My take on Simonseeks, and UGC

simon seeks

The brand new UGC-site Simonseeks.com, developed by Moneysupermarket.com founder Simon Nixon, has been getting a fair bit of media attention. Intriguingly, it offers reviewers a share of the revenue they generate. Here’s my take, as published in an “Expert eye” opinion piece for Marketing Week:

“Sites relying on user-generated content need users, and Nixon’s idea of incentivising participation is a clever way of achieving a critical mass quicker than other start-ups. It might not be the best way. Offering a cut of clickthrough commissions is offering a cut of a very small cut: as with the site itself, generating personal revenue will be a numbers game. It won’t take users very long to work out whether it is worth their time.

Incentivised UGC entails a number of problems. First, if users are racing to write as many reviews as possible, it may also encourage “fake” reviews gleaned from the huge variety of other reviews on the web. As money is being made by the writers, however little, monitoring validity and plagiarism could become a legal strain. Simon Seeks will also face a challenge in converting hits and reviews into revenue. In an increasingly saturated market, and in tight economic times, holiday makers are painfully aware of value. I frequently look for well-reviewed hotels on a UGC site, and then shop around on price comparison sites to see who can offer me the best value.

Finally, the biggest challenge facing Simon Seeks is UGC itself. The market is dominated by TripAdvisor, which is becoming a victim of its own success as users strain under mountains of content backed by a dearth of validity or trust. Do we really need another rabbit hole?”

To expand slightly on the final point: I’m increasingly unconvinced in UGC as a stand-alone medium. For me, the ideal platform for travel advice combines UGC and expert advice; a blend of citizen journalism and professional journalism. If nothing else, over-reliance on UGC is laborious. I usually don’t have the time to scan through 438 reviews; I want an expert to pick me a hotel, and then I’ll cross-reference it with some UGC, just to make sure it isn’t a stinker.

The idea of UGC sites becoming a victim of their own success- and girth – is something brilliantly described in this article from last year, on “The travel site with a black mark against every hotel”. Here’s the key point:

The First Law of TripAdvisor is this: no matter how wonderful somewhere may be, how highly recommended by friends or guidebooks, somebody on TripAdvisor will claim to have spent the worst night of their life there. Which gives rise to the Second Law of TripAdvisor: if you book a room anyway, that bad review is the one that will prey ceaselessly on your mind until you get there.

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3 responses to “My take on Simonseeks, and UGC

  1. That’s not so far removed from my thoughts about Simonseeks either. I think they have tried to move towards your “expert”-plus-UGC model by asking travel writers beforehand if they’d like to submit pieces on launch (and they paid a [small] upfront fee as well as the revenue-share deal). I dipped my toe in, intrigued to see what happens, mostly with pieces I could either 1. write in my sleep because I know Tuscany so well or 2. had filed away and never got round to selling. I see some have really gone for it, with 20+ articles submitted. Now that’s optimism.

    I do hope it works out for them. But I also fear what happens when/if the “expert” content gets drowned out by an avalanche of UGC… then where’s their USP? But they seem like smart folk, so perhaps they’ve thought of that already.

    > I want an expert to pick me a hotel, and then I’ll cross-reference it with some UGC, just to make sure it isn’t a stinker.

    That’s precisely what I do too.

  2. There was a great discussion about this on Jeremy Head’s site (http://bit.ly/3caXIs).

    It’s easy to see how Simonseeks.com can make money, but it’s difficult to see the writers making any real money. And very easy to see there being an information overload. Better to have one good, in-depth guide to a place than thousands of mediocre ones.

    It’ll probably work, but from what I see at the moment, I wouldn’t want to use it. There’s not enough editorial guidance and selectivity – and that’s what’s missing from nearly all UGC heavy sites.

    And on a tangent, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your pieces for the Guardian: keep up the good work.

  3. I think there are two key things missing from most UGC sites:

    1) Limited tools to help you determine whether the reviewer is trustworthy, or “like you” in some aspect. Are they just shilling their business, or an active member of the community? What is there personality / travel style, and is it like yours? Do you like anything in common?

    2) Reviews that tend to drone on and on I agree are pretty laborious — there need to be better tools for quickly getting to the content that’s most interesting to you and not having to wade through a bunch of complaints to find the stuff that’s interesting.

    While tripadvisor is the gorilla in this space (at least as far as hotels are concerned) I think its missing many of the social features and more advanced tools that help you find something great when you don’t know exactly what you are looking for in a fun and efficient way.

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