard Institute program with another Washington friend, Evelyn Hsu, and a New York friend, Merrill Perlman.
I never would have thought of looking up any of those three friends in Reno. But because Debbie saw I was going to be there, I was able to spend an afternoon at UNR, sitting in on their program and visiting a little with three friends.
That wasn’t the only connection I made that week as a result of social media. On my way to Reno, or perhaps before leaving, I tweeted something about the plans and Donica Mensing, a UNR journalism professor I had met at an American Press Institute seminar, direct-messaged me, asking if I might be able to swing by UNR. Turns out the Maynard program was just down the hall from Donica’s office and we had a nice chat.
I wasn’t able to make a fifth in-person connection from a social-media contact who also noted my trip to Reno that week. Mike Higdon, whom I had never met but we were following each other for a while, asked if I’d have time to make it to Carson City on the trip. I didn’t, but we had a nice phone conversation later.
Well, since then, I’ve become much more interested in using TripIt. I’m not sure whether they added a new feature or whether I just finally noticed it. (Either way, it shows how social-media work: a good-enough start that gets better as the developers add features, or a tool with lots of possibilities that the users learn gradually as they take the time and grow comfortable.)
The feature that made me an avid TripIt user is the ability to forward an email itinerary to TripIt. The program creates an itinerary in my profile in seconds or adds the new reservation to an existing itinerary. I have forwarded airline reservations (from Expedia, two airlines and a travel agent), hotel reservations, shuttle reservations and a rental-car reservation. Each of them has gone into my TripIt travel schedule accurately.
I can forward an itinerary to Mimi (or allow her to see it on my profile) or to a client or colleague who might be meeting my flight or meeting later for dinner. And I have the whole itinerary on my iPhone to guide me to the right places as soon as I land (I can’t tell you how often I have forgotten to print out a rental-car or hotel reservation and didn’t know where I was staying or whose car I was renting).
I should add here that Dopplr offers the same opportunity to email itineraries, and I sent most of the same itineraries there. Most were not accurately created. For instance, on a trip to Lexington, Ky., connecting through O’Hare, Dopplr shows that as a trip to Chicago. I could edit that trip in Dopplr to correct it, but I like the ease of just sending the itinerary to TripIt. On the other hand, Dopplr offers more in terms of guides and reviews of attractions, lodging and dining at destinations. So if it works out its problems in reading emails and adds a LinkedIn app, it could be a strong competitor.
I don’t know how hot TripIt might become in the social media world. Though traveling is a niche, it’s a big niche of people who spend money and appreciate convenience and value. I can see TripIt becoming an essential aid for frequent travelers or fighting fiercely with Dopplr (and perhaps another contender or two I haven’t heard of yet) for audience in the travel niche.
I don’t know how big TripIt is and whether it’s bigger than Dopplr or trying to catch up. It’s not big enough in the social-media world yet to earn mention in Jeremiah Owyang’s Collection of Social Network Stats for 2009 or Adam Singer’s Social Media, Web 2.0 and Internet Stats. But it was favorably reviewed in PC World by Susan Hanley and has earned several mentions from Mashable. Time this week named TripIt one of the 50 best web sites of 2009.
And I’m starting to see results. Again this week, another LinkedIn contact saw that I was going to be in his area. We’re trying to work out whether we can get together.
This is how social media work. You read about a service or hear about it from a friend. You try it out and see some value. You dig in and learn some more and see more value. Then it surprises you and helps in some way you never expected.