TripAdvisor adds personalization based on friends of Facebook friends

TripAdvisor today expanded the personalization of its travel site to highlight reviews from friends of users’ Facebook friends.

When people research hotels, attractions or other vacation information on the site, they will see reviews first from their friends, followed by reviews from friends of friends. Visitors have the option to send the the reviewer a private message with further travel questions. TripAdvisor says this friends of friends feature means visitors are now 10 times more likely to see social context when they use the travel site.

For example, a user might not have any friends who have rated hotels in Istanbul, but there is much higher probability that one of the hundreds of thousands of the user’s friends of friends has. You can try it for yourself here. Make sure you’re logged into Facebook, then scroll down and look for a notification like the one seen right.

TripAdvisor VP of Global Product, Adam Medros tells us one out of four new reviews on the site is created by users who have logged in with Facebook. He says the site also only shows friends of friends’ data for “opinionated content” — ratings and reviews — not in other features like lists of friends who have visited or lived in a place, where it might not be as relevant. TripAdvisor also includes friends’ names and profile photos, but doesn’t provide full names or photos of friends of friends, which are not likely to have the same meaning to users.

TripAdvisor has a long history developing travel-related apps on the Facebook platform. The travel site created Cities I’ve Visited in 2007. The app, which let users add pins on a map to the places they’ve been, quickly surpassed competitors and still has 3.4 million monthly active users today, according to AppData. TripAdvisor became an “Instant Personalization” partner in 2010, and remains one of only eight sites that can access basic Facebook user data without requiring users to authorize an app.

With Instant Personalization, TripAdvisor can show any logged-in Facebook user which of their friends has indicated that they’ve been to a destination or reviewed something on the site. It pulls data from users’ profiles like hometown, current city, check-ins and Likes, as well as data from the Cities I’ve Visited app. The company also launched an Open Graph-enabled version of Cities I’ve Visited this year and is considering ways it might do the same for the main TripAdvisor site.

Other apps like Yelp, and even Facebook itself, would benefit from showing friends of friends’ information similar to how TripAdvisor now does. Facebook seems to use data from friends of friends to influence its internal search rankings and other algorithms, but it doesn’t explain how and where it does so. The most explicit use of friends of friends’ data appears on the social network’s careers page which lists “people you might know who work at Facebook.” Underneath those words are thumbnails and links to Facebook employees with whom users have mutual friends.

We haven’t yet seen Facebook promote social games or personalize pages based on friends of friends activity, but one day it might. For example, if users don’t have any friends who play a particular game, Facebook could display how many friends of friends are active users. Facebook could also prioritize page posts or place recommendations from friends of friends, along with a note about how users are connected to the author.

If Facebook expands its search product, as it is rumored to, we might see the company put more emphasis on friends of friends’ data in order to provide social context in areas that a person’s immediate connections don’t cover. Although, seeing how TripAdvisor has incorporated Facebook suggests the social network might not have to improve its own search. It can let Bing, Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes and others make their search features more personalized by including friends of friends’ recommendations.

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