TripAdvisor launches Facebook-style social networking tools is to enhance the community aspects of its site with the introduction of a Traveler Network, where members can share travel experiences and tips with friends and family that accept invitations to their network.

The Traveler Network is expected to debut at TripAdvisor’s international sites in the UK, Germany and France a bit later, in the third quarter, the company said.

The travel media company, a unit of Expedia Inc, forecasts a substantial boost in membership from the Traveler Network, and TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Payea said the company therefore expects the new feature “to have a positive impact on our overall traffic and advertising revenue numbers.”

In one trendy aspect of the network, TripAdvisor is employing recruitment tactics for the Traveler Network similar to those used by community sites Facebook and LinkedIn.

That is, TripAdvisor, with users’ permission, will scan the names and e-mail addresses from members’ personal e-mail contact lists in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, MSN Hotmail, Outlook or Outlook Express to expedite inviting people to join the members’ networks.

Once the names and e-mail addresses are imported to the Traveler Network, the member then can check off names of individuals to invite to their personal networks.

TripAdvisor, like Facebook, goes so far as to identify which people in members’ e-mail contact lists already are TripAdvisor members. In essence, this blows the cover of TripAdvisor members who sought to keep their membership anonymous.

Asked about this practice, TripAdvisor stated: “We researched the social networking industry extensively before finalizing our designs and processes and modeled our practices after the most conservative, privacy-centric precedents set by networks like Linkedin. We believe that our permissions and policies are consistent with the best practices on the Internet.

“When travelers become members of TripAdvisor, they agree to the terms and conditions of use and our privacy policy. The policy describes how the member-to-member communications tools are used and informs the users of their ability at any time to turn it off. In March of 2007, we contacted all of our members about member-to-member communication and again gave our members an opportunity to proactively ‘opt out’ of our community tools.”

In a test of the TripAdvisor procedure, I contacted two people in my e-mail contact list whom TripAdvisor had identified as members and they differed on their opinion of the recruitment practice.

David Soskin, chief exeutive of Cheapflights, who admits to penning TripAdvisor reviews under a “nom de plume,” said: “Well, I am not too fussed if you have my address and they let you know that I am a member.”

But, Kristin O’Meara Hillmann, a Travel Weekly US contributing editor, characterised the practice as “an invasive approach.”

Prior to the introduction of the Traveler Network, TripAdvisor members had the ability to communicate with one another by clicking on an e-mail icon next to a member’s screen name, and sending a private message.

The Travelers Network’s new functionality makes the experience more interactive. Network members can create a travel map and pinpoint destinations that they have visited . And they then can view which other members of their personal networks have hiked, canoed or cruised to the same locales and then communicate with them about the experience.

TripAdvisor added that Traveler Network members can also search destinations and scroll down the search results to view what members in their network say about the destination.

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