Oyster dot com, one of the most innovative travel review entities in the world, announces what they term “Oyster Shots” – a first ever photo powered hotel search engine. Oyster shows once again, the company has its fingers on the pulse of online travel – photo search is being there.
Oyster.com has built a reputation since their unbiased approach to hotel reviews came into the limelight, one that appeals to the practical no BS type. A bit like the Frommers of the digital century compared with the multitude of “supposed” authorities out there, the company has begun to thrive even according to conservative Compete traffic metrics. But without a big “hook” traction for online travel review startups can be a maze of competitive conversion difficulty. So today’s image-centric news bears special scrutiny.
Some half a million photos (shots), high res stuff Oyster says are exclusive (Google has to love that for SEO) power what many thousands of travelers may find super useful (and fun) – what this old beta tester once called “object oriented” development. Discovering, manipulating, sharing object (image) subjects is one of the very best ways to grasp the feel of things, places in particular. Elie Seidman, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Oyster.com, had this to say about the new engine:
“The idea of a photo-powered hotel search has been in development from the first photo we shot. With Oyster Shots, we editorially tag and identify all of the photos in our database and make them fully searchable based on any individual’s preferences. Oyster Shots is our unique solution to a travel problem that, until now, remained unsolved.”
Okay, you want to know how and if it works, right? Let’s find out by drilling down into the platform. First off, I tried testing the overall Oyster hotel search mechanism by typing in a large, but sometimes overlooked city, Bucharest. I was a bit disappointed to find no entry at all for Romania’s capital, a city of 4 million inhabitants in Eastern Europe. Okay, so much for completeness, but as you can see in the image below, Oyster Shots does cater to us photographic oriented travel types.
Drilling down ever further, the reason for Oyster’s lack of European flair became readily apparent (and I felt stupid) – the US based nature of the matrix – Europe and the rest of the world will have to wait. But Oyster exhibited its most appealing feature about the same time a degree of limitation appeared – stunning, large, high def images of wonderful destinations (as below). Along with the images, info about hotels, FB and other sharing, and a super slick booking aspect (best I’ve seen) are right there.
Everything from navigation to the aforementioned imagery wonders on Oyster is well thought out, to say the least. Great filtering aspects, easy navigation everywhere, and a high degree of query relevance (relative), Oyster has added all this to their already credible review system – and then the platform’s only real stumbling block becomes apparent – index and data limitations. To put this simply, Oyster needs one heck of a lot more data in their index. Searching terms or phrases not yet indexed (there is no data) – leaves the user in limbo. (note: suggest offering relevance no matter what). A simple text box query for Jamaica (below) does work, but searching many personal terms (like California beaches) can end in aforementioned disappointment. I will say, scanning images and clicking on visual stunningness has a fascinating result. This is what one would call “real image” search capability.
Oyster has done a superb job of creating fabulous content and utility here. The fact that the platform lacks depth is a real negative though. Oyster reviews though, are not conducive of super fast development, just as creating a vast travel image search component is not. I am not making excuses for Oyster here, just stating facts from experience in helping develop such things. There comes a time when a choice has to be made – release the greatness for customers to enjoy – or wait until the matrix is complete. What Oyster has at this very moment, while not a true image search engine, is the nicest graphical tool to show guests their next hotel room.
Normally, I would recommend waiting longer, but in the case of North America and Caribbean travel bliss only? Let me put it this way, “I am sure all of you reading this will enjoy Oyster Shots!” How’s that for clarity? For more information about Oyster, or their latest innovation “Oyster Shots” – please visit their about page, or the original press release.
I leave you with video from Oyster, and recommend you try out their reviews and “search” aspect.