Virgin Atlantic is to shut its Vtravelled social network for at least six months as it attempts to overhaul the service with an eye on loyalty rewards and gaming.
The airline announced yesterday that it would be rebuilding the site on a new platform from mid-March 2011 but only confirmed later that this would entail closing the existing service for half a year.
Details are a little sketchy but officials say the new Vtravelled will be geared more towards engaging with its frequent flyers (Flying Club), using a system being developed by social gaming company Lithium.
Virgin creative director Lysette Gauna says visitors to the new site will still be encouraged to contribute (as before) with their own photos, videos and advice, but the focus will be on establishing a better bond between the airline and users by way of loyalty points, sharing travel tips and prizes.
"We want to socialise the Flying Club we have at Virgin," she says. "The best bits of the original Vtravelled will be retained, such as the Tripods idea and Virgin destination content."
After almost two years of talking up the service (it launched in June 2009), Virgin officials are now admitting that some elements of the original proposition did not work as originally hoped.
Gauna will not disclose how many members have so far joined the site - in December 2009 (when Virgin said it was developing a new version of the site) there were around 1,650 members with a public profile, a figure which has "certainly increased a lot" since.
"We were quite early to market with Vtravelled," admits Gauna when asked if Vtravelled had been deemed a success, conceding that since 2009, Facebook and its fan pages have moved into the space where many companies expected (and hoped) their own social networks would grow.
Gauna says the company is trying to "look forward, rather than back" with the new Lithium system, pointing to how they realised that they wanted "credible mass not critical mass".
"We will still be engaging with our members via the blog," Gauna says, although concedes closing the site for six months will see it missing out on content from its existing members.
The platforms (the original was built by Vexed Digital) are fundamentally different, Gauna says to explain the reason for the temporary closure of Vtravelled.
One issue that has hung around the Vtravelled concept since its launch is the absence of Virgin Atlantic sister company Virgin Holidays from the project.
The tour operating brand has since developed its own user generated content platform through Digital Visitor, but is apparently keen on either utilising or combining Vtravelled at some point - "there is a will and an interest in us working together," Gauna says.