Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An intelligent travel assistant

It was way back in 1985 I first began exploring the use of AI expert systems to automate the travel process. At that time a close friend worked for Mad Intelligent Systems in Santa Clara California. I was at United Airlines and I already had a thirst for emerging technology. I believed that automating the travel process would be made easier. This belief was reinforced when I viewed the Knowledge Navigator video that was presented by John Scully of Apple at MacWorld in 1989. I also have spoke about intelligent agents for travel in my blog post from October 2006

Technology Review (published by MIT) cites Intelligent Software Assistants being one of the major trends to watch in 2009. In that article it mentions a new Silicon Valley startup named Siri which is a spin off of research done at SRI International for the DOD.

When online travel was first introduced, the theme promoted by many OTAs was an automated travel agent. Of course this was nothing more than marketing spin as no OTA uses expert systems to enhance the travel planning and booking process. In addition firms such as Rearden Commerce, Trip Chiill and Manticpoint all have used the marketing theme of an intelligent travel assistant. I applaud their efforts, but I still believe the ultimate travel assistant that can act like the Knowledge Navigator is still unrealized and I am hopeful with firms such as Siri, true intelligent travel assistants will emerge over the next few years.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yelp deleting negative reviews for a fee?

Some reports have surfaced from local media about complaints from local merchants that Yelp is willing to remove negative reviews for a fee. I do not know whether these reports are accurate and reflect an overall Yelp strategy or whether there are rogue Yelp! sales reps offering this service to boost their own volumes. It should be noted that Yelp denies these allegation and states that their reps don't even have the ability to edit reviews.

There is a challenge at any Web 2.0 site to balance the open submission of user reviews with the need to police the reviews to avoid companies from trashing their competitors. As user feedback volumes increase and become more instantaneous with consumers s reading or leaving reviews through their mobile devices, managing review contact will become even more challenging. Location based services will continue to expand and promoting discounts at local restaurants is a key service desired by frequent travelers per our recent PhoCusWright research:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How will Twitter impact the Travel Industry?

In spite of tough economic times, the microblogging site Twitter continues to receive funding. I have to admit that even though I have a passion around all things related to emerging technologies, I have had some trouble understanding how Twitter fits into the mix and how it can impact the travel industry. That recently became much clearer.

The concept of microblogging began in March of 2006 when Facebook introduced status updates. Twitter came along in July of 2006. In May of 2008, Twitter raised 15 million and another $35 million in February 2009. Considering current economic conditions, many VCs still see an opportunity.

In an article on Techcrunch Erik Schonfeld begins with this question. " What if you could peer into the thoughts of millions of people as they were thinking those thoughts or shortly thereafter?" He goes on to state that Twitter is the "crude beginnings of the "now" search engine."

Mining twitter feeds may provide some insight, but from my perspective the interesting thing about Twitter is not so much the content but the influence the individual can have on any given subject provided enough people follow the person's tweets. To me the main issue is around reputation within a social network.

Twitter's impact was felt in a big way in late 2007 when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook was being interviewed by Sarah Lacy of Business Week at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. The audience did not like the way Ms. Lacy was treating Mr. Zuckerberg and they immediately let the world know through Twitter.

The relationship between Twitter and blogging is also important. A blog allows a subject to be discussed in detail. A tweet can point to a blog article. Also I believe Twitter on mobile devices is a great match between device and application. Even with the most advanced smartphones, writing a blog entry on a mobile device is challenging. Writing a tweet on a smartphone is easy.

So what impact will Twitter and its corporate enterprise siblings, such as Yammer, have on the travel industry? The bottom line is that if a given individual has a strong opinion about something, the world soon learns this view provided the person has established themselves as a thought leader in the an industry sector or within the company. This has obvious implications for both suppliers and intermediaries in the travel industry. Long gone are the days of responding to customer complaints through standard form letters. People will voice their opinion immediately on Twitter and if they have a strong following, a given travel vendor's product or service may be impacted by this influential person. As Twitter style applications come to the enterprise, influential tweets from key corporate players can also have a significant impact provided the person has a significant following within the company.

I have just begun to tweet myself and I hope to use the effort to provide some more instantaneous feedback on industry events.

Monday, February 09, 2009

It all about the App Stores

Apple launched its App store in March of 2008 permanently changing the way mobile applications are distributed. Today there are over 15,000 apps in the iPhone store, but there's a lot more to come....

New app stores have been announced from RIM Blackberry, T-Mobile and Google. There has also been some speculation that both Microsoft and Nokia may be launching apps stores.
So what does this mean to the travel industry? Sometime in the not to distant future we may be looking at over 100,000 downloadable applications available from a variety of sources. The percentage of applications that fall into the travel, location based services and navigation categories will likely be high. The travel industry needs to create applications today for the current app stores from Apple, RIM Blackberry and T-Mobile. These apps should not simply be retreads of their current Website but include innovative ways to combine location, context and personalization into delivering unique value to the business and leisure traveler.