Niche travel social network WAYN hits profitability, mobile apps on the way

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It’s been a while since we caught up with WAYN, one of the earliest social networks (so early they once charged for access). WAYN is a niche social network which focuses on the younger, aspirational traveling classes. Amazingly, despite the recession, they are still gap-yearing around the world using WAYN to meet fellow travelers, and there are now 15.5 million registered users globally.

More interestingly, London-based WAYN has revealed exclusively to TechCrunch Europe that the site is now in profit. And next month it is going mobile with an iPhone and Android application created jointly with UK mobile social startup Rummble. WAYN users will be able to check in to places, and Rummble will get access to the WAYN user base.

Although a sort of MySpace/Facebok for travel, WAYN’s closest competitors are TripAdvisor (which own Virtual Tourist) or publishers like the Lonely Planet. But unlike content publishers, WAYN has achieved this by tapping into national country tourism boards that want to engage more closely with a social network. These have now become a lucrative source of revenue. Tourist offices are advertising heavily on WAYN as a way to lure travellers to their countries.

WAYN’s focus now is creating a ‘dreams engine’ to sugest to users where they should go next and what to do based on statements of intent in their status update (which can be linked to Twitter). A sort of a Facebook ‘Suggested Friends’ but for travel. Some 30,000 activities now get get added a day, and some 20,000 photos are uploaded a day. A postcode database for 17 countries allows proximity matching.

The site has implemented Facebook Connect and generated 150,000 new users that way. Next up is allowing members to share content across to Facebook, along with design tweaks to simplify the site and speed it up.

In addition WAYN recently launched a separate standalone site in a brand extension, WAYN Dating. This is pushed across WAYN in an attempt to further monetise users. WAYN founder Pete Ward, Jerome Touze and Mike Lines have found that a significant number of WAYN members are single, hence the dating site.

But there is one thing about WAYN that has left me puzzled. According to the site, 60 percent of of WAYN users use it to make friends while traveling, so in other words, it’s not really about your existing social graph but about meeting new people. So that would probably account for why my WAYN account seems to be full of people I haven’t actually met, or know. This is probably something that wouldn’t bother a 20-something hitch hiking student. Me, just a little.

WAYN received $11M in Series A funding at the start of 2006. Ward and Touze and remain CEOs, Lines remains CTO, and although all three took money out of the company at that point, they are still there, making it happen, which goes to show the power of incentivising founders this way. Since then they’ve appointed Simon Guild as new Chairman, ex head of MTV in Europe.

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