Travel social networking sites are generally pretty useful. If you’re looking for user-generated reviews, recommendations or even cautions, any number of websites will fit the bill. 43Places.com is rather simple, but informative. IgoUgo.com, TripAdvisor.com and TripWiser.com also have their pluses and minuses.
But there’s a new travel social networking site out there that looks at travel a bit differently. MatadorTravel.com, which is still in Beta, is a social network for the culture-conscious traveler. The concept of the site centers around off-the-beaten path travel, whether it be for adventure or for true exposure to the cultures of the visited areas. The founders, two 26-year-old, Bay area entrepreneurs, are both avid travelers, but with what appears to be a more altruistic view of the world than a lot of their VC-seeking brethren. The site encourages volunteerism and outreach while adventuring, as witnessed by the hundreds of non-profits and charity groups that have set up organizations on the site to connect with interested adventure and giving seekers.
“We’re geared more toward getting away from the tours and cruises,” said Ross Borden, co-founder of Matador. “We’re more interested really interacting with people and cultures and hopefully encouraging travelers to focus on volunteering and giving something back to the communities they visit.”
Borden apparently spent some time raising money and working with schools in Africa. His enthusiasm for genuine outreach and do-gooding comes through when you talk to him.
He and longtime friend Ben Polansky gave the site immediate credibility by hiring travel journalists to help populate its content. Site users can submit reviews or even put themselves up for paid travel writing opportunities either as destination experts for Matador on the site’s bounty board where outside travel writing opportunities are posted. Pictures, videos and the like are encouraged as well, but unlike most travel sites you have a profile where you can let other users browsing know what you’re interests and travel history are, increasing the chances of finding those of similar mind.
It’s the focus of the user-generated content that makes the site cool, however. Heart-warming (and heart breaking) tales of volunteering to help rebuild African villages to photos and interviews of Hurricane Katrina clean-up efforts (yes, still) make this little social network one I’d call a “warm and fuzzy.” There’s also some fair entertainment in some of the blogs. While searching for some Katrina information, I stumbled upon this one from a user named Olivebeard that includes the lines:
“New Orleansâ€”by all manner of logicâ€”is ugly. And yet handsomely unique.”
The site launched in August but is growing steadily. It’s built on an advertising model for funding and has the requisite travel booking mechanism built in, so there’s some percentage of income there. Matador also has guest artists designing T-shirts for them you can purchase. These guys may not get rich with this website, but it almost seems like the point is to make the world richer instead.
And bravo to them for giving it a go.[tags]travel, social networking, travel websites, Matador Travel, Ross Borden, Ben Polansky, volunteerism, cultural experience[/tags]