Review: Is Mygola The First Big-data Trip Planning Site?

Mygola.com Trip Planning Site. (The background image, which Mygola properly attributed, is from Flikr user amandabhslater

Mygola.com Trip Planning Site. (The background image, which Mygola properly attributed, is from Flikr user amandabhslater

Introduction

My first impression of Mygola was that it was yet another trip planning site, albeit more attractive and better-executed than most. In addition to the Mygola.com website, Mygola has an iPad app that is functionally identical to the site. One of the chief attractions of the site and app is the large number of visuals Mygola has curated for destinations and attractions. Like similar sites, Mygola monetizes by booking through partners such as Expedia. Mygola also offers personal travel consultations, for which it charges modest fees.

The first notable difference I found between Mygola and other startups in the trip planning space is that Mygola has more pre-built itineraries covering more of the globe than many other sites–nearly 5,000 according to CEO Anshuman Bapna. As I researched further I found that the Mygola team has used “deep algorithms” to text-mine large amounts of online data and construct itineraries from high quality unstructured content such as the New York Times, National Geographic and Lonely Planet. Furthermore they have used sophisticated algorithms to refine and optimize the resulting itineraries. I expect that there are other trip planners that use “big data” algorithms, but Mygola stands out in seeding its entire foundation with such techniques. Mygola further refines content by using human curators that it hires through a crowdsourcing marketplace.

My experience in using the site shows that by itself, Mygola’s initial approach is not sufficient. It was not hard to find a few mediocre attractions in itineraries for places I know well. Fortunately the Mygola team recognizes the issue. CEO Anshuman Bapna assures me that Mygola is engaging local experts to refine itineraries and that the results will start showing up this week.

I’ll preface the rest of this review by saying that most of my comments are suggestions for improvement rather than a deep criticism of the site. I think the core product provides a nice foundation that can be iteratively improved. Despite some weaknesses in the initial set of itineraries, they are usable and engaging. Bottom line: it’s definitely worth trying out Mygola to plan your next trip.

Quality of Itineraries and Attractions

I checked out some of the suggested itineraries for destinations I am personally familiar with and found that the suggested attractions vary in quality and appeal–they ranged from quite good to mediocre. For example, I wouldn’t bother to spend 1.5 hours hanging out around the Spit Bridge in Sydney Australia, as one itinerary suggests.

Mygola users can click through links to secondary sources for more information to help them gauge the quality and personal appeal of the attractions included in itineraries. If users want more information, they’ll need to browse other sources like guidebooks and TripAdvisor. Perhaps Mygola could incorporate user reviews of attractions into the site as well as user ratings of the itineraries in its inventory.

Mygola engages with freelancers to curate the data. I can’t help but speculate that many of them are not personally familiar with the attractions they are curating and that they are sometimes curating according to the quality of secondary source descriptions rather than the quality of the actual attractions.

Many attractions are displayed with a short “Traveler Tip” blurb, which is helpful, but using one tip to assess the overall quality of of an attraction is like evaluating a hotel by reading a single sentence from a single review.

As far as judging the overall quality of itineraries, the site highlights the itineraries for a given destination that have gotten the most hits, but that statistic by itself is an inferior signal of quality.

In terms of coverage, Mygola gets a solid B. It has itineraries for less-common destinations like Namibia, Belarus and Bhutan, but misses some other less-visited but eminently visitable places like Armenia, Kazakhstan, and the Cook Islands.

Transportation Planning

Mygola uses Rome2Rio’s API to suggest optimal routes and travel modes (i.e., plane, train, bus, car or taxi) between cities. Good choice: Rome2Rio does door-to-door multi-modal travel better than anyone.

Route Optimization

A route optimizer that arranges the stops for an itinerary in the most efficient practical order can save users time and money. Route optimization is a well-known computer science challenge known as the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP). Mygola uses a TSP algorithm to optimizes its pre-built itineraries. It does a good job; however, I wish that Mygola could also do interactive route optimization after I’ve customized an itinerary. JoGuru, another travel planning startup that I reviewed recently, has a feature to interactively optimize daily itineraries. It’s possible that JoGuru’s optimization is not as good as Mygola’s, but the fact that it can be used on customized itineraries is a big plus.

Personalization

Good trip planning is a highly personalized experience–what appeals to you may not appeal to me. A site that addresses this well, in my opinion, is Utrip.com, which builds itineraries automatically based on the user’s stated preferences and other information. Interestingly, Bapna told me that Mygola has tried a Utrip-like algorithm but that users express greater satisfaction with itineraries prebuilt from content created by travel experts. With Mygola, you manually edit itineraries to personalize them. Mygola could possibly benefit from some type of upfront profile personalization, but Bapna’s view is that users enjoy tweaking the itineraries themselves. I would still be interested to see experiments which vary the amount and nature of pre- and post-itinerary-delivery personalization input to see what mix users prefer.

Mygola segments itineraries by a small set of traveler interests such as Art & Architecture, History and Outdoor. If it asked for user interests upfront, it could address more segments without cluttering the search results.

It may be that Mygola does not attempt per-user personalization more because its big-data-driven itinerary-generation process is inherently batch-oriented.

I asked Bapna to compare Mygola to other trip planning sites and he replied:

Among independent travelers, we’ve found two kinds of folks. First, “power planners” who like to start from scratch and simply want a planner that acts like a diary to record and plot their research. Tripomatic, Touristeye, Triptern etc. are in this category. However, another set of independent travelers, “time constrained but discerning”, want to start with a great default trip that matches what they’re looking for and then tweak it from there. In this age of the mobile world and weekend travel, we think the second option is a much stronger use case. So although there’s the ability to have a Tripomatic kind of experience on Mygola, we deliberately focus on the latter.

Another thing you’ll notice is that we have a very strong focus on country/regional itineraries. In our research, we found such itineraries were a much bigger pain point for travelers to put together (eg, for 7 days in Turkey, is it possible to do Istanbul, Cappadocia and Pamukkale or just two? What do other folks do?) than city-based itineraries.

Attribution

Mygola has done an excellent job of providing attribution for the content it gathers from the internet. Descriptions contain a short excerpt from the original source followed by a link to the source. The media content is screened to ensure that Mygola’s use is allowed under the content’s license and proper attribution links are included when content is displayed.

This is in contrast to some other sites and apps I have examined. For example, one unnamed site was reusing large amounts of Wikitravel/Wikivoyage content without the attribution required under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License those websites use. I contacted the creators of the unnamed site and asked for an explanation. They never replied.

Mygola is not only creating an appealing and technically interesting application, they are doing it ethically.

Trying out Mygola

After reading the first draft of this review, TravelTekker contributor Denise Jones wrote:

…I checked it out for my upcoming trip- I don’t like sites that require me to sign up and give personal info before I can investigate a bit and see what they have.

So I asked Bapna if there was a way to try out Mygola anonymously and he replied

Yes, absolutely. In fact, the only page that requires you to sign up is mygola.com (because in our A/B tests we found that people who come directly to the mygola.com site stay significantly more engaged if they sign up first). So to get into the site without signing up, just go to mygola.com/search.

Conclusion

Mygola faces a large number of competitors; its challenge will be to stand out in the crowd. It has the platform and people to do it. I was very impressed with Mygola’s team and culture. The first time I used the site, I registered with an email address. Within 24 hours, I received a personalized email from Sneha Khale, Mygola “User Happiness Officer,” asking me about my experience on the site. I replied to Sneha with an early draft of this review and a few hours later I received an informative and cordial email from CEO Anshuman Bapna. When I later sent Bapna an emaiI with follow-up questions, he replied with a detailed response just a few hours later. I have written quite a few reviews since I started TravelTekker and maybe once before have I observed this level of engagement from an organization. If anyone can win in this space, I think the Mygola team stands a good chance. Their tech is sound, their team is energized and they are doing things right.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Is Mygola The First Big-data Trip Planning Site?

  1. Thanks so much for reviewing mygola.com! You make some excellent points about the travel planning process. It’s actually incredibly interesting to observe users during our focus groups – we’ve found that striking the right balance between upfront (i.e. “smart”) personalization and yet giving a sense of control (“there’s still a lot of interesting work left for me to do”) is critical in earning the user’s trust and engagement.

    The platform is rough around the edges but I do think the core premise is nothing short of (ahem!) revolutionary – that itineraries should be the “bucket” in which every other piece of travel should fit in.

    The hotels you choose should be optimized for the places you want to see, the local tours/offers should take into empty blocks of time and even your social feedback loop could be at the itinerary level (eg, friends/locals telling you: “spend an extra day in Istanbul”, “I see you have lunch options open, these are the cafes I enjoyed in Istanbul”). Since you’ll take these itineraries with you on your phone, you could use it to get contextual recommendations. You could click pictures that’ll automatically append to your itinerary and come back with a “My Guidebook to Paris” that you could share with friends and contribute back to the pool of itineraries on Mygola.

    We do think itineraries are the key to unlock the magic kingdom 🙂

  2. Pingback: 2013-12-06 TravelTech News Analysis and Review | TravelTekker

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