Image-based social media platforms have become hot property when it comes to choosing where and when to travel. And they’re just getting started.
Try describing the Sydney Opera House or the wild landscapes of the Arizona desert and you’ll quickly understand why image-based platforms are starting to dominate social media in travel.
Even those of us who make a living from writing about such things often struggle to do justice to the beauty or impact of a landmark or landscape.
Travellers are big users of social media platforms, whether it is for inspiration or staying in touch, and images have become a key currency.
Take, for example, Pinterest, which has huge numbers of people around the world “pinning” images to its virtual pinboard.
Travel images are among the most popular items on the site, taking armchair and future travellers from frozen lakes in Russia to the streets of Argentina.
Another good example is the travel rating and planning website Gogobot, which has more than a million registered users and is rapidly amassing photo content.
Since launching an iPhone application late last year, the site has had a five-fold increase in the number of photos uploaded by users, with travellers able to snap a photo and put it instantly online.
The company says Australian travellers are among its most active users and Australian destinations are among the most popular on the site.
A newer entrant to the expanding market is PixMeAway, which is an image-based search engine that tries to tap into the emotions and desires of users in order to recommend appropriate potential travel destinations.
To give it a try, go to the site and you will be asked to pick (without thinking about it too much) seven images that appeal to you.
The site will then determine your traveller “type” and use an algorithm to recommend holidays that might suit you.
I tried it and was deemed to be primarily an “open-minded sportive traveller”, or someone who likes active holidays, meeting people and getting into the local culture, while avoiding regular tourist routes and mass tourism. Absolutely correct … but perhaps not too hard to work out given the images I chose.
However, the site went on to recommend about 70 holiday destinations around the world, which I narrowed down by selecting a preference for warm climates.
The final list included many places I have visited and loved, so perhaps there is something in it.
Another great site for getting inspiration (and wasting valuable work time) is Airpano.com, which features 360-degree aerial images of cities and sites around the world.
You can “fly” around the Taj Mahal, explore the ruins of Machu Picchu, zoom down a waterfall in Venezuela or check out the slopes in the Swiss Alps.
If you’re new to the world of image-based social media – or social media full stop – the way to get started is to ask yourself what you might use it for. If you’re looking for inspiration, you might turn to sites such as PixMeAway or Pinterest to get some general ideas.
If you already know where you want to go, you might use a site such as Gogobot that combines images with reviews and other information about specific aspects of that place.
The good thing about using social media platforms rather than the websites of tourist boards or other “official” sources is that most of the content is user-generated (uploaded by regular people) and therefore more believable.
Tourist boards are getting more savvy about uploading content to these platforms but most of the photos are snapshots taken on mobile phones during other people’s holidays.
One of the biggest uses of image-based social media is simply sharing images with family and friends when you’re travelling.
One thing to be aware of is how public you are making your images, especially if they are personal shots of your honeymoon or your family.
On Flickr, for example, you can go into “permissions” and choose who can see or comment on your images, so you can limit them to a private network if you choose.
Facebook is another obvious place to share images, either by posting a single photo or uploading an album, and again you can choose how public you make them.
Images can be your best friend when you find yourself up against the language barrier.
Moving on from the amusing and sometimes embarrassing charades used by travellers in foreign lands, the “Image It” mobile application provides more than 400 pictograms to help you get your message across.
You can combine a series of pictograms, such as “taxi + airport + price” and even add in real pictures from your phone or draw on the ones provided.
The Image It app is available for Apple or Android (99¢) and can be used offline in order to avoid roaming charges.