|by Sean O'Neill||Innovations, Questions and Opinions, Technology||9716|
Since the beginning of Internet Time, there has been Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, a place where frequent travelers trade tips with each other.
Facebook came along, of course, and now many people simply post a status update to draw out tips from their connections. (For example: "What should I do in Brussels next week?")
But your friends and family members may not be as savvy or passionate about travel as you are. So advice from Facebook connections only takes you so far.
Some start-ups are trying to create communities of travelers that can interact with each other in a Facebook-style format. My favorite of these is Gogobot. To take full advantage of this site, you need to be willing to be friendly with strangers. Because it is people you've never met who may have the most up-to-date scoop on the best restaurants in L.A., or the smartest way to get to downtown from the airport during a transit strike in Paris. If you're comfortable with creating a new persona for yourself as a capital-T traveler, GogoBot is for you. During my recent weeks of trying it, I've been amazed at the high-quality of tips that users share with each other. The one downside is that Gogbot's community is still fairly small.
A site with a much larger pool of travel hobbyists—half-a-million travelers, in fact—is IgoUgo, a community that's overseen by Travelocity. This past fall, it added social tools, such as an "I've Been Here" feature and a "Get Ideas from Other Travelers" button, which together can help you to find like-minded travelers and learn about their tips as well as share your own advice.
I also ought to mention Travellerspoint, a travel community with 350,000-plus members, who typically seem to travel more frequently than the average American—and are eager to share their insights. Looking for good guesthouses in Goa, India? That's the level of advice you'll find here.
On the opposite end of the marketing scale, heavily-promoted site WAYN has been successful at signing up lots of users, but activity has been stagnant in recent years. WAYN used to have a travel-knowledge focus and stand for "Where Are You Now." Today it seems to be more focused on getting users to date each other.
Some sites help travelers meet up in real life, once you've already arrived at your destination. Perhaps the best of these sites is Couch Surfing, a site for finding free and cheap places to stay in people's homes. It has a forum for meetups in cities worldwide. Budget Travel also recently covered five other sites that help you make friends on the road.
Especially promising is Tripping.com, a social networking site that connects travelers in more than 100 countries. The site stands out for its wide range of safety mechanisms, such as references, anonymous ratings, video validation, and an emergency hotline for all of its members.
How good are these sites? Budget Travel recently sent a writer to Istanbul to test many of these online tools. With a smartphone in each hand, Arianne Cohen tested the limits of online networking in a foreign land. No guidebooks. No language skills. Only social media and mobile apps. (Her story: "The Connected Traveler.") It was fun, but it wasn't easy.
One tool Cohen says worked well is InterNations.org. She wrote that it's "a global expat community with 230 local branches. If your own social network falls through, this is the place to track down locals who speak your language."
So what say you? What's the best social network for travel?
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