I’ve been hearing a lot about WAYN (acronym for “Where Are You Now”) over the last few months. WAYN is a social networking site focused on travelers, where community members can exchange travel tips and meet others who will be in the same place at the same time. With some calling it the “MySpace of Travel,” I figured it was time to do some research and take WAYN for a test drive
Headquartered in London with back office operations in Poland, WAYN was founded in 2002 by three friends, Pete Ward, Jerome Touze and Mike Lines. Initial funding came from Friends Reunited founder, Steve Pankhurst. At the end of November 2006, WAYN secured a $11M (£5.7M) from a combination of high-profile investors including Brent Hoberman (co-founder of UK-based budget travel company, Lastminute.com), Esprit Capital Partners (British VC fund), Adrian Critchlow and Andy Phillips (Co-founders of Active Hotels), David Soski and Hugo Burge (Cheapflights) and Constant Tedder (co-founder and MD of Jagex). This month, Hoberman will join WAYN as non-executive Chairman.
WAYN has experienced exceptional growth – from 45,000 users in 2005 to over 7 million today. The site boasts users from all over the world, but it is especially popular among the “gap year” contingent in Commonwealth countries like the UK, Australia, South Africa, etc., where many students travel the world for a year before going to University. Unsurprisingly (given the estimated number of US passport holders), WAYN doesn’t yet have as much traction in the US. The following graphs from Alexa are useful indicators of the progress WAYN has made over the last three years:
WAYN Daily Traffic Rank (3 year trend through 4 Jan 2007):
WAYN Daily Page Views (3 year trend through 4 Jan 2007)
WAYN Daily Reach Per Million (3 year trend through 4 Jan 2007):
A site re-fresh in March of 2006 did well to bolster membership, and according to an article on Yahoo Finance, there are more improvements to come, thanks to the recent $11 M investment of Hoberman and Co:
The Funding will be used to create new revenue streams, expand the team – particularly in Poland where WAYN’s back office operations are managed; enlarge the geographical base of the company and increase the range of online and offline products offered, including a tailored trip planner; expand the ability to share experiences with others using rich media content; and provide exclusive travel and lifestyle benefits to its members. WAYN will also be upgrading its IT infrastructure to help ensure that it is able to support its fast growing active membership base.
WAYN’s competitors include: igougo.com, Gusto.com, Tripmates.com, Tripconnect.com, TripAdvisor.com, and VirtualTourist.com, all of which offer a slightly different flavor of on-line travel networking.
Advocates of sites like WAYN believe that being able to broadcast your location to people in your network will revolutionize the way that people meet and interact. As a management consultant, who used to travel to unfamiliar locations regularly, I like the idea of being able to immediately know if I’ve got friends nearby while I’m traveling and/or meet other travelers who are gong to the same location. However, I also recognize the potential dangers of broadcasting your location to the public – especially if, say, you’ve got a stalker or your friends have ever called you a weirdo magnet. Putting privacy issues to the side, I was excited about the idea of WAYN and looked forward to engaging with the community.
I started off by clicking the “Take The Tour” button on WAYN.com, which, as it turns out, like the rest of the site, was a bit slow. (Good thing that some of the $11 Million investment in WAYN is going towards improving the site’s infrastructure.) Throughout the demo, a side banner flashed repeatedly: “It’s 100% FREE to join WAYN! Register Now”…This, as it turns out, is a bit misleading (more about this shortly).
After trudging my way through the flash demo, I clicked the “Join Now” button. Registrants are asked to upload information about themselves – including visual descriptors, interests, contact details, mobile number, the details of trips they’ve been on/are going on, and more. Users also have the option of uploading all of their contacts from several popular web-based email programs. The enrollment process was straightforward, but it was also a bit clunky and time consuming (extensive drop-down menus that couldn’t be tabbed through, limited options to choose from under “interests”, etc.).
After registration, I was taken to a landing page. It was here that I learned that while WAYN is free to join, membership is not particularly useful unless you pay for an upgrade. Strangely, information about the different tiers of membership and associated costs are not advertised on WAYN’s home page or at any point in the registration process. In fact, you don’t find out about pricing until you complete free registration and start interacting with the site. Even then, the only indication that there are different tiers of membership is a banner on the right hand side of the member’s main page:
I was frustrated not to learn about the various tiers of membership, before taking the time to register my personal details. I think it is important for websites to be up-front about costs. As it turns out, standard membership is free, but full membership costs $9.99 a month, with discounts if you order three months or one year at a time (3 month commitment= $5.99/month, 1 year commitment= $2.99/month)*.
There is also an innocuous third tier of membership called VIP, which isn’t well explained until after you’ve upgraded to Full membership:
My initial impressions of WAYN.com post-registration were mixed. On the plus-side, WAYN allows you to:
- See the self-declared location of each of contacts/friends on a world map and learn about their upcoming trips
- Make new contacts/friends who are going to be in the same place as you
- Send an SMS to any of your friends/contacts worldwide
- Chat on-line using the WAYN Instant Messenger
- Upload all of your contacts from Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail to your WAYN account in one click – see who is already a member of the site and see the location of members
- Tell friends/contacts where you’re going and keep on-line Travel Journals to share with those in your network
- See who you know that is on-line and find out who has been looking at your profile
- Upload your photos and store them by location
- Maintain a WAYN-specific mailbox to send email to any of your contacts or groups of contacts.
- Chat with your contacts and other travelers via the WAYN Forum/ chatboards. Get travel advice and make new friends
There is no doubt that WAYN is feature rich, but the user interface design and web taxonomy leave plenty of room for improvement. My initial thoughts are as follows:
- Crowded real-estate – overburdened with ads and text. I don’t believe that users who pay a subscription fee for a social networking service should also have to see a barrage of unsolicited ads once they’ve logged into the site.
- Confusing interface – The layout on WAYN’s landing page is frustrating. It is difficult to find what you’re looking for quickly. The menu banner is down the left hand side of the page (as opposed to the top of the page as with most websites), so you can’t see all of your options without scrolling down the page.
- The website and menu taxonomy are ill conceived:
- The menu items don’t appear to be listed in any particular order. They’re not listed alphabetically or in an order that I would classify as useful. “Search,” for example, which I suspect is one of the most popular menu items, is hidden amongst a stack of less useful menu items and a rotating advertisement.
- There are too many menu choices and there is duplication across them. For example, the “Who is online” button links to a page that only shows you members that are on-line in a particular country. Users can’t narrow this down to a state or city. This is completely useless for users in an enormous country like America. If you want to know who is on-line in a particular city, you have to pick the “search” button in the menu, which appears three buttons below the “Who’s Online” button. (see pictures below of one WAYN page in three parts – It was too long to screenshot in one go).
- Search is cumbersome –
- When you click the “Search” button, and do a search, it is impossible to narrow down the search results by adding criteria without clicking the “back” button in your browser until you get back to the main search page.
- If you want to find users that are close to you in age, you’re limited to only searching within the following age classifications: 18-20, 21-24, 25-30, 31-40, Over 40. You are restricted to searching one group at a time. This is inconvenient to anyone who is on the upper or lower end of a particular age range. It seems odd to me that users can’t set their own age search criteria (e.g. 28-36, etc.)
Aside from disliking the interface, I struggled to find members with whom I had much, if anything in common. As with any social networking site, WAYN is only as good as the network of people who use it. WAYN doesn’t appear to have a critical mass of users in San Francisco, CA, USA. Despite this, I did get a ton of pings people in far-flung locations with creepy looking pictures emailing to say “Hello.” This was quite possibly the nail in the coffin for me and the current version of WAYN. There’s nothing quite like getting loads of unsolicited emails from letchy looking men, with whom I share nothing obvious in common and who look old enough to be my father to turn me off of frequenting a website. As I’ve said before in my blog, with the growth of Social Media/Social Networking, privacy is key. As a paying user, I feel that I should be allowed to specify the demographic details of the people who see my profile – not just the people I search for – say “Men and Women between 26 and 38 who plan to be in London between X and Y date.”
A couple of other nitpicky observations about WAYN – The “About us” section doesn’t say anything about WAYN as a company. There are no executive profiles, discussions of corporate philosophy, or corporate aspirations listed. In addition, the bottom of the home page, which hypes “WAYN in the News” features seven media logos, but none of them are hyperlinked.
Don’t get me wrong – WAYN is a fantastic social media concept with a lot of potential – both for prospective travelers and for travel businesses. The ability for travelers to connect with each other and share inside experiences on their travels is phenomenal. For businesses, sites like WAYN offer an opportunity to make their on-line ad campaigns more targeted and maximize the results of on-line ad spend. As The Times Online recently reported:
Smart travel companies are using these sites to improve their business. They spot the targeted advertising opportunities offered by a site such as WAYN – where, for example, they can discover that 500 people in the Oxford area are thinking of going on holiday to the West Coast of America.
It is very probably that with $11M in the bank and leadership from Brent Hoberman, WAYN will evolve into the type of site I’d like to use. For now, WAYN is a good start with a lot of opportunity for improvement. To summarize, what I’d like to see:
- Less cluttered UI
- Better website taxonomy
- More bang for the buck (e.g. no ads/ pop-ups) OR a free, ad supported service
- Streamlined search facility
- Increased base of US users
- Improved privacy features for paid-for users
Have you tried WAYN? If so, please post a comment.
*Thank you to WAYN, who provided me with full membership (for one month) to evaluate the site.