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Did someone flub a fact? TripAdvisor lets you fix it

The online `wiki' feature Inside allows anyone to add or delete content, keeping the information really fresh.

April 30, 2006|James Gilden | Special to The Times

THE hotel review website this month added "wiki" functionality to its site with a new feature called TripAdvisor Inside.

A wiki website allows visitors to add or edit content, as with Wikipedia, perhaps the best-known such site.

Wiki will make it possible for visitors to TripAdvisor to contribute original content to an online guidebook. Anyone with more current or additional information can then edit and update it.

"We're bringing out what we think will be the most useful travel guidebook for anywhere in the world," said Steve Kaufer, chief executive officer of TripAdvisor.

User-generated content is one of the fastest-growing areas in online travel. Sites such as,, and rely on everyday travelers to post reviews, tips and hints for travel to far-flung destinations. TripAdvisor is now the third-most-visited online travel-agent site, up from eighth place in just the last year, according to ComScore Media Metrix data for March.

Until now, the content on TripAdvisor has been reviews, primarily of hotels. It allows anyone who says that he or she has stayed in a hotel to post a review of that property. There are now more than 4 million reviews posted. They don't have wiki functionality -- nobody can edit or alter a review that someone else posts.

That new functionality is being gradually rolled out on the TripAdvisor website over the next few weeks. Britain and California were the first two locations, and Washington, D.C., Boston and Honolulu were added shortly thereafter.

I took the wiki for a spin, checking out the information posted about Los Angeles.

The easiest way to get to the TripAdvisor Inside wiki information is to go to, then type a search for the city you are interested in. On the Los Angeles page, I found information laid out in three general categories: "background," "transportation" and "things to do." I clicked on the public transportation link.

The content was sparse. There was general information about the subway and light rail lines, a brief mention of buses and a few links to official sites.

At this point, there is no original content beyond what can be found in outside sources. Nobody says, for example, that if you're looking to get from Hollywood to the beach (useful information for a tourist in L.A.), take a certain bus. And there was, I thought, an error.

"Hey, Ash. What's it cost to ride the bus in L.A.?" I asked my partner, who until recently was a daily rider of the MTA.

"A dollar thirty-five," he answered. It was listed on the site at $1.25.

So I registered as a user and was able to alter the entry. Then I found out that the fare had recently dropped back to $1.25, so I went in and changed it back again.

It is this sort of community policing that TripAdvisor is counting on to keep the wiki information accurate and current.

"More than ever, this is a collaborative effort," said Lorraine Sileo, a travel industry analyst at Connecticut-based PhocusWright. "They're looking to consumers to build these pieces of information

I could have asked to be notified by e-mail if someone else changed what I wrote. If they changed it in a way I didn't like, I could go back and change their change. Ad infinitum.

"The purpose of the page written by a person and edited by 10 other people is to bring together the most comprehensive information," said TripAdvisor's Kaufer. "It's fairly straightforward collective wisdom."

This self-policing aspect of wiki also addresses the concern that a travel provider may inject its own self-serving reviews into the guidebook, Kaufer said. Other readers should catch suspect information and change it.

The concept of an online guidebook may, on its surface, seem threatening to publishers of printed guidebooks.

"The honest truth is, it's not an either-or situation," said Michael Spring, publisher of Frommer's Travel Guides, which has 330 books in print. "The Web has not in any demonstrable way reduced sales of guidebooks."

It appears that travelers who go to the Web first for information are still buying guidebooks, both for their portability and expertise.

"Travelers really want the advice of knowledgeable friends, which is what our writers and researchers are," Spring said.

Other websites that provide a forum for user-generated content welcome the idea of the wiki guidebook at TripAdvisor.

"We've been watching them closely," said J.R. Johnson, chief executive officer of "It's really cool stuff. We love seeing more user-generated content out there."

Still, has no plans to follow that lead. His site adopts a different philosophy to providing travelers with information.

"The difference between wiki and what we do is, wiki deals in fact and we deal with review," he said.

The wiki function is still brand new at TripAdvisor and it will take time for it to catch on and for people to add their two bits. The wiki site, which has been around since 2003, now has more than 8,500 travel guides and articles written by contributors.

Kaufer predicts that in 60 days there will be a wealth of information on his site. For now, it's an interesting experiment and another place for regular folks to have their say about what's important to them about travel.


Contact James Gilden at

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