By Martin Kelly

Igo Ugo founders Jim Donnelly and Tony Cheng lived dirt-poor in a tiny New York apartment for three years before their site – now one of the world’s largest and most vibrant online travel communities – took off.

Yet Donnelly, who sold the site last year to Travelocity for a “lot of money”, describes those days as the happiest of his life – creating something from scratch while interacting with people who love to travel as much as him.

He said people are also sick of travel advertising hype – where the reality rarely matches the sales pitch – and so turn to sites like IgoUgo and TripAdvisor for honesty as well as inspiration.

In fact trust was a major theme at Wired Travel Asia, continually raised through the two-day conference by many speakers, who encouraged delegates to communicate with their customers more openly and therefore more effectively.

“When travel companies get honest with people, that is when they have their shining moments,” Donnelly said.

So how did he and Cheng start an online travel community that now has more than 300,000 members posting and ranking thousands of stories, anecdotes, itineraries and images?

Simple – by asking 100 of their “closest friends” to provide their travel tales and photos..

“What happened was people who came to the site really liked it, and they told other people and we woke up in a year and there were 100,000 people on the site.

“We woke up a year later and there were 200,000 members. It grew from there.”

He added: “Human inspiration in a world of algorithms and cheap fares is something everyone can relate to.”

Sounds simple yet is anything but easy. Here are Jim Donnelly’s top ten tips on how to start a community web site.

1. Some structure is needed. It must be easy to search and find who or what you are searching for.

2. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work. Community members want to express their individual personalities and views … a generic template is not interesting for very long.

3. Contributions should be rewarded in a variety of ways. Emotional benefits: recognition, status with the community. Tangible benefits: rewards program, special benefits.

4. Ego and identity are important. Members must be recognized for the level of contribution (see above). Contributors shouldn’t be anonymous … you should see who is behind a contribution.

5. A critical mass of content is essential.

6. New members should feel welcome. It should be easy to understand how things work.

7. Community benefits and company benefits are aligned. The community cannot be viewed as a ‘cost centre’… the company is involved in the community.

8. Make it open and authentic.

9. A sense of growth and vibrancy: ie make people feel that they are part of something meaningful.

10. Make it fun!

November 8. 2006

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