Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twitter Travel Search: the Start of Something Big

Twitter relaunched its home page to emphasize "search," and the impact will reverberate for travel, financial services, lawn mowers -- you name it.

Twitter announced the new home page on its blog today.

If you are a travel company and not on Twitter, the new home page may change your thinking fast.

If you run a travel company, whether you are involved in social media or not, this will impact your business.

If you are a deal publisher like Travelzoo, Smarter Travel, Cruise Critic, Travelscream, getaroom.com or Voyij, you have new competition because companies can post their deals without you.

I entered the term Cancun vacation into the Twitter search box and found the following tweets about packages, resort credits, contests and a lot of irrelevant clutter, too.

Here's a sampling:

bestcancuntrip Tell us about your best family vacation experience and WIN 8days/7nights in CANCUN in a five-star Resort! http://ow.ly/ip26 about 3 hours ago

bestcancuntrip Cancun Family Vacation Package! Stay in 5-Star beachfront resort Club Internacional for $599, 5Days/4Nights http://ow.ly/ioYM about 5 hours ago

DunhillVacation travel tuesday continues with another great caribbean vacation. Secrets Resorts & Spas in Cancun. $200 resort credit http://ow.ly/iod9 about 10 hours ago

bestfares Little Peso Vacation Deal Of The Day 4 Night, 4-star Hyatt Regency Cancun Weekend Getaway Airfare Included From $339 PP http://bit.ly/M1fnd about 10 hours ago

So, if you are a travel company seeking to push some deals or tout your brand, or you are a consumer looking for bargains that aren't stale, Twitter search gives you an immediate, fresh way to go bargain hunting and soothe your wanderlust.

The new home page, with its emphasize on search, is an unsophisticated test that undoubtedly will evolve and force changes at search engines like Google and travel metasearch engines, too.

Airlines, hotels, cruise line, tour operators, wholesalers, car-rental companies -- take notice.

Contrast the Twitter Cancun vacation search with a Google search of the keywords.

The Google search for Cancun Vacations is dominated by paid ads -- something the Twitter search hasn't dabbled with yet.

The Google local business results for Cancun vacation include a map pinpointing the locations of the relevant businesses. There are no maps in the Twitter results for now, but the tweets provide more of a sense of immediacy than the Google results.

To its credit, the first Google organic search result after the local business results is a link to Orbitz for Cancun packages and hotels, a relevant result.

I'm not saying that one search mode -- Google's or Twitter's -- is better than the other (although Google has had a lot more time and resources to define its search algorithms, of course). Twitter is a newbie in all of this.

But, what I am saying is that Twitter search will change Google, Bing, Facebook and Kayak, as well as Carnival Cruise Lines, JetBlue, Hertz and Mark Travel.

Make your own list.

With the introduction of Twitter's new home page, we witnessed the start of something big today.


Kevin Fliess said...

For me it's as simple as this: Twitter just transformed itself from a-misunderstood-by-the masses-but-loved-by-some-app to universally useful platform.

While it's been the fastest growing social network in terms of users over the last several months (and is clearly the media darling right now) there's also been a lot of churn oi new users. For every passionate power user, there were many folks who dabbled and dashed.

Their new UI and focus on search will bring the casual user back, and the fact that you don't have to be logged in to access the content is a tipping point in my opinion.

This will bring me back to Twitter daily to keep an eye on the industry and look for new opportunities.

Watch Twitter's daily visits the next 2 months. Don't be surprised if it leaps by an order of magnitude, as the casual user begins to visit Twitter as a *search engine* alternative to Bing, and yes, Google.

Carl said...

Hi Dennis interesting post.
As a logged in Twitter user I didn't see the change you mentioned until I signed out. I could then see the new Twitter home page they talked about in their blog post.

I thought it was very interesting Twitter now wants to let web users see what is happening on Twitter before they have an account I expect to increase the speed of their growth or help offset the abandonment rate.

Perhaps this relaunched homep[age feature is mainly aimed at new users rather than many current who would never see it as we're logged in or using via a third party app.

Dennis Schaal said...

Yes, that is a huge point that a user can access Twitter search without being logged-in ie without registering for Twitter. That will bring a lot of people to Twitter search as an alternative, and not a replacement at this early stage, for Google and Bing search. It will be interesting to see how this drives up Twitter's already soaring traffic numbers.

Douglas Quinby said...

Kevin is right on. The new Twitter home page is a brilliant, obvious solution to the befuddlement everyone experiences when they first come to Twitter.

Claude said...

Twitter is surfing on the "right now" search trend and for lastminute and best deal or exclusive deal, this trend is very good for travel market.

Especially in our crisis economy where hotels and tourism operator are looking for business every where and are using Twitter strongly.

Twavel said...

Hi Dennis,

It still seems that Twitter is most useful when incorporated into third party apps rather than a search tool in its own right.

As self-serving as this may sounds (and it is!) we set twavel.com up in recognition of the fact that when a traveller searches Twitter itself the majority of the results are irrelevant, as you noted yourself.

TweetStays said...

Twaval your point is well taken... we also setup www.tweetstays.com to compile hotels deals which inspire the last second hotel deals.


Ben Burns

Elliott Ng said...

I do think Twitter has tremendous potential for time sensitive travel topics like deals, delays, weather conditions, and news.

Your post highlights the potential of Twitter.

But the real potential will only be realized by people who build apps utilizing the Twitter "plumbing" of social connections, reputation, and messaging, to focus on the issue of Travel Deals or Travel Advice/Recommendations.

Twitter of today may be "microblogging" or a social network. But Twitter of tomorrow will be a social application toolkit that will enable new applications that we are only right now dreaming up. I haven't seen Twavel.com, but I have seen Buzz.Trazzler.com. The best example I can think of is StockTwits, which is a social network based version of Bloomberg, providing stock tips and investment advice from the Twitter community. Also, my friend Dexin launched Tweetbrain.com, a Q&A site that allows you to ask questions and get answers, essentially a Yahoo Answers that utilizing Twitter. Mahalo Answers is also doing something similar.

Twitter's open API will enable people to create applications on top of Twitter to solve specific problems. This will deal with the signal to noise ratio currently on Twitter.

If I were TravelZoo, Sherman's, SmarterTravel, or DealBase, I would think about building a deal-oriented application that rides on top of Twitter like StockTwits, and I would invite suppliers to post their deals on Twitter and on my application. The first to use "lethal generosity" in aggregating deals will win, and that audience will just support their other distribution channels (e.g. email, Web) that promise NOT to go away, even with the emergence of Twitter.


Dennis Schaal said...

Elliott: Great point about APIs built to Twitter as getting a handle on "the signal to noise ratio currently on Twitter."

I'm sure Twitter itself will fine-tune Twitter search going forward, but the real innovation probably will play out in a form that you outlined.

What a shame it is that the travel industry generally can't let its competitive juices flow om a similar manner. I wrote about Farelogix giving it a go http://bit.ly/1429y7 in its open source experiment.

But, as Valyn Perini of Open Travel Alliance pointed out in a comment, tour operators and hoteliers at a recent confab couldn't even agree on which of them mandates the use of faxes about room blocks.

Twitter Travel Search will get a lot more innovation faster than the legacy-gripping portion of the travel industry.

Sam Shank said...

A key element about Twitter Search, and Twitter in general, is the real time nature of the information flowing through it. This is the key differentiator and user benefit to using Twitter Search vs. Google.

For example, there was some police activity in our neighborhood last year, and I turned to Twitter which had details on what was happening 45 minutes before any news outlets.

We feel that to be successful with deals on Twitter, the deals need to have a real time component to them, such as a short lifespan ("this coupon will self descruct in 90 minutes"). For travel, this concept would manifest as deals involving distressed product with a limited time to book or a small amount of inventory.

I'd expect some interesting things from the Gilt team in this regard.

That said, only a small percentage of travel is spontaneous, so does that mean that the travel category on twitter will be smaller than those which have a propensity for spontaneous purchases - i.e. clothing, coffee shops, electroncs, media, virtual goods?

@tourpro said...

I've had Twitter results integrated w/Google using FF/Greasemonkey for sometime now - I can't imagine living without it. Both real-time conversation and web results together make an incredibly useful tool.

The use of hashtags now becomes even more important - but I fear the Spammers will ruin this for us.

Happy Hotelier said...

Great post
Three thoughts.
1) This potential was already there when they incorporated search into their site. Has nothing to do with this new look and feel
2) Recently I notice that twitter flushes its search caches considerably more frequent and thouroughly than it used to do a couple of months ago. I presume because they still have problems with their capacity. This curtails the usefullness of their search results. You can only search the now as Claude points out.
3) future sidebuilders now need to incorporate dedicated Twitter search into their sites (blogs) I see on the otherhand Google putting more emphasis on real time results that static info.....

Chris @Nozio said...

Twitter is really helping the hotelier sell direct which is what the internet is all about

Dani Essindi said...

Good Post. Totally agree.

Twitter and the social web bring a shift in consumer expectations that can't be ignored.

A new generation of users expects more from travel sites.

We expect relevant, real-time travel deals when we shop travel and we want travel recommendations and reviews to be authentic.

Twitter and the real-time web have the potential to deliver both.

We believe current online booking and review models are going to be replaced by new travel services. Ones that deliver a blend of real-time and social web and create a unique online experience.

Caitlin Murphy said...

I know I am about a month late, but this post is so right on, Dennis.

I am eager to see how the travel industry reacts to the growth of social media in general - consumers are expecting fast, informative tidbits of information and exclusive deals at their finger tips.

A lot of the resorts I represent are creating (and maintaining) strong online communities. Let's see how they develop.