We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.

-Pico Iyer, Why We Travel

Travel is a multi-trillion dollar industry, so naturally companies as small as Wanderfly to as giant as Google all want a piece of the pie. In recent years, travel companies have tried to harness the power of data aggregation along with the social graph to produce powerful travel planning tools. For many, Google and TripAdvisor are the first stop in the travel process, but they’ve just been blown out of the water. Enter: Gogobot.

Travel is unarguably a very visual experience. And a picture is worth a thousand words right? So let me give you a visual. I have an upcoming trip to London planned. Here are my results from a Google search:

Screen shot 2011 03 10 at 1.48.49 PM 520x389 Why Gogobot makes Google and TripAdvisor look like folding car maps

And now, I click on TripAdvisor, the #1 organic result on Google:

Screen shot 2011 03 10 at 1.49.35 PM 520x330 Why Gogobot makes Google and TripAdvisor look like folding car maps

Some would call these results link farms. Whatever they are, the 56 pages of them are far from helpful. Enter Gogobot, a site that beat out AirBnB and Flipboard for the 2010 Best Design Crunchie award.

Screen shot 2011 03 10 at 1.50.31 PM 520x295 Why Gogobot makes Google and TripAdvisor look like folding car maps

Gogobot is a San Francisco based startup founded by MySpace’s former GM International Travis Katz and Ori Zaltzman, the former Chief Architect of Yahoo Boss, that opened up its public beta in early December 2010 after raising $4 million from Battery Ventures.

To sign up for Gogobot, use your Facebook, Twitter or email. On Gogobot, users can search for travel recommendations from their friends via Twitter and Facebook and look at the top recommendations (e.g. London restaurants) from the entire Gogobot community. You can also post questions within the Gogobot community and out to friends on your social networks. New this week is the ability to filter travel results by who you’re following as opposed to the general Gogobot community. The “Following” approach is similar to Twitter’s follow model in that you can’t control who follows you at this time.

Each user fills out a profile and receives a Passport, which helps you collect, remember and share all of the places you’ve been. Gogobot captures your reviews and organizes them by city and country. So if I recommend something, write a review or say “I’ve Been Here” it automatically goes into the appropriate city collection in my passport.

Screen shot 2011 03 11 at 12.36.36 PM 520x302 Why Gogobot makes Google and TripAdvisor look like folding car maps

Adding reviews is incredibly easy; Gogobot does all the work for you. In fact, I struggled to find one restaurant missing from its database. It even picked up a clandestine supper club I love in Buenos Aires! All comments and reviews are automatically turned into structured data complete with maps, addresses, phone numbers, photos, etc. Data is aggregated from open APIs. The site hand picks its photos for now- streaming over 100,000 gorgeous creative commons photos from Flickr. In fact, it may have the best collection of travel photos on the Internet. They will be opening up photo uploads to users in 2-3 weeks.

Screen shot 2011 03 11 at 1.10.37 PM Why Gogobot makes Google and TripAdvisor look like folding car mapsWhile Gogobot won’t divulge its number of users, it has added over 180,000 places to users’ passports since launch. Gogobot CEO Travis Katz has been in more than 54 countries and is a self-described “passionate traveler and social web guy”. He even met his wife while traveling through a desert on a camel in India.

“The idea for this business came out of a personal feeling that planning travel on the Internet is broken…Every person is unique – they have different tastes and interests. My idea of a great hotel or a great restaurant is likely different from that of 19 year old spring breaker or a retiree from Sioux Falls. The Google algorithm ignores these differences in taste and instead assumes there is a canonical best answer for every search. This forces users to waste tons of time digging through irrelevant pages to find what they need… We’re competing with the big travel planning sites by letting you connect to your friends, providing a better user experience and focusing on great content.”

-Gogobot CEO Travis Katz

TripAdvisor, along with most other travel sites, has implemented Facebook Connect, looking to tap into Facebook’s mass audience to drive more traffic. However, Katz argues that TripAdvisor’s core business is to drive traffic through SEO, which requires a very different mindset and product design than a social site. For social interactions to be effective, he believes they have to be built into the core of the product and its DNA. When they are not, the results are usually suboptimal (reference MSN, Yahoo and Google’s recent forays into the social web).

Gogobot plans to keep its site aesthetically clean and ad-free and monetize from lead generations for vacation rentals, hotels, flights/etc. instead, which is a very lucrative model considering Trip Advisor made $380 million this way last year. Within the next few weeks, Gogobot will add the ability to check availability of hotels.

I’ve since been completely sucked into playing on Gogobot, but it’s hardly time wasted compared to an hour playing Angry Birds. I’m helping to build a community I care about, for a future of better travel planning while also keeping a record of my own travels. Now, where will you go next?

startuprally2 Why Gogobot makes Google and TripAdvisor look like folding car maps