With more than 4 million embeds, the Where I've Been travel map is one of Facebook's most popular applications - and certainly the #1 travel-related app on the network (and there are at least a few to choose from.) That's pretty impressive for an application that was built, essentially, as a labor of love. (Facebook members can see my map here.)
So today I'm doing something a bit different (different from my normal bitching and moaning, I mean) -- and presenting a Q&A with Where I've Been CSO Brian Harniman.
Greg: Where I've Been is the most widely used travel widget on Facebook – why do you think it has become so popular (especially given that there are other similar maps available)?
One, it's simple... easy to understand and use.
Second, and I think most important, Craig [Ulliot – the developer that created Where I’ve Been] built an application that worked for him from the mindset of the consumer...he asked himself, "would I use this?" Other apps might not have been developed in that way. When your core drive is to delight the user, you come out with a good product.
Lastly, we chose the travel vertical. Travel is so fun and aspirational that it's a great viral play. People are always talking about where they've gone and want to go, and this app is really just the embodiment of that.
You’ve become a fixture on Facebook, recently launched on MySpace and today you announced Bebo – what's next for Where I've Been?
We'll continue to expand in all social nets that open up to us, and can craft interesting and user-centric versions for each audience... think a businessperson's WIB in Linkedin, etc. All the users will be pushing ratings, reviews and content to a central database, so we can ultimately do very cool things with the meta info that we capture - like show the hotels that WIB users think are great deals for the holidays in Chicago (and we can cross that with data that tells us that rooms are still available for purchase).
Are you developing for the OpenSocial platform?
Of course. The great benefit to all these platforms is that they allow us to build into existing distribution. You need to develop the right app for the right audience, but that's what we're keyed in on doing. If you're able to execute, you can really gain passionate users and scale quickly.
How will you monetize? If you say advertising I may be forced to smote you.
You may smote when ready, sir... Ultimately we think that display-based advertising is a nice add-on to our model, but it's not the main drive. Since WIB is a travel-based experience, we feel that we are creating a channel that premium partners will pay to play in. However, we need to make sure that the ads are actually content for our users. They have to add value to the experience, and not go against WIB user sensibility. In the Bebo app, you can see that we mash the information about where you are in relation to where your friends are... and we provide pricing for airline travel to go see them. We also link you to a site to transact against this data. This is a pretty good example of how we can move ad data into the WIB stream without getting in the way of the experience.
You’re collecting a lot of information about users' travel habits and interests – what are some of the most surprising things you've learned?
I think that the most surprising thing is the massive scale here. Some of us have seen growth before, but this company has literally gone from 0 to 4MM members in 5 months. That's just staggering. With the scale you can see users from places you'd never even dream of reaching... Tonga, North Vietnam, even Antarctica!
Following on from that, what are your plans for the data? Knowing where I want to go would be a goldmine for lots of marketers, from tourism to credit cards. Any plans to expose that data to marketers?
There are no plans to sell our customer data to other firms. We will sell advertising based only on what customers TELL us they'd like to hear more about.
What are the benefits of joining/visiting WhereIveBeen.com [the company's branded destination site] vs simply using the widget in a social network – and do you care or is your business really all about the distribution?
WhereIveBeen.com will have exclusive tools and content that the partner sites won't have. In addition, there will be more data to interact with. WIB.com will benefit from the scale across our network. You'll be able to see the data that we've collected from all our partnerships. We can show "cuts" of data that are pertinent to each audience...like rank family-friendly hotels on a site like Maya's Mom. We plan to have more robust offerings on our site, but we'll continue to offer and tailor applications for the social networking partner channels. What this means is - we're still learning and experimenting with new features and new revenue channels in direct, open API and ASP models and so far, people like us.
How do you plan to tie together the various user communities (in each social network) and the central community you seem to be looking to build at WhereIveBeen.com?
Well, we've been focused on all the new open API opportunities, and we haven't begun any linking or marketing to the WIB site because it's not ready to launch in the way we're gearing up for. We're going to provide a very flexible experience that will allow you to link your travel profiles from all the social networks, and allow you to push content from all your accounts through WIB (and back to the network sites).
Additionally, the marketing budget is really much better spent as development dollars right now - it's easier to find users on the social nets by building great apps than it is mining for them in the keyword markets.
What else would you like marketers to know about Where I've Been?
The Where I've Been team is experienced, nimble and successful at creating a place for consumers to talk about travel on social networks . We feel that this atmosphere naturally lends itself to the placement and promotion of travel and travel-related products. The combination of unique deals and actionable consumers should prove to be a nice match!