Thursday, May 31, 2007

Working with 3rd party software developers

I found it interesting that two prominent software companies (if you can call a GDS a software company) one within the travel industry, Sabre, the other the poster child for social computing, Myspace, have both recently come out with rules (or lack of) regarding 3rd party software developers that hook into their systems. In the case of Sabre, there has been a lot recent press around the new fees Sabre is now charging 3rd party applications such as Booking Builder. For Myspace the issue is one of widgets used by third parts to embed content inside their site. The most common example is Youtube whose growth as a company's was significantly driven by MySpace.

In a recent blog entry by Josh Kopelman, Managing Director of First Round Capital (which was also carried on the Always On Network), Josh compared MySpace's lack of a clear "widget road map" to that of Prodigy. "
This brings back memories from the early days of the Internet, when companies like Prodigy and AOL were the only online services in town. Despite the launch of the web browser (which unleashed the creation of millions of web sites), AOL and Prodigy initially focused on maintaining their proprietary online environment and controlling everything on their site." "Myspace does not have a formal development program and has blocked several widgets , (and) built their own widgets to compete in certain areas." In contrast, Facebook, Myspace's chief competitor has announced a new development platform encouraging 3rd party applications that work with their site.

Though I recognize that contrasting Sabre's actions to that of Myspace is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, but the end result is similar with each company trying to protect what they perceive as their proprietary competitive advantage. Like Myspace, Sabre is blocking some third party development , while promoting their own alternative tools (based on Agentware). Hopefully one of the other GDS (Galileo, Amadeus are you listening?) will learn from the Myspace / Facebook battle and take an opposite stance from Sabre, promoting and supporting 3rd party development tools.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Digital Public Space Advertising

I am fan of the 2002 sci-fi movie Minority Report. In the film Tom Cruise is bombarded by digital advertising as he walks through a crowded mall. The ads are triggered by a retina scan personalizing the offering to respond to the character's specific needs. (In the case of the film, Tom Cruise actually replaced his eyes with another character's so the ads reflect that person's preferences).

A recent article in Always On talked about the emergence of adverting in public spaces such as NYC taxi cabs. Combining that with the growth of Behavioral Targeting, the world described in Minority Report is rapidly emerging. Each generation has become more desensitized to the onslaught of media. My 16 year old son is perfectly happy doing his homework, responding to multiple IM messages all while listing to his favorite tunes. I have no doubt that his current ability to manage multiple media inputs will allow him to handle the coming onslaught of personalized advertising. The growth of public space advertising over the next 5 years will be dramatic.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Desktop tools

I met some representatives from OTOlabs at the recent TravelCom conference in Las Vegas in April. Desktop tools such as the Southwest's DING! application have clearly proven their value in creating a more intimate relationship with customers. OTOlabs' is the developer of ThinkDesktop applications such as Vail Resorts' SnowMate. I worked with Vail Resorts (as part of a PhoCusWright engagement) back in 2005. The SnowMate application is a critical tool Vail has successfully used to bond with their best customers. The Southwest DING! application had over 1 million downloads the first six months. Southwest delivers daily messages on special promotions to the desktop of millions of customers reinforcing their image as a low fare leader and bonding the customer to the Southwest brand.

I am a strong believer that providing a small desktop application to deliver personalized information to your customer is an essential component of a Travel 2.0 strategy. To my surprise the OTOlabs folks indicated that other airlines have been very slow to embrace this concept. This is truly baffling considering the transparency of the Web and desire of airlines to develop a closer bond with their best customers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Service Oriented Architectures

A lot has been written over the last three years about the topic of a service oriented architectures (SOA). The concept refers to a more flexible way to create software using Web services. Rather than creating tightly coupled code that bounds specific functionality within the application, software written using SOA principles creates loosely coupled components that can easily be removed or altered without impacting the entire application. "SOA turns monolithic inflexible applications into hundreds, even thousands of small flexible applications" Gartner research estimates that by 2008, more than 60% of enterprises will use SOA as a “guiding principle” when creating mission-critical applications and processes.”

Understanding the underlying architecture of software has always been a difficult task for a variety of buyers in the travel value chain. Whether it is a corporate travel manager evaluating self-booking software or a leisure travel agency looking at reservation technology, the need to evaluate the underlying software architecture has never been greater.

Often vendors confuse the issue by stressing their use of Web services. Utilizing Web services to connect to disparate sources of content has become the norm in the last 3-4 years. Just because an application uses Web services for connectivity does not mean the software has been written using a SOA approach. As an example, a major hotel chain still uses a mainframe running TPF (an old operating system created by IBM for the GDS) as their central reservation platform. The company has created a Web services layer to aid in the communication with property based system and external channel distributors. This is obviously a good use of Web services but does not reflect a service-oriented architecture. If this chain wanted to do a complete revision of their rate structure, the antiquated mainframe approach would lead to a nightmare of programming tasks. If this application was built using SOA, an overall rate revision would be done with less pain, implemented faster and would not disrupt other modules of the reservation process. Unfortunately for this supplier, SOA theories were not around in the 1970's when the core reservation system was built.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wireless Travel Applications

Last week I was interviewed by USA Today Weekend regarding mobile technology for the traveler. The premise of the call was focused on the prevalence of IPODs among travelers. The reporter asked some specific questions about downloading audio blogs for use by leisure travelers. The obvious application would allow the provider to segment the traveler population into special interest groups. A guided city tour for a history buff may be quite different from a couple looking for gourmet restaurants. Our conversation went beyond this point to encompass all types of gadgets now carried by frequent leisure or corporate travelers. I mentioned that last year I wrote an article for the PhoCusWright GDX technology subscription service on the hotel room of tomorrow. A common theme within that article is the emergence of multi-media stations in hotel rooms where travelers could hook up their MP3, digital camera or laptop and view the content on new HDTV sets. As always I am interested in any new application being deployed by travel suppliers or intermediaries that enhances the travel experience. If you know of some interesting apps, please let me know.