Samui Wining & Dining
Neatly Tripped

TripAdvisor is like consulting the Oracle. Or is it ?

 

8How many of you can remember what things were like in the year 2000? Okay – so anyone inclined to read this has already got their hand up. Next question: tell me what you were using a computer for at this time. Answer: work-related projects, word-processing and business emails. This was when the vast majority of European people didn’t even have personal email addresses. Phones were for phone calls. Android, YouTube, Facebook and texting hadn’t been invented. Most adults had to be shown what computers could do by their kids. Something called ‘Google’ was just getting going.

      Since then it’s fair to say that Google has changed the world. It was just an idea in 1998. Two years later they had catalogued 60 million different web pages. And just a few years after that ‘to Google’ had become a verb, the same as saying ‘to find out about’. But, together with this breathtaking ease of being able to check on just about anything, anywhere, anytime, there was also a sticky downside.

      Linked in with all of this was the easy access to the world by anyone able to press a button, to use a template, then later a ‘blog’, and so make personal (and often illiterate and uniformed, sometimes hateful) statements – which Google would mechanically end up indexing and listing. At the same time eBay was evolving from a small online marketplace into a multinational conglomerate. There’s a parallel between eBay and TripAdvisor, as you will see. But the point is that, in just a few years, everyone was using the internet in a dozen different ways daily, and every cell-phone now came with all of this built in, making it 100% accessible to all.

      The mid-2000s evolved into the era of what’s known as ‘user generated content’. Before this time a website was solely composed of what you personally took the time and trouble to put on it. But the ‘blog’ opened new doors. Here was a way of making a website that grew because of what your visitors added to it. ‘Wikipedia’ is the prime example of this: a gigantic online ‘encyclopaedia’ composed entirely of readers’ contributions. And it was on the back of all this that TripAdvisor emerged.

       It was welcomed with open arms – and quite rightly so. It began, in the usual small way, founded in 2000 as a way of gathering travel information, posting reviews and opinions of travel and restaurant-related content, and engaging in interactive travel forums. In other words it was a travel and food ‘blog’; but one huge step up from the previous icon of ‘Lonely Planet’, which was a book the same size as a lunchbox, and became instantly out-of-date as soon as it was printed.

       TripAdvisor encouraged YOUR input – and you got your few minutes of fame by seeing your contribution spread across the world. If you went to a hotel, resort, guesthouse or restaurant, you added a few lines about your experience. To begin with – and for a long time – it was like reality TV: raw, unedited, usually honest, occasionally inarticulate or bad-tempered or in teen text-speak; but always a good general guide as to what people had experienced. It was ingeniously self-perpetuating – as it became better-known, more people consulted it about the places they were planning to visit. And they were thus compelled to further fuel the fire by adding their own comments or ‘reviews’.

      TripAdvisor still remains an excellent way to check on a hotel or restaurant. One good aspect of this is that the management of any business has the chance of replying to your input. You say it was great, they say thank you. You have complaints, they do their best to explain things. So the first thing is that if there are no management replies you, as a potential customer, get worried. On the other hand, if the management is obviously spending four hours a day trying to explain the reasons for all the complaints, then you not only have to wonder why managers here have nothing else to do all day, but you shy away from why they’re having to make so many excuses in the first place.

      The people at TripAdvisor are aware of all of this. They understand that just one disgruntled employee can destroy a restaurant’s credibility. They also realise that a determined chef can keep writing glowing reviews under different identities. They know it’s now impossible to personally respond to all the thousands of questions that come in each day. But they all end up saying the same thing as back when it was moderated by just two people in its infancy – we can’t possibly discern what’s true about everything and so you just have to read between the lines.

      Everyone has their own standards and their own ideas about what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s not so hard to spot a review from a preppy SOCAL (probably travelling on his daddy’s plastic) who posts complaints about waiters being far too slow, or that there was ‘some idiot who couldn’t understand English’. But when it comes to restaurants on Samui – or anywhere else for that matter – read all the varied reviews and absorb them. It’s not too tricky to gain a picture.

      TripAdvisor has its failings. But just try to make a list of the good things about your lover, and then the bad things. I bet the bad ones out-number the good. But the sheer density of the good things outweigh all those petty niggles. And just about every restaurant on Samui is totally loaded with TripAdvisor good things; just take a look around. It’s the negative comments you have to hunt for!

      

Rob de Wet


 


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