Skift Take

Content creation site Travelstrings is smart to target a niche group of study abroad students during its product development both to gain feedback and create buzz among a group that likes to talk a lot.

Travelstrings is a young startup created by a team of recent college grads who think they can help travelers tie together their social media updates from the road into an illustrated, virtual scrapbook.

Co-founder Melanie Gin felt frustrated upon returning home from a study abroad trip to realize she hadn’t had the time or patience to keep a daily journal. Melanie spoke with other students and found that although many of them hadn’t fill out every page of their fresh Moleksins or populated their WordPress blogs with prose on the meaning of travel, they had updated their Twitter and mobile uploaded pictures to Facebook.

Travelstrings’ virtual storybook collects a traveler’s Facebook updates, Instagram photos, foursquare check-ins, and Tweets to create a bare bone outline of where and when the traveler went. The traveler then fills in the meat of their memories by adding anecdotes and describing their favorite experiences on a platform that can be shared with friends and family, near and far.

Refining a product through student feedback

Travelstrings is moving quickly. Only seven months after the team of six formalized their idea, they were at Startup UCLA -– a 10-month startup accelerator for UCLA students and alumni.

The private beta version of Travelstrings has been available to 3,000 UCLA study abroad students this summer. Although only 100 of the students actively used the site, their feedback has become an integral part of the company’s changes during the accelerator program.

Travelstrings is currently setting up partnerships with international education offices at three additional California State University campuses in hopes that a growing student base will help the company gain new followers and hear constructive feedback from their targeted users.

The bridge between short and long form travel content

Travelstrings wants to bridge the gap between short-content sharing sites like Twitter and Facebook where users might upload a photo or status on the go, and WordPress or Blogger where travelers write longer, more detailed essays about their travel experiences.

Melanie mentioned Storify was an inspiration for her site. The site is designed to gather content from the web in a similar fashion, but is obviously more focused on personal content than the news-based stories often seen on Storify.

Collaborative storytelling for travel groups

The company’s biggest focus at the moment is on creating a collaborative storybook that allows groups of two to four travelers to individually contribute photos and text to create a joint story with multiple perspectives.

The website has  potential to grow a community of users if they organize storybooks by location or type of trip, such as backpacking Southeast Asia, road trips across America, or destination weddings. This would allow users to browse trips for inspiration or in the planning stages.

How to monetize on travelers’ memories

The site’s primary product – virtual storybooks – would be available for free. It plans on making money by turning travelers’  photos into postcards, t-shirts, and photo books.

Travelstrings is working to establish a partnership with photo publishing sites such as Snapfish or Shutterfly to provides users a way to turn their high-tech storybooks into a more traditional travel scrapbook. They also hope to create an easy process for users to print travel photos on t-shirts or send actual postcards from online photos.

They also plan to integrate advertisements, especially targeted at university students who may be looking to study abroad.

Still a ways to go

Travelstrings’ business team represents the demographic they hope to reach so they’re probably spot on regarding student travelers’ tendency to document their trip via social media. The company just has to hope that the students of future study abroad trips have a similar desire to turn those posts into a more comprehensive summary of their trip.

Startup UCLA’s demo day is September 14, 2012 during which Travelstrings plans to roll out the collaborative storybook feature and other improvements that been made based off student feedback.

The site will publicly launch by the end of the year.

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Tags: social media, students

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