Gogobot Brings Game Mechanics And Rewards To Online Travel

With the rise in prominence of the social graph, we’ve seen the proliferation of services like Facebook Connect, which have brought the social web to third party sites and helped make sharing an integral part of the Web’s new plumbing. Social seems to be the default setting these days, but as is often the case, there are a few exceptions. The online travel industry, for one, is composed of sites that came of age early in the evolution of the Web, and by and large, still lacks many of the features of Web 2.0, like discovery, openness, and social integration to name a few.

For how popular peer and friend-based recommendation systems have become for movies, music, and other forms of content discovery, one might think that social recommendations would by now have made their way into the travel planning and exploration process. After all, when it comes to finding good places to visit when you’re traveling or on vacation, recommendations from friends tend to be of the most value. Last November, Gogobot launched to address this very issue, aiming to breathe new life into the online travel discovery space.

With tight Facebook integration and a design geared toward the visual aspect of deciding what places to visit (Gogobot initially hand-curated over 100K photos from Flickr and other open photo resources), the startup positioned itself as the Yelp for travel, or as Mike Arrington put it, “a TripAdvisor that puts users first”.

If you’re someone who travels frequently, and you enjoy reviewing the places you visit and, in turn, want tips from your friends on what places to check out on your next vacation, then Gogobot is right up your alley. For this reason, it’s of no surprise that, according to Gogobot CEO Travis Katz, the site has begun to gain a lot of traffic from Yelp users — those who like to travel, try new places, accommodations, and restaurants, and share their experiences after the fact.

Like Yelp, users can navigate Gogobot by a simple keyword search, but in the case of the online travel site, users can view their friends’ “passports”, which provide images and reviews from all the places they’ve travelled. Gogobot recently added Foursquare and Facebook Places integration, too, so that every time you check-in via one of those services, your checkins show up on your Gogobot profile as well. And, since Gogobot is focused on providing an authentic visual experience, the site automatically tags your checkin with a Flickr image. Once you’ve checkedin, you can go back at a later date and add starred recommendations or write a longer review.

Just as Foursquare has plans to utilize the massive data hive it’s collected from user checkins to create a future recommendation service based on past trends in your checkin activity, the big picture goal for Gogobot is to provide an engaging resource for users to create tons and tons of data around their travel preferences. Eventually, Katz told me, Gogobot wants to build a travel recommendation engine comparable to the one Netflix employs for its movie recommendations.

So, to make this reality, Gogobot needs to become its own data hive, and thus needs to create an engaging user experience that encourages its users to spend time on the site, tagging, reviewing, checking-in, and so on. Today, Gogobot is announcing another key element in the effort to build an addictive resource and data mine: The addition of a gaming layer to its experience.

Gogobot is today rolling out a game layer built on top of Facebook Places check-ins (the first of its kind that I’m aware of), as well as Foursquare, to turn both networks into a source of gaming mechanics that encourage travelers to compete with friends and other members of the community to earn points and badges by going about their daily Gogobot activity. Users can earn points simply by checking-in, but they earn a greater number of points by writing reviews, answering questions posed by other travelers, and commenting on other users’ reviews.

The Gogobot badge system is very similar to the commenting reward system used by The Huffington Post, as well as the badge system in place for content producers on Bleacher Report. Obviously, while game mechanics and badges are by no means a new idea, it is very definitely a novel feature for the travel industry.

Thus, if you’re someone that loves adding stamps to your passport and loves competing with friends and family for those stamps — if the idea of making travel into a game has some appeal — Gogobot has your number.

In just six months since launching to the public, Gogobot users have shared more than 550,000 destinations across the globe with their networks on Gogobot. And though Katz was unwilling to share the site’s number of monthly active users, he did say that users are spending an average of 10.5 minutes on the site per visit, more than twice that of its competitors, like TripAdvisor and Fodor’s. He also said that traffic has grown by 70 percent in the last 30 days, so hockey-stick growth looks like it’s on the way, if not already in progress.

As to how Gogobot will make money: It’s all about lead generation. The site is tightly integrated with Hotels.com, Kayak, Expedia, and TripAdvisor, to name a few, so when you’re checking out a review of a hotel in London, Gogobot allows you to go straight to Hotels.com to get a room and, when you do, Gogobot gets paid. (It also helps the financial cause to raise $4 million in seed funding from Battery Ventures.)

Gogobot was also the winner of TechCrunch’s 2010 Crunchie Award for “Best Design”, so you know it’s gotta be good. But, if you’re still not yet convinced, check out our original in depth review here or check out the site itself here.