is-boocom-for-real

Is boo.com for real?

May 2nd, 2007 by Joost Schrier

We received a press release today about the launch of a brand new travel website on boo.com. After reading the press release and doing some preliminary research we found it difficult to make up our mind about this website.

For the people that missed the dot-com bubble: boo.com was one of the great dot-com fiascos (it was rated number 6 in the list op top 10 dot-com flops over at cnet). The fashion website it used to host during the end of the last century was too heavy, not in touch with its audience and grossly missmanaged. But, the past is the past and Boo is as good a name for a travel website as it is for a fashion store.

The only independent review we managed to find on-line about the new Boo was over at dottourism.com, but they did not give an opinion about the website. The other websites we found with information about Boo were the ones that just rehash the press release.

As I said; it was difficult to make up our mind about this new website. So, I will just list the pros and cons that we see and I hope I will have my mind made up when I’m at the end of this post.

The Pros:

  • Social media
    Boo.com uses social media to help visitors to decide on the destination or hotel. Everywhere on the site you get reviews of what you are looking at. These reviews are, so far, not added by people using Boo, but from other websites owned by the same company. They do appear to be real reviews from real people though. Furthermore; they also use tags (including a cool tag cloud on the homepage), ratings, communities and a straightforward “what’s hot and what’s not” tool.
  • Very clean interface
    All the important elements of the chosen destination are in one screen and the main interface element (the extensive booking tool) stays with you throughout the website
  • Almost instant availability of data
    Boo.com uses AJAX to make sure you get all the data without constantly having to open new pages. The booking tool instantly updates once you make a choice (the instant part does depend on your connection speed though).
  • Amount of data and prospect of more data
    There is already a large amount of data about the different destinations for the website to be able to attain critical mass soon. Besides this they also want to add all hotels, restauarant, etc that want to be added for free. If this website gets going this will definitely help with its popularity among hospitality businesses and visitors.
  • You don’t have to book wih Boo
    You have the choice of booking directly with Boo or going to the the hotel’s website to book direct. This is very friendly of them, but it does raise some questions. In the press release it says that Boo gets its money from commissions and Pay-Per-Click advertising. But they also say that all hotels are listed for free. If all hotels are listed for free, how are they going to get their money from the PPC?

The Cons:

  • Search interface
    On the homepage and most internal pages you can use a search box. We like search boxes so I typed in Curacao and clicked the little magnifying glass. After a few seconds I tried again and used [enter] instead. Nothing happened. After a while I figured out that you need to enter a cityname (Willemstad) and it then gives you a dropdown where you can choose the appropriate city. And you better make sure you spelled it correctly because it does not understand Willemstaad. The problem here is that you don’t get a message saying that you did something wrong. Instead, nothing happens, leading youto believe the search is broken or empty. If I don’t figure this out faster, how will my less internet-savvy cousin ever find out?
  • Booking tool
    The booking tool that stays with you throughout your trip through the website (which is good) is far from intuitive. The tool sports a whole bunch of numbers and buttons to click on, but I still don’t know what they represent and how they help me find a hotel. There are two rows of checkboxes with numbers and phrases next to them. In understand it is a tool to weed out the kinds of hotels you don’t want, but why are there two rows? And the calendar helps you select the dates of your stay (nice, with the mouseover). It seems to say that it’s a calendar for the months April to June, but it shows only one month (May). So, maybe you can click on June to go to the month of June? No, that doesn’t do anything.
    As you can see, I find the booking tool confusing.
  • Confidence
    The only way you can get information about Boo is through a link on the homepage. There is no “about us” or “contact” anywhere else in the website that I found. When you click on “Boo Who?” on the homepage (I read this as a clever pun towards the title of a book – Boo Hoo – about the demise of the old Boo) you get a total of five pages with marketing speak and one contact form. They say they are transparent, but I don’t see it. Yes, that’s a play of words as well. This all does not inspire confidence.
  • Loading times
    The internal pages takes a very long time to load. If you look at the source code you can see that every page requires many external JavaScript- and CSS-files for the AJAX-interface. Together with the fact that it only starts showing something when all code is downloaded I get the tendency to click away.

All in all, we can draw some conclusions based on the pros and cons:

  • Boo.com has the idea right that you need to leverage user-inputted content to sell travel, which they did. Regrettably, by “making it all about you” they forget that people are not buying from Harry who has a trustworthy face and has visited Amsterdam. The people buy from boo.com and boo.com does not inspire a lot of confidence.
  • The interface is very clean and looks cool, but it is difficult to understand (I still don’t understand the two rows of checkboxed, somebody please explain this!). The interface might allow you to make the best choice possible, but the least you can do is make it intuitive or offer some help.
  • There is a lot of data, the premise of making a one-stop-shop website for travel is a good one of course and I love the idea that they want to add all hospitality-related businesses on the website for free. In my humble opinion though they would do better by their idea if they kept the user in mind a bit more.

The ‘funny’ thing is that cnet.com says the following about the original dot-com bubble boo.com:

“Boo.com was beset with problems and mismanagement from the start. Its complicated Web site, which relied heavily on JavaScript and Flash, was very slow to load at a time when dial-up Internet usage was the norm. Boo spent wads of cash to market itself as a global company but then had to deal with different languages, pricing, and tax structures in all the countries it served.”

To me it looks like this new boo.com might just be making the same mistakes as the old one.

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5 Responses to “Is boo.com for real?”

  1. Claude / Les Explorers Says:

    Thanks for this great review

    Boo.com make a lot of Buzz but also some incredible mistake.

    Using this old DNS is a strange marketing idea

  2. Keith Leslie Says:

    First I have to say that I am quite impressed by your writing abilities. Given that english is not your first language you writing style is quite good. Second, this stuff really makes it sound like you know what you are talking about. I might have to hire you guys to do my website!

    k

  3. Joost Schrier Says:

    @Claude: I think you’re right. The buzz is there, but the product needs to be good as well or the buzz bites you in the a*. Using the old domain name is part of the buzz of course. Without it it would never have buzzed like it does.

    @Keith: stop, you make me blush. Your website (curacao.com) looks pretty good. It could use some more updated content though 😉

  4. Sylvain Says:

    Hello Joost Schrier, thank you for passing my blog; i just love mybloglog, for I have discovered your blog! I am quite happy you talk about boo.com ; I, myself, contributed to the buzz and I have not had time to review the site yet but will do a review very soon, and will try to contrast my opinion with yours. Cheers.

  5. Dominic Says:

    Hi Joost, I hope I’ve covered some of your questions over at the Dot blog. Thanks for your Boo review, Cheers!

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