VibeAgent is a just-launched hotel search site based in Charlottesville, Virginia. There's a number of things worth noting about this startup; travel search may be a crowded space but the web is young and the game is not over yet.
Another Travel Site?Think no one you know will join one more random travel website? The Silicon Valley buzz around still-private beta travel site Dopplr should quiet cynics. There's plenty of room for innovation and no market lead is safe.
Do you wonder how a web 2.0 site from Virginia can gain enough traction to do anything meaningful? Check out the success story of Webmail.us, another Virginia based startup that charged users a subscription fee and saw huge growth before being acquired by Rackspace this fall.
VibeAgent says it's got 120,000 hotels in its index, which it claims is bigger than Expedia's. Its use of social search to go through that index is interesting; both members of any group you've joined and people whose characteristics are similar to yours effect your search results disproportionately.
Fortunately, VibeAgent is a good example of a social site that offers value even before reaching network-effect numbers of users. Search is already good and the site just launched.
The UI offers some model elements. Specifically, large avatars and point-and-click search refining. Big avatars lead to face recognition, an empathy-based sense of community and the opposite of squinting. You might think that large avatars are no big deal, but if so you'd be wrong.
VibeAgent's attractive advanced search UI, which lets you click on big buttons to add traits you desire in your search results or double click on those buttons to exclude those traits from your results, is very nice as well.
VibeAgent may feel overly social and the scrolling sidebars you'll see on the site may feel like a bit much - but on its first day open to the public, I think this site looks strong.