Ederlyn Lacson
2/7/2011
Critique

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Website: Travelpod

Travelpod is a travel blog website that allows users to read and write travel blogs. It is attractively and simply designed with white backgrounds and gently contrasting violet blocks that delineate “dashboard” areas on the screen – dashboards that show blog posts, ads, related information from travelers. Everything on the website is chosen to be subdued and allow the travel blogs to take center stage. Travelpod has multiple small “dashboard” systems that allow the user to post their travel blog (with connected maps and picture storage) and also to find travel resources such as previous travellers who traveled to the same area, and the logistics of their travel. The dashboard systems use the same simple English vocabulary and a point-and-click visual tabbed interface for each dashboard, which helps to cater to an international audience with low-level computer skills. To write a blog post, the user goes to the central dashboard of a given trip, clicks a dialogue button to create a new entry, and posts using a simple layout. The user can choose their current location by either typing the name or clicking on the accompanying Google map and have it show on the connected itinerary map, can link to visited hotels or tourist sites (and see where other travelers visited when in the same area), add photographs, and type into an editing window to post their personal experiences. The user is then returned to the central trip dashboard, allowing them to repeat the process again or re-edit the blog post. Dialogue at each step is encapsulated within the button or tab controls in a step-by-step process, and selection of a blog post is double-checked before being actually performed.

Afterward, the new entry is added to the trip’s blog, and a reader can flow from post to post with no interruptions. The reader can see other trip blogs from other travelers that visited the same area, see the general trip on the Google map, and see the surrounding hotels and tourist attractions on the bottom of the travel blog. Audience participation is included in that readers can leave comments on someone’s travel blog post. Additionally, social network sharing is facilitated in blog posts through Twitter, Facebook, and other networks. Travelpod.com is an example of a Web 2.0 website – users can have free blogging insofar that they volunteer information about themselves (their itinerary, their choices of hotels, airports, and tourist destinations) and are open to seeing other user’s choices (a.k.a advertisements). So using Travelpod inherently assumes a willingness to lose a modicum of privacy, even though blogs are protected with user IDs and passwords, users are sharing information about themselves in writing and visiting blog posts.

Travelpod caters to users who simply want to blog without the intellectual overhead of hosting their own travel blogs. On the other hand, this means that power users have no alternative but to use the same point-and-click interfaces which take up time when done for multiple blog entries. So while the visual interface is satisfyingly clean, a user typing up blog entries encounters the same set of steps repeatedly, which can become frustrating. While the locus of control remains with the user, it is a simplified locus of control. Power users cannot format their posts and photos past the simplified format that Travelpod provides, they cannot easily tag non-recognized locations on the Google map (dropping pins becomes an exercise in random success). So the tradeoff for ease of set-up is a corresponding loss of personal control over the layout and format of the travel blog.