TripAdvisor Update

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jkarennj

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As most PAII members and blog followers know, for nearly two years I have been meeting with TripAdvisor about the B&B industry’s issues with their web site. With tens of millions of visitors each month, there has been no question about the importance of their system to even the smallest B&Bs around the continent and beyond. It is in our industry’s interest that I meet with them and share our perspective on a host of issues. I met with senior members of their team on May 20th at their offices outside Boston, and here is my “brief” report on the issues we discussed.
Keep in mind that the issues below represent a portion of the ongoing matters we discuss. There are some larger issues at play (i.e. not requiring proof of stay from the reviewer when an innkeeper protests a fraudulent review) that we will often discuss, but the list I try to bring to the table involves impactful issues that I think could be changed in the near or foreseeable future, if our case is compelling enough.

Availability Search
Issue:
95% of B&B/Inns don’t offer online inventory to TA’s commerce partners. It’s likely a lot of people use the availability search tool when doing a generic search. Travelers will see 0% of B&B/Inns available in nearly 100% of search results – leads them to think no B&B/Inns are really available, since they may not be aware it is both date-sensitive and only shows properties with inventory on sites like Expedia. People see TripAdvisor as a site for ALL properties, not just those paying to provide online availability. It’s not intuitive for people to click the “Not confirmed” radio button to see all B&B/Inns regardless of availability. It appears that all Vacation Rentals appear, even though availability is not confirmed.
Suggestion:
Treat B&B/Inns the same as you do Vacation Rentals. Allow the traveler to “Contact Manager” to inquire about availability. Or change the “Confirmed v. Not Confirmed” language to something more indicative of the true availability situation. Or build an API integration with B&B availability systems to capture availability data.
Update:
TA reps acknowledged this is an issue, but they also said that those who show up in the availability search results are paying a premium (through commissions to Expedia, Hotels.com, etc). On one hand, I get their point. Those who pay more, get more. But, when 95% of an industry is left out, there should be a solution. We discussed the possibility of bridging their availability system with systems that aggregate B&B availability data (i.e. RezStream, Webervations, RezOvation, SuperInn, Reservation Nexus, Availability Online, BookingCenter, Innkeepers Advantage, etc.) and bypass the GDS platform. It wouldn’t necessarily be a live booking opportunity, but rather a sharing of availability data, so that most B&Bs with available rooms would show up in the results set. The guest could contact the innkeeper directly to make a booking. The TA staff is interested in this idea; their CEO said the same at our New England conference last fall. No promises on this one, but this may be discussed behind closed doors at their HQ in the coming weeks. There certainly has to be a good business case for it, and I’m quite confident one could be made.
“Map this Hotel” Link
Issue:
This link on most B&B/Inn pages leads to an Expedia map that doesn’t show the B&B/Inn property anywhere on a map. The B&B/Inn only shows if that property happens to give inventory to Expedia. This might be about 5% of all B&B/Inns. Using the “Map this Hotel” is “bait and switch” for 95% of B&B/Inns. And, it’s a bad customer experience. They’re expecting to see a map of that B&B/Inn. Another strange thing is that some properties have the link at the top, and others don’t.
Suggestion:
Any one of a few options are better for both the property and the visitor.
  1. Make it much more obvious on this map where the property in question is actually located.
  2. If they’re not on Expedia, show a Google map instead when the link is clicked.
  3. Omit the link altogether if the property is not offering inventory on Expedia, and omit the “bait and switch.”
  4. Change name of link to something more accurate, such as “Map of Area.”
Update:
While I was at the office, I had their team click on the link to show what I was talking about. We discovered that there was not even a crosshair symbol to mark where the address in question was, which used to be the case. So, the Map this Link feature is useless and misleading for B&B/Inns that are not on Expedia. To their credit, they said they would look into this, because it’s not a good user experience. But, some form of a map that shows nearby properties on sites like Expedia will likely remain because it’s a revenue source.
Average Price per Night Display
Issue:
Some B&B/Inns display an average rate, and others do not. Oftentimes the average rate displayed is incorrect by a large margin. This misinformation could cause some properties to lose business. There has never been a clear answer on how an innkeeper can get this information corrected, if it’s wrong. Why does it show on some B&B/Inns, but not others?
Suggestion:
Only display if it’s a real-time feed from live inventory information. Or, allow innkeepers to edit the price – they’ll always want it to be accurate. Or display as a price range – many inns have both inexpensive and expensive rooms.
Update:
This is an area that still seems to be a bit cloudy. If a property is engaging in commerce with an online commerce partner (like Expedia), the system pulls data into TA that reveals an average of prices being offered on those sites – in one fashion or another. Again, this is still a bit confusing to me. If you do not provide live data to a commerce partner, then some third-party system is able to find your rates (maybe scanned on your availability calendars?) and averaged for your TA listing. Then there are some properties that don’t show any average rate. I’m not sure anything will be changed about this. If an innkeeper finds the displayed rate is way off, they can contact TA for a fix.
Missing B&B/Inn Reviews
Issue:
On “Tourism Pages” and attraction pages (“Things to Do”), only hotel reviews are displayed on the “Recently Reviewed” box on the left bar.
Suggestion:
Include B&B/Inns wherever there is a collection of reviews of lodging properties.
Update:
I was wrong. There is a formula used for displaying hotel or B&B/Inn reviews in these boxes. In cities where B&B/Inns outnumber hotels, you’re more likely going to see B&B/Inn reviews than hotel reviews. I must have been testing the site in cities where hotels far outnumber B&B/Inns. So, they’ve taken into account the local ratio of B&Bs-to-hotels for this, which is good. They do the same for the “Top Rate” hotels and B&Bs on Tourism Pages. In cities where B&B/Inns outnumber hotels, “Top Rated B&Bs/Inns” show before “Top Rated Hotels.” This makes for a better user experience, because users are more likely looking for a B&B/Inn in those cities.
Ubiquitous Use of “Hotels”
Issue:
The word “hotels” is used throughout the site as the least common denominator term for all kinds of lodging. B&B/Inns are not hotels, but we are found only behind the word “hotels.” It puts first in the mind of the traveler to consider or only look for hotels. An innkeeper summed it up well in an email to me:
A bed and breakfast is not a hotel, and should never be confused as one. A hotel has an operator and front desk that is open 24/7, a bed and breakfast does not. A hotel always accepts walk-in customers at any hour of the day or not, a bed and breakfast does not. A hotel may offer a “breakfast buffet or breakfast bar”, a bed and breakfast offers gourmet meals prepared fresh each morning. Whenever I get a call late at night and I am feeling generous by offering to get out of bed to accommodate a guest, I am usually rewarded by preparing a breakfast for people who decide they would rather sleep in. What’s more is that my rates reflect the extra work and amenities I provide. I constantly get phone calls from guests concerned only with the price. When I try to explain that a bed and breakfast is, by nature, not a hotel, I am informed that I should not be listed under hotels. So, long story short, it would be helpful if TripAdvisor did not list my property in a way that misleads the customer. It is a disservice to me and a disservice to the customer.
Another innkeeper said:
We send a follow-up message to every guest and in it put a request that they place a review on TripAdvisor and/or BedandBreakfast.com. I can't tell you the number of people who tell us "I didn't know you could review B&B's on Trip Advisor, I thought it was only for Hotels." The majority of these folks are from the over 50 generation who aren't as computer literate as the younger folks and won't go past the first page to find out that B&Bs are listed and reviewable.
Suggestion:
Use Accommodations, Lodging or Hotels/B&B/Inns instead. Or, add “B&B/Inns” to the top and side bars where “Hotels” and “Vacation Rentals” are shown.
Update:
This might be a losing battle, folks. The TA staff say that “hotels” is an overall much better term for generic lodging searches. They say it translates better for the international crowd. And, TA is heavily into the SEO game and seem to have their site optimized around the term “hotels.” Maybe rather than asking them to change the ubiquitous term, they should consider getting “B&Bs/Inns” listed beside “Hotels” and “Vacation Rentals” on some of the prime real estate areas of their site. We’re listed side-by-side once someone hits the “Hotels” link for a particular city, but to get more people thinking about B&B/Inns as a legitimate FIRST option, rather than a SECONDARY option, we should be seen more easily. More innkeepers would likely patronize TA’s Business Listings program, if we were brought out of the woodwork.
Not All Reviewers are the Same
Issue:
Someone who didn’t stay at a property can review elements such as cleanliness, rooms, sleep quality and value. Doesn’t seem fair to the property owner, because it likely impacts their rating/scores on TripAdvisor.
Suggestion:
Ask the question “Did you stay here?” If the answer is no, remove part of the survey that only someone who stayed there would have experienced.
Update:
The TA technical staff that was at our meeting liked my approach to this issue. He said it made a lot of sense and would talk to his folks more about it.
Dates of Stay and Review Gap
Issue:
TripAdvisor currently allows people to leave reviews up to three years between date of stay and date of review. There are two problems with posting a review of an experience that was long ago. First, allowing such a gap between stay and review will allow for more inaccurate reviews. When the moniker says, “Reviews you can trust,” how trustworthy can someone’s memory be 36 months later? Secondly, reviews of old stays shouldn’t be seen as “new” reviews. Currently, the new review will automatically be listed chronologically by date of review, NOT date of stay, so it could come up first on the list. A visitor to the site might easily mistake it as a review of a recent stay, if he or she doesn’t pay close attention and find the “date of stay” information. Anyone who takes time to author a review 3 years after they stayed is likely either on a vendetta or is being asked to stack the deck.
Suggestion:
When someone leaves a review today of a stay from 8 months ago, the review should automatically be listed in chronological order by date of stay – not date of review. Limit the time delay between a date of stay and date of review to one year.
Update:
Their technical folks said they would look into making the date of stay more obvious on the review. Sounds like they might not be interested in changing this particular policy. They couldn’t confirm or deny if a recent review of an old stay was treated like a new review or old review when it comes to the algorithm used for the Popularity Index. They did counter my hypothesis that anyone writing a review today of a stay 2 years ago was on the attack with the possibility that maybe the guest wants to share a story about a fantastic stay. True. Nevertheless, even though I don’t think it’s a big issue for B&B/Inns or hotels, I think the gap should be shortened even more.
Business Listings
Issue:
The hyperlink, which costs between $300 and $500 this year with various discounts ($600 - $1,000 next year?) is a “no-follow” link, meaning the innkeeper gets no SEO help from the link. Some internet marketers in our industry will tell innkeepers that if the link was a “follow” link, the annual price might be worth it, even if no one clicks on it, simply for the “link juice” from such a well-ranked site. On the same token, the widgets and badges TripAdvisor wants B&B/Inns to use on their web sites have“follow” links back to TripAdvisor, and won’t work if you try making them “no-follow.” Meaning, TA is getting “link juice” from you by you having the widgets on your site. Even with this, I still like seeing TA and BedandBreakfast.com widgets on B&B web sites.
Suggestion:
Remove “no follow” from hyperlink code. Earn some goodwill. No other paid listing services in our industry have “no-follow” links.
Update:
No changes are likely on this one, at least in the short term. TA competes with the very properties on their site in the SEO world. For example, if you search for “Swiss Woods B&B” on Google, of course the Swiss Woods web site is ranked first in the organic listings. But not far below it is the TA page for Swiss Woods, right there on page 1. Obviously TA is hoping people will click on their link too, if not instead. I don’t necessarily hold a grudge against them for this; after all, their business was partly built on successful SEO implementation. Nevertheless, I wonder how negatively their SEO strategy vis-à-vis small B&B properties would really be impacted by taking the “no follow” code out of these links. I don’t think there would be any noticeable impact. As TA continues to press our industry to get on the Business Listings train (which PAII has promoted this year in a 50% deal with TA, and TA continues to advertise the program through our web site and email newsletters), finding more ways to increase the value of the paid listing will be important. They are adding value to the program in other ways, which is great, so maybe this won’t be much of an issue in the long run. Nevertheless, I’m not sure the folks at TA saw this one coming. Despite this issue, I still think the Business Listings program is worth signing up for this year and capturing traffic that might have left your TA listing and not returned.
Star Rating
Issue:
Some B&B/Inns have a star rating next to their name, and some don’t. There is no explanation as to what this means, except for it saying “Hotel Class” on the property page (but not on the listings page). Is it quality? What criteria is used? This could certainly be misleading, when everything else around them on this page hints to either user ratings or scoring. Everyone sitting around our table knew that the star rating has to do with the type of property and services offered – not quality. For example, a 3-star property (which most B&B/Inns are) do not have restaurants, but 4-star properties do. And since everything around the page has to do with quality or ratings (the reviews, scores, Traveler Rating, Popularity Index, etc.), it is easy to see why someone might think that a particular B&B/Inn is ranked 3 out of 5 stars based on scores and ratings. It is confusing and possibly misleading.
Suggestion:
Remove it for B&B/Inns (it seems only about 1 in 20 or so have the stars), or have a quick, accessible link to explain what it means.
Update:
The TA staff said they would look into somehow adding an explanation on their site about the “Hotel Class” system.
Do reviews marked as “helpful” get more weight in the Popularity Index?
Issue:
A question was recently brought to me – do negative reviews get marked as “helpful” more often by travelers than positive reviews? TA allows travelers to rate other reviews as “helpful,” and you can see how often a particular review has been rated as such. My instinct tells me that negative reviews are more often rated as “helpful,” because these reviews more likely reveal information about an experience that helped other travelers in their research, and maybe ultimately avoid a property. Positive reviews might provide details that are similarly found in other positive reviews, i.e. the breakfast was great, the beds were comfy, etc. I suppose for highly-ranked properties on TA, travelers expect to see such comments, thereby rendering those reviews as not as helpful as the occasional negative review. This in itself is not really much of an issue, except when I place it in the context of the Popularity Index, which has a complicated, secret formula behind it. I wondered out loud to the TA staff if reviews that are rated as “helpful” by more travelers weigh more in the algorithm of their Popularity Index.
Suggestion:
Because negative reviews might be more often ranked as “helpful”, don’t allow the “helpful” count to impact the Popularity Index. If it does, then it stands to reason that negative reviews might be more impactful on the Popularity Index than positive reviews.
Update:
This was a new one to the TA staff, so they didn’t have much of a response. Plus, when it comes to the Popularity Index, they are often tight-lipped. I asked if they could do a little internal research to find out if in fact within the total count of reviews that were rated as “helpful”, if the negative reviews are more often rated as “helpful” than positive reviews. I don’t think this is a major issue, but you can possibly see why a helpful, negative review could be quite damaging. And, since false or embellished negative reviews can still get past their fraud detectors, it’s important to keep tabs on these kinds of things.
Conclusion
Well folks, that’s it for now. I continue to give the staff at TA a lot of credit for having spent several half-days with me going over our laundry list of issues. Over time, they have made some changes and always earnestly listen to what we have to say. In order to stay relevant to both their traveler base and the property owners, they have to be ever-changing, ever-improving. I like to think of our little visits as helping them in that quest, but at the same time bringing as much parity to B&B/Inns as possible.
They have recently restructured some of their internal teams, so that property owners will get more dedicated staff for their needs and interests, as well (I imagine) to solicit more participation in Business Listings. This is good; they realize more and more the importance of keeping the property owners happy. If innkeepers are happy, they are probably more likely to use and promote TA in their marketing strategies. The more our industry is seen as a both a strong segment of the lodging universe, as well as a revenue source in their business model, the more important our meetings will become.
There is a reason you see TripAdvisor at the Innkeeping conferences and trade shows, advertising their services in our magazine, etc. They deem B&B/Inns and innkeepers as an important customer base. Therefore, our dialogue will continue and I’m guessing you’ll see many more changes as the months and years come.
Not a member of PAII? I encourage you to join and support the association and our efforts. We're the only association, as far as I know, as deeply committed to working with entities like TripAdvisor on behalf of the B&B industry. Your support is vital, and we deliver a fantastic portfolio of benefits and education in return. Go to www.innkeeping.org to learn more.
 

Innkeep

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Thanks Jay for the time you've spent on this issue and your ability to distill the concerns of such a diverse bunch of innkeepers into a form that TA staff can understand. It's nice to feel like PAII is an organization with some teeth. Keep up the good work.
 

JBloggs

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Appreciate the update. Will read it thoroughly with my cuppa this afternoon.
 

egoodell

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Thanks Jay for the time you've spent on this issue and your ability to distill the concerns of such a diverse bunch of innkeepers into a form that TA staff can understand. It's nice to feel like PAII is an organization with some teeth. Keep up the good work..
Appreciate your hard work, Jay!
Riki
 

Copperhead

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Jay, thanks for being the voice of our industry. I am glad I (finally) joined PAii.
You are making a very big dent in what we as individual small businesses would have never succeeded in making a scratch. Keep chipping away!
 

Morticia

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Thanks, Jay. Appreciate the update and the work you're doing in speaking with TA.
 

YellowSocks

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Thanks Jay.
Just now I did a search in TA for Ashland, Ohio and it was all I could do to find the B&B's. They do NOT make it easy!!
It seems to me I'd read a newletter type thing from TA that said that if a town had fewer than 20 lodging choices then the B&B's would be lumped together with the hotels. That is not happing in Ashland... 5 hotels, 2 B&B's, and we're almost impossible to find!
There's even an old forum where someone tried to post a review for us and couldn't find where to do it!
We really appreciate your work on this!
=)
Kk.
 

Joey Camb

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I don't know why trip adviser should have a problem with this as under the UK stuff it is divided into B&B's and hotels so you would think it would be the same in the USA. However we are having a problem in the UK with self catering as there isn't a category for that. You would think they would put us all under accomodation and then sub divide? would be the easyist.
 

Copperhead

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I don't know why trip adviser should have a problem with this as under the UK stuff it is divided into B&B's and hotels so you would think it would be the same in the USA. However we are having a problem in the UK with self catering as there isn't a category for that. You would think they would put us all under accomodation and then sub divide? would be the easyist..
Camb, just looked at TA for your city and the UK breakdown is done the same as the US. You first have to select "HOTELS" for the city then all the hotels pop up... Too many people do not see that there are other tabs to be choosen under this heading.
What B&B's are saying is that we should have a seperate tab like the Vacation Rentals (aka Holiday Rentals on the UK site) and Restaurants etc. OR a change in wording using a more general term such as Lodging or Accommodations instead of the word Hotels.
 

jkarennj

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Thanks Jay.
Just now I did a search in TA for Ashland, Ohio and it was all I could do to find the B&B's. They do NOT make it easy!!
It seems to me I'd read a newletter type thing from TA that said that if a town had fewer than 20 lodging choices then the B&B's would be lumped together with the hotels. That is not happing in Ashland... 5 hotels, 2 B&B's, and we're almost impossible to find!
There's even an old forum where someone tried to post a review for us and couldn't find where to do it!
We really appreciate your work on this!
=)
Kk..
Hi Kk...
Here is where you'll see hotels and B&Bs mixed together:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g29938-Ashland_Ohio-Vacations.html
It's called a "Tourism Page," which basically is their page for any particular city.
I don't think it's incredibly difficult to find B&Bs in general, but when using the "Plan the Perfect Trip" box, which requires that you enter dates of stay, THAT is when B&Bs disappear.
I'm noticing a few small changes that make B&Bs more noticeable.
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time... :)
Jay
 

Innkeeper To Go

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Thanks Jay.
Just now I did a search in TA for Ashland, Ohio and it was all I could do to find the B&B's. They do NOT make it easy!!
It seems to me I'd read a newletter type thing from TA that said that if a town had fewer than 20 lodging choices then the B&B's would be lumped together with the hotels. That is not happing in Ashland... 5 hotels, 2 B&B's, and we're almost impossible to find!
There's even an old forum where someone tried to post a review for us and couldn't find where to do it!
We really appreciate your work on this!
=)
Kk..
Hi Kk...
Here is where you'll see hotels and B&Bs mixed together:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g29938-Ashland_Ohio-Vacations.html
It's called a "Tourism Page," which basically is their page for any particular city.
I don't think it's incredibly difficult to find B&Bs in general, but when using the "Plan the Perfect Trip" box, which requires that you enter dates of stay, THAT is when B&Bs disappear.
I'm noticing a few small changes that make B&Bs more noticeable.
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time... :)
Jay
.
A very big improvement. It's not that B&Bs were difficult to find the old way. It's that they generally only came up when requested, even in areas where B&Bs outnumber hotels.
This levels the playing field. Very much an improvement.
Thanks.
 

Joey Camb

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I don't know why trip adviser should have a problem with this as under the UK stuff it is divided into B&B's and hotels so you would think it would be the same in the USA. However we are having a problem in the UK with self catering as there isn't a category for that. You would think they would put us all under accomodation and then sub divide? would be the easyist..
Camb, just looked at TA for your city and the UK breakdown is done the same as the US. You first have to select "HOTELS" for the city then all the hotels pop up... Too many people do not see that there are other tabs to be choosen under this heading.
What B&B's are saying is that we should have a seperate tab like the Vacation Rentals (aka Holiday Rentals on the UK site) and Restaurants etc. OR a change in wording using a more general term such as Lodging or Accommodations instead of the word Hotels.
.
I am all for changing to Accomodation as it would then pop up with all the options which would perhaps lead people who had not thought of B&B to us all
 

Morticia

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They did counter my hypothesis that anyone writing a review today of a stay 2 years ago was on the attack with the possibility that maybe the guest wants to share a story about a fantastic stay. True. Nevertheless, even though I don’t think it’s a big issue for B&B/Inns or hotels, I think the gap should be shortened even more.
I am curious about the allowing of reviews more than a few months after the stay, say 6 months tops. I question this as someone here in town now has a brand new review from a stay 12 months ago and it is not a good review. Frankly, it is something of a 'we didn't like you and now we're getting back at you when you probably don't remember who we are' kind of review.
I just got a review fron someone who stayed years ago and left a review then. I don't need 2 reviews from the same person saying similar things. And I don't get why they decided NOW was the time to do a second review.
If the guest had nothing to say in 6 months, then they had nothing to say. There is no sense in allowing reviews years after the fact for any reason other than TA getting more reviews on their site.
Altho, now that I know this, I may just go review a place I stayed where we were denied heat and the food was burned. I just let it go. But why should I?
 

Joey Camb

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Long and short I think people blatently do not have enough to do!
 

EmptyNest

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They did counter my hypothesis that anyone writing a review today of a stay 2 years ago was on the attack with the possibility that maybe the guest wants to share a story about a fantastic stay. True. Nevertheless, even though I don’t think it’s a big issue for B&B/Inns or hotels, I think the gap should be shortened even more.
I am curious about the allowing of reviews more than a few months after the stay, say 6 months tops. I question this as someone here in town now has a brand new review from a stay 12 months ago and it is not a good review. Frankly, it is something of a 'we didn't like you and now we're getting back at you when you probably don't remember who we are' kind of review.
I just got a review fron someone who stayed years ago and left a review then. I don't need 2 reviews from the same person saying similar things. And I don't get why they decided NOW was the time to do a second review.
If the guest had nothing to say in 6 months, then they had nothing to say. There is no sense in allowing reviews years after the fact for any reason other than TA getting more reviews on their site.
Altho, now that I know this, I may just go review a place I stayed where we were denied heat and the food was burned. I just let it go. But why should I?.
Heck I 'd put it on TA..that was a bad experience and I would have done it a long time ago. Get an alias in gmail if you don't already have one :)
 

birdwatcher

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Thanks for that article..and you would think people have common sense You can't please all the people all the time and two years is WAY TOO long for someone to write a review I think 6 months should be the cut off if not sooner...I think that if you don't write something within the month you are back then don't write anything at all.
 
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