Posted by: Ian Ross | April 20, 2008

Lonely Planet message board – is it social media or a relic of the past?

As we plan our trip to Africa this summer, there are two Lonely Planet books sitting on the coffee table with post-it notes and worn edges. On our bookshelf, there are a few other well-used copies that we’ve packed on previous journeys to Honduras, Bolivia and Vietnam.

The books have allowed me to roam the world without the restrictions of a tour company’s strict schedule.

Of course, the books don’t have all the answers. That’s when I often turn to the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum hosted on its website. Here you find a very basic message board, alive and kicking, with thousands of travellers posting and answering questions for each other. Lonely Planet does very little maintenance – this appears to be a classic example of user-generated content.

Last year, I found out one week before our Honduras trip that we arrived during Holy Week and the country would be more-or-less shut down. Using the Thorn Tree, I was able to get some of my questions answered by other travellers so I could plan around the lack of public transportation and hotel vacancies.

But does the Thorn Tree count as social media? It seems to fit the wikipedia definition; yet wikipedia doesn’t list message boards as a Web 2.0 tool. In fact, you rarely hear message boards mentioned in the same breath as blogs, podcasts, Facebook and YouTube. Yet the Thorn Tree has more online public participation than most blogs and podcasts.

Is this because most message boards have been long abondoned and buried for the more flashy and exciting next generation of online social tools? Is the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree just a surviving relic of early social media development? Or am I missing a key component of what social media is?



  1. Hi Ian, interesting thoughts on message boards.

    I have to admit that I’ve never thought about where message boards fit in to the social media mix. Not to mention in all of the hundreds of posts I read — okay, scan — about social media in a week I don’t seem to recall ever hearing about message boards.

    Yet, I frequently use message boards. The Thorn Tree is also one of our go-to’s for travel tips, advice and ideas. We regularly rely on ChowHound for restaurant reviews and when we wanted a Wii it was the Red Flag Deals message boards that tipped us off on where they were available in the city.

    My guess would be that message boards are left out of the conversation because they are “Web 1.0” (Here is a post from Neville Hobson that illustrates what “Web 2.0” looks like, sans message boards:

    And maybe the fact that message boards are omitted from the roster is another argument that the whole concept of “Web 2.0” is a load of bunk because the point of the internet has always been to connect people.

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