Nowadays, much of the research done for travel has been taken over by the Internet. For many, the opportunity to click onto websites filled with virtual tours, photos and traveler's notes is a great convenience. However to others, it is a bit of a mystery: How can you trust the source?
On many travel web sites such as Tripadvisor, reviews and forum contributions are by design unfiltered and unedited (except for guideline violations). This provides great opportunity for gathering unprecedented information. But there is also the question of accountability: Anyone can anonymously write anything about anything. There is little to see on a casual reading that can distinguish a reliable source from an unreliable one.
No doubt, most on-line contributors are well meaning and honest. But there are times when a post might be something else: An owner or manager or their friends favorably reviewing their own property. A competitor trying to rip their competition. A person with an axe to grind. A poster on a forum who wants to stir up trouble just for kicks or who has a hidden purpose or agenda. The possibilities are endless.
For those that are new to the experience of researching on the Internet, here are a few strategies that might be helpful to see if a review or comment is legitimate:
**** Look at the historical information about the contributor that is listed next to their screen name. Have they contributed before? How long have they been members? If someone has little or no history then it is more difficult to judge the integrity of his or her comments.
Certainly there can be valuable and useful information submitted by a first time new contributor (as everyone has to be a first timer at some point). But if there is no history of prior contributions, it would be prudent to be careful when weighting the relevance of their comments- especially if the information seems emotionally charged, extremely negative or way out of the general range of opinion that might already exist.
**** Here on Tripadvisor, you can click on the screen name of the reviewer (or in the forums, the poster). You can see a history of where they have already made comments. If you review what they've said in the past you can get a sense of where they may be coming from. Are the majority of the posts rave reviews? Or do they seem to always have a negative attitude? Maybe you are familiar with something they have commented on- you can see if you are in agreement. Their history is there for you to use so you can see if you feel that they represent your tastes and sensibilities. Remember: One person's notion of "clean" or "luxury" might be quite different than yours.
**** For property reviews, see if the information in the reviews is matched by other sources such as comments in the forum. This can be useful to see whether a high or low ranked property lives up or down to its placement by local contributors who know about many properties.
**** Check many sources. Go to at least two or three travel web sites and see if the information is consistent between them. The more of a consensus, especially from a large population of contributors, the better chance that you are collecting good information to base a decision on.
It is impossible of course to completely vet the credentials of every individual. And everyone is going to have points of view that are not going to be accepted by all others. But with a critical eye, you can improve the odds that the information you will use to base your decisions on will be the best fitted to your personal preferences and requirements.