Serendipitous meetups with friends while traveling make us happy and Facebook wants to be the portal to that joy. So this week it quietly rolled out a new feature that lets you share where you’re “traveling to”. Facebook’s Page mentioned it today, so I asked the company which said that after some testing, “traveling to” is now available to all users. It has big potential to bring Facebook valuable data on what’s important to us.
The “traveling to” option is found within the activity and emotion sharing smiley-face button on the Facebook status composer on both web and mobile. One you select it, you can choose a destination city, but not a departure and return time. Facebook will then append “traveling to Boston” with a little plane icon. Some destinations get their own special emoji, like a Statue Of Liberty for New York, or a Hollywood sign for Los Angeles.
(Note: I wouldn’t recommend sharing these posts publicly though, as you don’t want to advertise your absence from home for security reasons. It might be nice if Facebook warned people about that.)
Without “traveling to”, most us just end up posting “I’m coming to New York, who wants to hang out?”. But I’ve found I got little engagement with those posts. If users happen to check in at an airport, Facebook would ask where they were heading and show that in the post, but few people know about this and checking into airports just feels lame and braggadocious. Some people use third-party app like TripIt to share their itineraries.
All these options will probably see less usage now that there’s an easily accessible “traveling to” feature. And yes, Path has automatically done this for a while by auto-publishing when you appear in a new city. But as Facebook has proven over and over, it doesn’t care who did it first. It wants to do it at scale.
What’s puzzling about the feature is that Facebook confirms that sharing where you’re “traveling to” won’t change anything else about how Facebook works. But it should.
When you’re in a different city, your Facebook should be different too. It should show you relevant stories from local friends and ads from nearby businesses instead of ones where you live, and let people know you’re in town so you can meet up. None of these happen right now…
…But I wouldn’t be surprised if they did soon. Facebook’s whole value to users and its business model depend on relevancy — knowing what you want to see. Explicitly telling it where you’re traveling to is an extremely strong signal that content from or about your destination is more important to you.
First, it should be sure to show the “traveling to” post to close friends in my current city so they know I’ll be gone, and relatively good friends that live near where I’m going so they know I’ll be there. It should also show the post to anyone who’s been there who could give me tips on what to see. Then it should show me more posts from friends where I’m staying to boost the chances I can join something fun they’re doing.
And for its own business as well as making the ads I have to see anyways more interesting, it should show me promos for local businesses where I’ve traveled to. Yes, most people hate ads no matter what, but I’d rather see one for a bagel shop in New York I could try out while I’m there than one back in San Francisco that I’ll forget about before I return. (Plus, SF bagels are a joke. Someone vacuum-seal and send me some from Manhattan, stat.)
A frequent complaint about Facebook is that it’s actually isolating. We sit at home reading News Feed instead of actually calling or visiting friends. “Traveling to” could let Facebook better fulfill its mission to connect us. After all, life on the move is a lot more fun when it’s not spent alone in hotel rooms.