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Just recently I've been posting a lot of reviews about places I visited on holidays in 2008, 2007 and even 2006. Some people might have gained the impression that I spend my whole life on holiday but sadly that's not true. This glut of new reviews instead reflects that there's a new website in my life that's got me excited about travel writing again and has fired me up to hunt out my travel notebooks and get writing about places I'd simply filed in my memory with no plan to do anything more. That website is IgoUgo.com
How I found igougo.com
I was aware of the site because it often came up when I was searching for travel info but I hadn't bothered to find out what it was. The world is full of websites so why would I go looking for more? It wasn't a quick process for me. I got a tip off to look at the site, investigated the site and for once in my life I really did read the Terms and Conditions. I got put off by copyright issues (I wasn't 100% clear whether they'd accept reviews already posted elsewhere) and I wrote to the IgoUgo team to ask for clarification. With what I later discovered was very uncharacteristic lack of communication, I never heard a peep back from them. So a couple more months passed until the person who originally told me about IgoUgo asked me why I still wasn't using the site. I explained the problem, she mailed the administrators and they told her there was no problem, and to send me over. And so it came to pass that I signed up and became a member of igougo.com
What is igougo.com?
IgoUgo is simple - it's a US-based website for travel writing and travel photography. You post reviews and photos, you earn GoPoints for contributions that are judged to be of 'Best of Igougo' status and - as the game-show host will tell you - points mean prizes. All your contributions are approved by mysterious 'editors' who decide if they are worth being rewarded or not.
The website is owned by the travel company Travelocity and I assume that it makes its money by people booking hotels and flights after finding travel reviews. It's a similar model to another site I write for, trivago.co.uk, but in that case their income is from hotel booking referrals
Only submissions assessed as 'Best of IgoUgo' get paid but don't panic, it's not the highest of hurdles to leap over and most clearly written reviews that cover the key points about a hotel or attraction and which would expect to get VH ratings on ciao would most likely get Best of IgoUgo status. Such reviews earn 250 GoPoints. A photo that's chosen as a Best of IgoUgo gets 50 GoPoints but I find it really hard to get these and even harder to predict what the editors are seeking. Photos that I consider to be some of my absolute favourites, the ones I'll get blown up, printed and framed, get ignored and others that I'd thought were hardly worth adding get 'Best of' status. I've noticed that the editors seem to have a bias towards pretty pastoral scenes.
The reward system is very simple - things either get paid or they don't and if they do, then they always get the same amount. There's no need to worry over the theoretical values of different types of reviews (like on Ciao with their £, ££ and £££ classifications) and no need to read lots of other reviews in order to encourage people to read yours (like on dooyoo) - if a thousand people read it, it makes no difference to your payment.
What's the point of GoPoints?
The rewards you can claim
depend on where you live - although as far as I can tell you could claim the rewards of another country if you preferred. Members based in the UK can choose either frequent flyer miles with American Airlines (a partner with British Airways so that may be handy for some) or with Lufthansa. If you don't want to save for flights, then you can request e-vouchers for Amazon.co.uk, Barnes and Noble or the Discovery Channel Store. The rewards differ slightly between countries with the Australians and Canadians having an option for local book/music/DVD companies whilst the French (in normal American style) get no choice other than Frequent flyer miles. What's particularly nice is that the Amazon e-vouchers are almost always for your local Amazon so there's no problem for a German member to claim payment with Amazon.de, the Brits with Amazon.co.uk and the Canadians with Amazon.ca. Assuming that most of us want vouchers rather than miles, then 6000 GoPoints will earn you $25 of retail reward vouchers.
The mathematically astute will now be working out that a GoPoint is worth 0.4167 cents which means that a rewarded review earns $1.04 and a rewarded photo 21c which may or may not sound like it's worth the effort. However, in addition to the per-review and per-photo payment, IgoUgo encourages users to group the reviews and photos into so-called 'Trips'. To be considered for 'Best Of' status, a 'trip' must contain a minimum of 5 related reviews or so-called 'stories and tips' (more of those later) and so long as at least 3 of your included reviews/stories had 'Best of' status then you'll earn a bonus of 1500 GoPoints for the 'Trip' which are on top of the payments for the individual contents.
1500 GoPoints are worth a whopping $6.25. That means that if you have a 'Trip' with 5 reviews, each of them with 'Best Of' status then the combination is worth a few cents short of $11.50.
Stories and Tips - what are they?
This is one of my favourite things about IgoUgo and I really love writing these. Normal review sites encourage us to write about very specific attractions or restaurants or hotels. IgoUgo 'stories' are an opportunity to write a review about 'everything else'. I've used the experience option to write about the Iranian dress code, about chatting to local girls in a mosque in Iran where I wanted to write about the girls rather than the mosque, about the Zoroastrian religion, getting caught up in a religious parade, trying to break into the National Stadium in Tehran with a rabid football fan, and a whole slew of reviews about trying and failing to do various things.
I have half-formed plans to do a set of 'tips' on advice for visitors to the UK - how to deal with our food, driving regulations and the weird way we pronounce places like Peterborough, Warwick and Slough. 'Stories and Tips' writing opens up a degree of writing freedom that I've not been able to find anywhere else. A review I wrote about getting mugged by a monkey in India fell pretty flat on the review sites but got me a special mention in a feature on the IgoUgo community blog.
What makes Igougo different from other review sites?
**Focus** - This is a travel-focused site so you won't find any reviews of the latest iPhone or James Blunt album or the contents of someone's handbag. It's ALL about travel which means you have to be a bit of a travel nut to get the most out of the site. That doesn't mean you have to go on lots of holidays - there are writers who can make a good return for their time just writing about the city where they live. There's one guy writing restaurant reviews about his mission to eat the food of 80 different countries without leaving Greater Manchester. There are other travel sites - like Tripadvisor - where you don't (as far as I can work out) earn anything for your contributions. Or sites like trivago where you won't survive and won't earn more than a few pennies just by adding photos and reviews and will have to be willing to do lots of other 'tasks' that can be dull, boring and utterly soul destroying. So if you want to just write lots and lots of travel reviews, IgoUgo is a great choice.
**Quality** - Only good writing and great photos get rewarded with GoPoints - you could post utter rubbish on IgoUgo if you wanted to but don't expect to get 'paid' for it. For all those people who wince at dooyoo giving 50p a go to 250 words or drivel, this is quite refreshing. Quite simply, if you love to write about travel and want the quality of your writing to be appreciated, this is a good site to join.
**Ease of Use** - IgoUgo is ridiculously easy to use and great for spontaneity. Unlike dooyoo, ciao, trivago or other sites, there's no need to mess about waiting for the place you want to write about to be added to the database only to find that by the time it's available you've lost the urge to write. With IgoUgo you can search for the thing you want to write about and if it's not there, you just add it. Right then and there - no delay, nobody deciding whether to approve it or not and not even anyone making you wait a month before they tell you that it's already in the database but you'd never have found it in a zillion years because the search function is rubbish.
**Flexibility** - IgoUgo offers the option to write both 'reviews' and 'stories and tips' and you really can write about just about anything (so long as not illegal, immoral or fattening - actually fattening is OK). You can write about how you tried to rescue a chicken that fell off the roof of a bus, or post a list of books or videos that you think would be good for anyone planning to visit a particular place, or even tips on how to get the most out of a particular destination. It really is up to you.
**Structure** - 'Trips' offer an easy way to organise your work and I find this very satisfying. I can easily access all my submissions on a particular destination without having to hunt through hundreds of reviews to find them. I also like that it means visitors to the site can find all your related work in one place. Again there's enormous freedom in how you define a 'trip'. It can be a particular holiday, a set of restaurants visited over an extended period, a group of reviews on connected topics or pretty much whatever you like. Imagination comes into it. You aren't even restricted to only make one Trip' on a destination - for example my Tehran travel reviews are divided into two 'Trips'. One covers the obvious tourist attractions and the other recounts a bunch of rather daft things we did when we found all the normal attractions closed for a holy day.
**Community** - you won't find a really lively community but equally you won't find the bitching and fighting and nastiness that break out periodically on many of the review sites. IgoUgo is full of very nice people who are all interested in travel - so everyone has something in common. These include a nice little forum that's quiet but very polite, the community blog in which the editors highlight particular reviews they think that members will enjoy, an annual set of IgoUgo awards and - in true American style - there's even a 'Hall of Fame' to which they 'induct' (is that a real word?) 8-10 new writers each year. There's also a 'friends' system which helps you to track what other members are adding to the site but I have to confess I don't really use it.
**No obligation to read** - you don't have to read other reviews if you don't want to. There's no system of peer rating, you can't leave comments (unless you send someone a message), you don't have to read but you're free to do so if you want to and it makes no difference to the payment you receive. If you are already a member of sites where you do need to read, there's a real sense of relief that IgoUgo is more than happy for you to 'dump and run'.
Ready to sign up? - A few tips
If you want to post lots of reviews that you already wrote for other sites, IgoUgo are fine with that - however I'd recommend that you use the same user name as you've used when posting them before so that it's clear that you are the same person and not a plagiarist. I wrote to one of the editors last week and her comment was 'So long as YOU wrote it, then that's OK'. Or if you want to use a different name write them an email and explain what names you are known by on other sites. I'd also suggest that when you fill out your profile, put the names of the other sites where you post reviews and photos under the section that says 'I also travel online at.....' This should help to prevent any suspicion that your work might not be your own.
Maximum review length is 1500 words which may be a problem for some people. I split my A-Z of Iran into three shorter submissions (part 1, part 2 and part 3 - not surprisingly) and I often edit out chunks of reviews to get them under the target. I recommend doing this in Word or other software that enables you to check the word-count before you submit. It's immensely frustrating when you push the button to submit your review and the system tells you it's too long but you don't know how many words you need to cut.
Don't be frightened of the Americans. I confess that when I knew it was an American site (I hope they don't read this) I worried that I'd have to take some of the humour and local references out of my reviews. It's not uncommon for Brits to believe that Americans have their GSOH surgically removed before entering the workplace. I've actually found the exact opposite to be true. They didn't mind one bit that my profile photo is my bear sitting with his friend on a mountain pass. They don't mind my rude comments about American spelling and it's really not necessary to write as if you have a poker up your backside.
Register for an account and once that's sorted, sign in and go to the button that says 'Share'. Then pick what you want to do - write a review, share and experience or upload a photo. Then just follow the instructions.
After submission it can take quite a while before your work is approved. If like me you join on a weekend, there won't be anything approved until the working week and then they may have a backlog to get through. Remember the editors who do the approvals are working on US-time so nothing gets done in the Euro-morning at weekends or on US bank holidays. My first approvals took about 4 or 5 days so I suspect they might have been checking me out to make sure I hadn't copied them.
I joined in January this year and so far have earned nearly 300 dollars worth of GoPoints with the site. But equally important, being a member of IgoUgo has meant I've written so many more reviews than normal, many of which then get posted on all my other review sites so the overall value is a lot higher than my IgoUgo earnings. IgoUgo had got me so much more fired up about travel writing than any of the other sites - trying to plot how to combine my reviews to make trips and thinking of new ways to group things together has been really good for me and I'm really enjoying the site. If you think it might work for you, why not give it a go.
Brilliant and very helpful review. I have just joined the site and this has been the best and most useful review I have read about it. I do like the site and there are a lot of very nice and friendly people on there all with the same thing in mind. Sharing travel reviews. Excellent. Thanks.
hiker 08.08.2009 18:42
Good review & sounds like a good site. I'd be tempted...but the payment options aren't that great for me. Lx