At an event in New York last month, Disney Parks revealed its new theme, "Let the Memories Begin." Peter Yesawich, chairman of the Ypartnership, was there and presented research about the strong connection between vacations and the creation of memories that stay with us our entire lives. He showed that when we plan vacations for our families, we are conscious that we are also creating memories for them.
What struck me most about the presentation was the changing nature of how we record and organize our vacation memories.
About 25% of consumers still keep a vacation scrapbook, but many more (46%) will post photos and commentary on social media sites. Around 43% of consumers are capturing the images on their phones, and almost half of those (21%) post these photos to social media sites in real time, adding to their digital photo albums within seconds of the experience they want to memorialize.
All this talk about memories and social media brought back a somewhat painful memory to me. Painful because I initially underestimated -- way underestimated -- the potential impact of the social media revolution, otherwise known as Web 2.0.
It's all the more unsettling because I had been early out of the gate on Web 1.0. Even prior to the Web, I was providing America Online, then still a dial-up online service, with its core destination information.
Once the Internet went public, if you had entered the word "travel" into early Web search engines, you'd find information that my company provided in four of the first 10 search results that returned. I beamed with pride when Internet World magazine named my company's website one of the "101 Coolest Places to Hang Out on the Web."
It was partly because of my supposed Internet acumen that Reed Travel Group, the predecessor company of Northstar Travel Media (which owns Travel Weekly), bought my company (Weissmann Reports) and then asked me to help evaluate Web-based companies it was considering investing in or acquiring.
In the waning days of the 1990s, before I had ever heard the term "social media," two young men came into my office to make a pitch for investment money. I'm not sure about the statute of limitations for non-disclosure agreements, so I won't mention the name of their company. But it's still around.
They had created a site for people to share their travel experiences. Users could rate hotels and restaurants, warn about rip-offs or simply talk about what they did that day.
Would the travelers who contributed to the site be compensated? I asked. They seemed puzzled by the question. No, they answered, they'll do it because they want to do it.
At that point, I could see how the site would be useful to someone looking for information, but I couldn't grasp why anyone would bother to take time to give advice or share their experiences with total strangers. My recommendation to Reed was to not pursue the opportunity.
My blindness to the potential for social media is all the more ironic because my younger self would have embraced it. In my late 20s, I had quit my job, sold most of my possessions and embarked on an 18-month trip around the world. Along the way, I obsessively wrote letters to friends and families describing my experiences. Had the world been wired and Internet cafes as ubiquitous as they are today, I would no doubt have posted these ramblings to sites exactly like the one I rejected.
Discussion about Web 3.0 is already under way, and I'm determined not to be late to the party this time.
Web 3.0 is frequently described as "the intelligent Web." Today, Web pages are designed to be read by, and search parameters are determined by, humans. But in the Web 3.0 world, machines will be able to search more precisely and efficiently by "understanding" what we're looking for and identifying related information. It will require technologies that currently don't exist (and that some believe are not feasible).
In other words, its goal is for computers to serve humanity by making desired information more quickly and accurately available. But descriptions of "the intelligent Web" sound rather dense and cold, often referencing terms such as microformats, data-mining, machine learning, semantic Web, recommendation agents and artificial intelligence. They make "social media" sound warm and fuzzy. But despite the word "social," social media is often criticized for changing human behavior in a way that would seem to isolate us. At the very least, it has redefined the meaning of human contact: We communicate more frequently, but we may do it while sitting alone at a keyboard.
Similarly, the "intelligent Web," by inserting machines and technology more deeply into the picture, might have a parallel effect on how we think about intelligence. It might either reduce reliance on human intelligence in decision-making or enable us to apply our native intelligence to more and more difficult problems.
What impact will Web 3.0 have on travel distribution? That's for a future column. In the meantime, to quote Disney, "Let the memories begin!" I want to memorialize right here and now that although my understanding of Web 3.0 is shallow and incomplete, I heartily endorse and embrace it. If I'm going to be creating memories, I want to look back at my earliest memories of Web 3.0 fondly and unfettered by regret.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.