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Media Literacy Lesson: TripAdvisor

The Wall Street Journal does a service this weekend with “Deconstructing TripAdvisor,” a long article (unfortunately behind the newspaper’s pay-wall) that helps explain the popularity — and the flaws — of TripAdvisor, which for many people (including me)

has become a first stop for travel planning. Thanks in part to its prominence in Google searches, some 24 million visitors a month check out what other users have to say about where to stay, eat and play around the world. (In contrast, publisher Frommer’s sells 2.5 million guidebooks a year.) With more than 250,000 hotels, its sheer breadth of properties makes it more useful than other hotel Web sites. Its wide range of contributors — there are nearly 10 million reviews and opinions — make it more democratic.

“Democratic” doesn’t always mean that the crowd is perfectly wise, of course. While I find the reviews to be largely congruent with my own experiences, I keep a healthy skepticism about what I read.

The Journal reporter makes some key points, including the necessity to be wary of reviews that are either pure raves or utter slams. The latter can well be written by people who’ve had (maybe) rare bad experiences or by competitors, and the former can come from people affiliated with the property.

It’s a terrific article. It’s also a lesson in the evolving nature of media — and media literacy.

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