Is one company’s dominant position in the RV community being abused?
Online RV forums and RVing apps play an indispensable role informing the RVing community. So much so, it is difficult for me to imagine getting along without them. Many times the knowledge and expertise found online have helped me diagnose and repair problems with my RVs, ferret out camping locations or points of interest. People online have come to my aid countless times, and visa versa, motivated by the desire to help.
Despite my great appreciation for and reliance upon these online knowledge pools I have concerns about profiteers quietly buying them up and, IMHO, surreptitiously and unethically using them to their own financial advantage at the expense of the consuming public. Here I am talking about a company called Social Knowledge.
Have you heard of Social Knowledge? No? It wouldn’t surprise me, but they now own 32 of the online RV forums with fairly recent acquisitions of two biggies, iRV2.com and Campground Reviews.com (formerly RV Park Reviews). They now own:
- Forest River Forums
- Do It Yourself RV
- Airstream Forums
- Airstream Classifieds
- Fiberglass RV
- Jayco Owners
- Keystone RV Forum
- Winnebago RV Owners
- Montana Owners Club
- Crossroads RV Owners
- Wander The West
- Escape Trailer Forums
- Dutchmen Owners
- Redwood RV Owners
- Thor RV Forums
- Class B Forum
- Sportsmobile Forum
- Luxury Coach Lifestyle
- Truck Conversion
- Sunline Club
- 5th Wheel Forums
- HiLo Trailer Forum
- Vintage Airstream
- Campground Report an
- Fun Finder Club
Additionally Social Knowledge owns eight boating web sites and thirteen more assorted sites. By my math that’s 53 sites. I’m not counting the 20 plus apps they have.
It may be fair to say that Social Knowledge has something of a monopoly when it comes to online RVing forums, and if not a monopoly a dominant position. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be cause for concern. Much has been written about the potential dangers of monopolies. In fact, the US has antitrust laws that govern the abuse of monopolistic power.
I have problems with the behavior of Social Knowledge and I have written to them expressing my concerns, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. It seems they sometimes cross-promote their products without apprising the reader they are promoting their own products. This may give the appearance that they are providing an unbiased reference to another product or service when in fact they are acting in a completely biased, self-serving manner, and to the detriment of the people they supposedly serve.
For example, let’s say I had a restaurant review web site called BestRestaurants.com and I wrote a review saying JoesDiner.com was the place to go for breakfast in Morristown, and I didn’t tell you I also happened to own Joes Diner and not only that, I didn’t even mention the fact that there were other breakfast joints in Morristown… What would you think of that? That seems to me to be akin to what Social Knowledge is doing. Read on…
What would you expect from an article titled “The Best RV Trip Planning Apps For Great Adventures”? Would you expect the article to mention apps and web sites across the competitive spectrum because of their exceptional merits or would you expect a self-serving article promoting products from the publisher to the exclusion of competing products regardless of how they perform in relation to their own? I for one would expect the former. After all, the title doesn’t say “Our” best apps, it says “The” best apps. This article, published on RV Life, one of Social Knowledge’s properties, proclaims the piece as one of their “Top Stories” when it might more appropriately be listed as an Advertisement.
Only one app that Social Knowledge doesn’t own was mentioned in the article and as to the function served by that app Social Knowledge has no competing product so they really have nothing to lose by giving it a mention. That said, there was no mention by Social Knowledge that they were excluding competitive apps and websites from the article. While, based on the title of the article, the user may be led to believe it was presenting “the best apps” and not just apps from Social Knowledge, the fact is there are many competing web sites and apps they fail to mention. That’s dirty pool and deceptive marketing if you ask me. Did they once mention the trip planner on the Good Sam web site? No, they didn’t, even though it’s been around a long time, longer than RV Trip Wizard if I’m not mistaken. Did they mention the AllStays Camp & RV app and web site, perhaps the best app for RVers, or more than a half dozen other apps from AllStays? Nope. How about Campendium.com? Nope, they didn’t mention that site either. The fact that they are supposedly promoting “the best apps” but only mention their own products to the exclusion of their competition smells very fishy to me. I personally regard this as deceptive and disreputable. This is why I do not like and prefer not to support Social Knowledge, and when it comes to navigating things RV I prefer to navigate away from Social Knowledge.
While their article does say they own the RV Life and Fuelly apps they do not mention that they also own Campground Reviews which they promote in the article. Nor do they mention they have omitted many apps and websites from their competitors. The only app they do mention in their article that they do not own is Gas Buddy which doesn’t compete directly with any of their own products.
The article also fails to mention that there are RV specialized GPS units from Garmin and Magellan (also marketed under Good Sam and Rand McNally) that compete with their own RV Trip Wizard product in the area of RV navigation. While these GPS units are not web sites they remain viable options for navigation in competition with RV Trip Wizard. Remember, they refer to their piece as a Top Story, not an Advertisement.
My gripe with Social Knowledge is not that they appear to have a monopoly of RV web sites, but rather that they appear to be abusing their position, exhibiting what seems to me to be anti-competitive and deceptive behavior. What they put forward as a “Top Story”, “The Best RV Trip Planning Apps“, seems to me little more than an advertisement promoting their own products without ever mentioning others on the market. If they want to advertise fine, but if they want advertise and pretend their ad is an unbiased story or review, that’s problematic for me.
I don’t trust a company that seems to be trying to mislead me and that’s what it seems to me that Social Knowledge is doing. It seems to me they are pretending to be an advocate for my best interests when they are really putting their own interests ahead of mine, pretending to be showing me the best products when they are only showing me their own products to the exclusion of anything that competes with them. That’s not what a straight-up company should be doing, IMHO.
I would recommend AllStays Camp & RV as the go-to app for RVers. I have used it for years and would not want to be without it. I’d say look at the Good Sam Trip Planner which is free with Good Sam membership and consider a one-time purchase of a dedicated RV GPS unit over RV Trip Wizard which dings you $39 a year and unlike a GPS unit has no resale value. It also requires that you use your own hardware along with it which will tie up your phone, tablet or computer whereas a dedicated RV GPS unit leaves those free for other uses.
I use an old Garmin GPS unit I have had since 2014 and based on years of actual experience I wrote a User Report (not a bogus review) of it here. If you buy one like it (mine is no longer made) from my link to Amazon I may get a small commission. There are other RV GPS units to choose from but I haven’t used them so I cannot report on them. I prefer stand-alone, dedicated RV GPS units because you don’t need Internet or to tie up your tablet or phone in order to use them, and they are programmable with your RV’s height, weight width and length.
So, what’s the takeaway here? I guess I just want you to be aware of the position that Social Knowledge commands in the world of digital and online RV communities and to be cognizant of how they are using or abusing it–that’s up to you to decide. For me, until they change their ways–which would seem so easy to do–I’m not a fan.