The Online Community of Trusting Travelers

For this week’s post I would like to focus on the discussion of online communities, a topic which I found myself drawing back upon for nearly every topic we discussed in the following weeks. From the space known as The Well, widely considered the earliest onset of community within the internet, to the modern forms of online communities we have today, the internet has always relied upon internet users coming together to create a space for themselves and each other.

I have noticed an increase in the development of many internet communities as of late. However one type of community which I have noticed to be growing is the travel community. All over the internet, websites which allow people to rate, book, and discuss travel products and services are quickly becoming booming communities with millions of members and contributors; notably, well known sites such as TripAdvisor, and the relatively new but rapidly expanding AirBnB.

Even before TripAdvisor’s inception in 2000, internet users have been referring to the online community in order to receive travel advice. This community has grown to become the most relied upon travel website on the internet, which is discussed in one of my passed blogs. People refer to the community to get advice and give advice about their own travel experiences, with full trust in the words of the strangers who are advising them.

AirBnB, however, has taken the trusting online travel community to a whole new level. Through AirBnB, online users offer their homes, and private rooms inside the homes they reside, for people to stay in as they travel. The site was revered as a strange and possibly dangerous idea at first, however the site now has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries, according to Wikipedia. Users of the site can review the places which they have stayed in, remarking on the cleanliness of the home, location in relation to the major sites within the city, and reliability of the homeowner.

This unique online community is considered by many to be revolutionizing the way we travel. However, I believe it also reflects upon the amount of trust people place in the members of their communities within the internet. Enough so to enter the home of someone they have never met in real life, relying on the recommendation of people they have never met in real life, and rely on the hospitality of that person while travel. This also applies to the home owners, who invite people they have never met to stay inside their home, which they may currently be living in, and trust that they will not harm them or their home.

They travel community on the internet, hosted through popular sites such as TripAdvisor and AirBnB, is one of the best examples of trust that internet users place within the relative strangers, or fellow members of their online communities.

AirBnB relies heavily upon themes of community and trust in their advertisements, often using the hashtag, #OneLessStranger:

 

Online Databases

Almost every university, at least those in the UK and the US, give students access to online databases to assist in their research. The databases, (such as JSTOR, Lexis-Nexis, and Project Muse) give students access to online journals which have been written, published, and peer reviewed by qualified scholarly sources. Students usually receive access to the databases through valid university email addresses and identification numbers. Without the access provided to theses databases through the universities, students would otherwise have to pay for subscription to separate scholarly journals, or even higher prices for access to a number of databases. Most of theses articles are published by scholarly journals through research conducted in a university, and many are peer reviewed as well. This entails strict copyright restrictions surrounding all use of and reference to the work, as well as all access to the work.

If the information published in online journals were under a Creative Commons Commons License, or if for example JSTOR decided to become a forum only for scholarly work which was under creative commons license, it would change the way that people are able to conduct research. It would allow people who don’t have access to a university education to conduct their own research or educate themselves through the published research of others.

However, if an online database such as JSTOR were to go under extremely strict copy right control it would almost defeat the purpose of universities giving students access to the peer reviewed articles published through it. If online databases were under such strict control it would make it harder or impossible for students and other academics to use the articles for their own research. This would stand in the way of students furthering their education, and could also impede the the furthering of research into certain fields.

A Perfect Version of Ourselves

To measure my own online visibility, I decided that a good way to start would be by Googling myself. However I found the results to be slightly disappointing, due to the fact that it turns out I share a name with an actress and two influential psychologists. Therefore I found that the results leading to my own profiles were quite minimal, aside from a link to my Twitter account through my profile picture, which can be found under my Google Images results. My lack of traceable internet presence should probably come as more of relief than a disappointment, as I have friends who have found their addresses, and even photos of their past and present homes upon Googling themselves, a notion that I would find very unsettling.

However for those who have access to my social media accounts, through friendship on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (all of which are private) or any other social media site, nearly all of my information is open. All my photos, everywhere I’ve traveled recently, which city I live in, what music I like, where I got to school, my work history–all of this information is out in the open. Not only for my friends and family, but for people I’ve barely or never even talked, as I’m the kind of person who will add as a friend someone who just happens to be a familiar face on campus. But I’m okay with people I hardly know knowing all this, because all of this information is under my control. Our online selves are the person we want other people to see. We create a profile online which is a more perfect version of ourselves which we can broadcast to others, to network and boast of resumes on linked in, or to make our lives seem fun and exciting on Facebook. Googling myself might have been a little anti-climactic, but I’m glad that as far as I can tell, my online visibility is under my control.

Tumblr

The most prominent online community I can think of, though I’m quite biased as I visit it every day, is Tumblr. Tumblr goes beyond other social media cites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as an online community in a number of ways. For example, as opposed to most social media cites, most of your “friends”, or the people you follow, are not people you know. Tumblr users in my cases follow and are followed by, people who they have never met before and most likely will never meet, from almost all corners of the world. Or at least those with Internet access. On Tumblr, in the process of joining the site, the ask you to choose from a list of topics your personal interests. They then give you a large list of blogs to follow based upon their shared interest in the topics you chose. This is precisely what marks Tumblr out as a true community. You are not following people based upon who you know, therefore having to maintain the charade of your social media personality. On Tumblr you don’t have to be the person you want people in your home town or in your office to see you as, you can merely be yourself. Though Tumblr has the laughable memes, pop culture topics and shared vines that all social media cites have, it has more than that. People blog about things that you can learn from, sharing their knowledge and opinion on just about any topic imaginable. However this sharing of information as though it were fact has the liability of being potentially quite harmful to those who are easily swayed, especially as Tumblr is a place where political correctness is considered a topic of the upmost importance, which can often be taken too far by some, or ignored by others, a problem which tends to lead to a lot of backlash from the community in both cases.
Despite the liability of backlash from strangers on the other side of the world that you risk when blogging about a subject of debate, Tumblr is at its heart a community where one can find support. No matter what your interest or your background, you will find a sizable group of people similar to yourself, or those who share that same interest on Tumblr. Every fandom, no matter how obscure, had found a home or even a place to grow and expand on Tumblr. From Doctor Who fans (known as “Whovians”) to the remaining fans of a TV show which lasted one season and was then canceled in 2008. Tumblr has even become a community for those suffering from physical illnesses, especially those in hospitals who do not have the ability to go out and seek people like themselves to relate to. It has also become a prominent community and almost online support group for those suffering from mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and even scizifrenia and multiple personality disorders. All of these communities inhabit one site, where they exist in relative harmony. However, in spite of differing interests, all Tumblr users also exist as part of the greater Tumblr community, able to communicate and take part in the posts of people with interests and views different from their own, surpassing the boundaries set by standard social media sites. These reasons, I believe, set Tumblr apart as a true online community.

TripAdvisor

A website whose content has been significantly influenced by user generated content is TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is a travel website providing free travel-related information to users, who create most of the content. Users are able to engage in forums, pose questions to other users, and post reviews of restaurants, hotels, viewing tours, and other travel-related experiences and services all over the world. The content and reviews that users provide are then accessed by other users who are looking to see the rating of travel services before they go on their own journey.

Trip Advisor is one of the world’s most popular and most trusted travel websites, employing over 2,000 people as of 2015. The site has over 60 million members and over 170 million reviews, ratings, and opinions of travel-related businesses and attractions. This content seeks to help users create the best possible travel experience by allowing them to find and choose between businesses, to discover which would be best for them. For example, a user would be able to post a bad review of a hotel which they had a poor experience at due to bad services, and this review could prevent someone from having a similar bad experience on their own trip. On the other hand, the site also allows people to post a positive review of a restaurant they liked, and as more users posted positive reviews that business could grow and become more successful. For example, on a recent trip to Florence, Italy, I stayed near a small sandwich shop which is one of the most reviewed restaurants on TripAdvisor worldwide. This small shop constantly had a line going out the door and down the street, and the good business had allowed the owner to open two other locations nearby to compensate for the influx of customers. Successful businesses like this one, especially those who receive a rating among the “TripAdvisor Hall of Fame” often post a sticker saying such by the door, as due to the trusted content of its users a good rating from TripAdvisor is enough to get people in the door.

The New News Media

One example of media convergence would be the progression of news media from newspapers and broadcast to digital media and more specifically social media. Most news sources which started off as newspapers as far back as the invention of the printing press, such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Daily Telegraph, now have active social media. Many professional journalists now even have their own verified twitter accounts, where they are able through their contracts to tweet about events, sometimes linking back to their own articles, or even live tweet events as they happen. This transformation has resulted in people turning to the social media accounts of news sources on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to get their news, rather than turning directly to print newspapers or even in some cases source’s actual website, which in many cases can only be accessed by online subscription.

This is trend in news consumption is most prominent when people are looking to be updated on an ongoing event. For example, during the Paris Attacks, many people including myself heard about it initially from Twitter, and then remained updated on the situation by browsing the PrayForParis hashtag, where ordinary people and journalists currently in the city  live tweeted events while they happened, posting photos and videos, as well as reassuring loved ones and followers of their safety.

This convergence in part may be due to the speed with which news can be delivered through social media, whereas with print media and even digital news media there tends to be some length of delay. Though news sources release news as fast as possible, normally with the goal of being the first to report, there are natural delays due to the amount of time needed to fact check and the amount of time needed for articles to be approved by multiple superiors before publishing. It’s no secret that people today want instant gratification, and through news sources and journalists adapting to social media as a platform for reporting, it has become possible for people to receive their news instantly.

Project Muse

In my studies of communications and digital media, one website which has been an invaluable resource is Project Muse. Project Muse is an online database which contains hundreds of peer reviewed journals in the fields of the visual and performing arts, literature and criticism, digital media studies and cultural studies. I have used this resource in nearly all of my research necessary to writing papers and completing projects in classes which revolve around every form of media from books and film to the modern internet and social media. The Project Muse website is one of the leading online databases of electronic journals by non-profit publishers from leading university presses. Unlike many online databases, Project Muse provides full-text articles, so that students do not need to use multiple resources or pay to get full content.  Founded in 1995 with the mission of a collaboration between the library and the internet for the benefit of scholars around the world, Project Muse is not just a helpful resource for members of this course, it is a surviving example of one of the founding qualities for the creation of the World Wide Web: to make knowledge and information accessible to all.

Access to this database is provided by the University of Westminster.

Website: https://muse.jhu.edu/