27 October 2005


Haven't blogged for a few days now largely because I've been distracted by 'Jagger' and my role at the British Guild of Travel Writers (I'm the webmaster) which suddenly becomes onerous in Oct/Nov as I oversee the annual update of our Travel Industry Database (TID).

The TID has press contact details for 2,600 travel companies, public relations companies and media companies. It is continuously being updated but once a year every single record is checked and updated before being used to compile the listings section of the Guild's yearbook. Thankfully many companies respond to our invitation to do it themselves online, but about half have to be phoned up by a team of data-checkers, and it's a massive job that I'm always glad to see the back of in December!

'Jagger' is something else I would very much like to see the back of. In fact I wish I hadn't seen the front of it!

If you are a webmaster or involved in the world of Search Engine Optimisation, you'll know all about 'Jagger' already because the SEO forums have been talking about little else for the past few weeks.

'Jagger' is a Google update. Periodically Google changes the way it looks at websites and the algorithms it uses to sort and present them to you when you search for something. When there is a big change, as with hurricanes, Search Engine Optimisers (SEOs) and Marketeers (SEMs) give it a name - 'Florida', 'Bourbon', that sort of thing.

Actually, these days Google tweeks tend to be smaller and more frequent so that many SEO experts thought the days of the big, named, update were over.... until the beginning of this month, when a major, 3-part update started sweeping across Google's worldwide network of data centres turning the world upside down for a huge number of web businesses who were swept off the top ranking postions and into oblivion.

Travel Lists has been one of them.

'Jagger' is not over yet and usually good sites
(search engines particularly like websites that have unique content, are frequently refreshed and have lots of other sites pointing to them) that drop out for no clear reason tend to work their way back to the top end of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) after a while. So, I'm hopeful for a recovery. But it is a blow because Google normally sends twice the number of searchers to Travel Lists than all the other search engines put together.

What really sticks in my throat though is that another directory, which is strong on destination info (visas, geography, voltages, etc. The stuff we don't do) but useless at listing travel companies, is still sitting at the top of the SERPs for many of our keywords. IE if you search on Google for "tour operators to countryname" this site will probably be there on the first SERP, offering a page with a list of zero to 2 tour operators... those two operators being its sponsors. Google is giving top positions to pages with no content. How frustrating!

16 October 2005

Private guide 'services' in China... um?

I'm really not confident that I'm not making a fool of myself on this one. But hey! If I am, I can be sure that somebody will let me know soon enough!

There's a Chinese travel guide agency, KanXiQi.com, promoting itself through the travel trade industry right now, with one eye on the forthcoming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

They've just announced the launch of the English version of their website and it is rather... unusual.

I've listed it in the Research Notes section on the China page.

It is a detailed database of 700 private guides available for hire, who just happen to all be young women aged 20-30 (I can't find any male guides on the database)!

Not only can you select a "guide" on location, price, languages spoken and qualifications, but there are also photos and personal details such as hobbies, interests, age and height.

I'm probably just being really naive, but it looks genuine... although maybe a little 'over the top' in terms of European sensitivities.

I mean, how much should I read between the lines when it says: "Everybody can join in our part-time private tour guide team to help travelers insight through his/her own place, in exchange for a number of benefits including money, friendship, joy and more"?

14 October 2005

Call me 'fickle'

A decade ago the foreign exchange company, Travelex, used to run/sponser a set of annual travel journalism awards, which I felt didn't get the balance right between being a marketing tool and a genuinely worthwhile award. So as a travel editor I stopped nominating journalists and attending the awards lunch... and never really felt very warmly towards them since.

But call me 'fickle', I feel much more friendly towards Travelex this week after enjoying an evening at the National Theatre (to see a play directed by my old boss) which cost me just a tenner, thanks to the Travelex £10 Season!

Balance restored.

09 October 2005

A Million Copycat Creeps

You know that scene in the first film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the hobbits are hiding from a 'dark rider' whose presence draws hundreds of bugs and creepy crawlies out of the ground?

Well that image keeps coming to me when I hear about more cynical 'million pixel' webpage authors crawling out from under their stones.

I could be wrong about this, but don't seem to be. As far as I can make out, 21-yr-old Wiltshire student, Alex Tew, came up with the MillionDollarHomepage.com in late August. It first started appearing in local news stories in early Sept, and sales began to viral (sic) out of control from that point.

That also seems to be the moment when dollar (and cent, and penny) signs began to light up in the eyes of scammers all over the world, from the USA to Belarus, who in some cases even design their cynical copycat sites to look exactly identical (no doubt to pass themselves off as the original).

The world is full of creeps.


PS. Why do I mention it? Well, yes Travel Lists does have a single block on the original.

Go Alex! Let's hope the get-rich-quick-on-other-peoples'-talent merchants crash & burn!

02 October 2005

Armchair Safari

What an extraordinary example of the outlandish opportunities the digital revolution creates...

I'm sitting in my office in London on a Sunday evening. It's dark and raining outside. On my computer is a dark but visible fullscreen image of an African elephant lying on its side in a waterhole in the Mashutu Game reserve, Botswana.

It's night time there too. The bugs are flitting across the screen as I watch and listen to this elephant, in real-time, thousands of miles away in southern Africa, rythmically raise its trunk up out of the water and lazily splash it down again. Just a buzzing of insects and splashing of water - one of the most relaxing things I've seen for ages.

I was astonished to trawl through the daily photos taken by the Mars landers as they crawled their way around the Martian landscape millions of miles away, but somehow it is not as amazing as the National Geographic's Africacam