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Friendlier travel advice now on Web

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / June 14, 2010

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Why rely on strangers for travel tips when you can ask your friends? That’s the premise behind a new feature from the Newton-based travel review site TripAdvisor that allows people to ask for recommendations from Facebook friends who have already been there, done that.

Trip Friends, which is expected to launch today, prompts users looking up reviews of Barcelona, for instance, to log in to Facebook via the TripAdvisor site. Pictures of Facebook friends who grew up in, live in, or have been to Barcelona will pop up on the screen. In addition to accessing publicly available Facebook profile information, Trip Friends incorporates Cities I’ve Visited, a popular TripAdvisor application that lets people share their travel destinations with Facebook friends.

TripAdvisor visitors can then send questions about nightlife or hotels to Barcelona-savvy friends or post a request on their Facebook wall, all without leaving TripAdvisor. The replies are saved to a special folder.

“This is really pretty compelling in the evolution of travel research,’’ said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s chief executive. “Now you can actually get the scoop from your friends who know you best.’’

The new partnership between TripAdvisor and Facebook further strengthens the link between the two companies. TripAdvisor, which has 34 million monthly visitors, recently surpassed sister site Expedia as the most-visited travel site in the world, Kaufer said. And more than half of US leisure travelers who use the Internet have profiles on the “500-million pound gorilla’’ that is Facebook, according to Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research, a market research firm based in Cambridge.

The product is “smart, creative, and relevant,’’ Harteveldt said. “It incorporates the convenience and utility of Facebook into its site. That’s good for TripAdvisor, since it helps to keep the traffic on its site while simultaneously being useful for the traveler.’’

Trip Friends is a social plug-in, a Facebook feature that more than 200,000 websites have implemented in the two months it’s been available, said Facebook’s Justin Osofsky. Facebook users can log in to CNN’s homepage, for example, to see what stories their friends are recommending.

It’s all part of Facebook’s evolution from being a social network to a service that any website or application can tap into, said Osofsky, who handles media and content partnerships for Facebook. “We’re becoming more useful,’’ he said, “and we’re allowing our users whenever they go on the Web to have people-powered experiences.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.