Why Pay for Expert Opinions When You Can Just Go Online?

Everyone Can Contribute to the Collective Body of Knowledge

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On April 5, Google turned its extremely popular atlas site into a full-fledged community called My Maps. Users can annotate locations and create their own routes, all via a simple point-and-click interface. The system supports photos and video as well.
Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.

Google joins a host of others that allow individuals, bit by bit, to essentially catalog the entire planet. Microsoft, for example, has similar tools, and Yahoo has a popular Trip Planner site that lets consumers share full itineraries complete with flights, hotels and attractions. There are also home-grown creations supported by Google AdSense. These include Wikimapia, an editable wiki on top of a map.

These sites do more than just allow people to show us where they live. Dig deeper and you can see the bigger picture. Web 2.0 is turning everyone into a vacation expert. Soon web applications will combine with e-commerce engines such as PayPal and Google Checkout to enable peers to both share and monetize their knowledge. This is a major shift.

For thousands of years, information was centralized with a few subject-matter experts. Now, thanks to search, broadband and instant publishing tools, everyone in the global village can contribute to the collective body of knowledge. This reduces the need for middlemen.

The tourism industry is already feeling this firsthand. Travel agents and publications such as Conde Nast Traveler are no longer the sole figures of authority. As consumers get comfortable with creating and sharing their own maps, and as the tools get easier, the torrent of content will quickly force the $1.3 trillion dollar business to adjust how it markets. It will force advertisers to creatively infiltrate these word-of-mouth networks at the expense of ad-supported media.

Further, the travel industry provides an initial view of what portends other consumer-facing businesses that pride themselves on serving as trusted advisers. This includes financial services and, to some degree, health care, to name just two. By becoming students of the sweeping changes in this business, I hope we will learn a lot about the survival of the fittest to ensure we evolve as marketers.
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