Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Co-ordinating Physical Resources: Some Thoughts

I was in the UK recently and needed to go from plane, to train, underground and taxi, all within a particular timeframe. Although I left home with a plan, inevitably something will change: a meeting is longer or shorter than expected, or an opportunity to take another meeting presents itself. Many 2.0 companies look at "cheapest ticket" solutions, ( but I think there is a whole other market out there. If I could buy a "Live Ticket", I would. It would tell me that "the next train is 2 miles from here, or 20 minutes by cab (do you want to book a cab, do you want to check train availability etc.). It would be linked between transport systems ("your train is on time"), it would push a text or call to me that allowed me query ( al la, contained a weblink, or put me through to help desk). Even a simple 2.0 service that allowed me to set up my journey in advance (on Google Maps?) and then texted me with updates as to the current status of my plan, or "next train", "Next plane", and gave me "options" at the end, this would dramatically improve my current experience. If these options are push (appropriate time, place and mode of course), it would decrease the stress and pressure of travel, i.e. it would have strong psychological selling points. It could dynamically "suggest" that I "re-schedule outbound flight at this point in time", it might have learned that I do not like to have less than 45mins at the airport prior to flight time or base it on an evaluation of optimum price : value : risk profile that I have. To those that follow the online space, this all sounds pretty "semantic web". But it doesn't have to be that hard, I think. What would participating companies get for participating in opening up their data? Everything. I don't buy flights, I buy "on time attendance at meetings", (paying for predictable and reliable flights); I buy "ability to take a speculative meeting" (due to low price point); I buy the total cost of getting me to that meeting. A vendor like Blackberry/Nokia with a simple Google Maps application could be pretty much ready to go "out of the box". And it is very much in the telco's interest to enable this as volume of interactions would be exponential. I think we are going to see a lot more of this kind of thinking in the next two years as companies find their train times, flight times, reviews etc. mashed into other services. It will begin with simple outbound texting, but will quickly move to "intelligent co-ordination". And there are very few industries out there that couldn't benefit from thinking about how the confluence of low cost sensors, mashed data, and ubiquitous mobile phones will effect them.
Update: As if "by magic" Forbes Article on Semantic Web and Travel. Sramana Mitra is always a good commentator on the strategic thinking behind Semantic Web. Her thoughts on next generation 3.0 Enterprise can be found here.


gareth said...

Hello, I work at Skyscanner (mentioned above) and..

a) I absolutely agree with where we should be headed
b) Skyscanner is doomed if it really is as easy as you imply: we (well I) find it hard!

I suspect the vision you describe will not happen until "good enough", domain specific, free text parsing is achieved.

Paul Sweeney said...

Gareth, thanks for stopping by to comment (and just so that you know, all our team use to book tickets!) . Our experience with the service has been excellent. We were just walking around London speculating that it would be good to be able to get notifications. Their is another side to that particular capability, and if you leave a note in the comments with your phone number or email in it, I'll brief you on it! It's a pre-launch innovation that VoiceSage is working on, so I don't want to broadcast it just yet!

Martino said...


I agree with Gareth: mashing up content from different providers is difficult (although for the likes of Skycanner, certainly doable).

At the recent Travel Distribution Technology show in London, there was a lot of talk of mobile technology and pushing live travel data to people's mobiles. If only airlines, trains, TFL and other transport companies provided their data in a standard XML (or even text) format, we could potentially look at interrogating different databases in real time and returning the shortest/cheapest route. Just like Tom Tom, I hear you say. Yes, providing mobile travelers with various itineraries based on their GPS position is already possible for road travel, so it is just a question of time until we tell you: "Ah, you want to go to XYZ Hotel in Paris. Well, you are 3 minutes walking distance from Green Park tube station and your next train to St Pancras is in 10 mins, where you can get Eurostar to Paris in 1 hour and from Gare du Nord get ABC taxis for a 30 mins ride to Hotel XYZ".

The next step is to allow you to reserve/purchase tickets with all these operators, but we are still waiting for various travel providers to wake up to the technology required to book and pay via mobile/internet. In the mean time, I guess, we could just give you their phone number and hope you can understand the French cab driver's accent. :)

Martino Matijevic

Paul Sweeney said...

Hi Martino/Gareth, I was wondering if you saw the post today about Google getting the transportation companies to upload their activity feeds into the Google cloud? Would be interested to hear what you guys make of this development from a "data strategy" point of view.

Martino said...

Hi Paul,

This is exactly what I was referring to. Traveline Southeast shared their data with Google and Google Transit mashed up this data with Google Maps.

But it is still going to be another few years until global providers like WhichBudget (same for you Gareth?) can create an itinerary from A to B anywhere in the world. Even in a country like the UK, Google only list Traveline Southeast as their partner. Not to mention the rest of Europe, where only Florence, Turin and Switzerland chose to cooperate?

To that end, we are making progress. WhichBudget also runs The Travel Magazine (a glossy print magazine, with an online version:, where we have great contacts with a large number of tourist boards worldwide and are constantly encouraging them to provide us with transport and other useful data. Our data strategy is to mash up data we can get from various sources using Web2.0 technology and create comprehensive product comparison websites, be it WhichBudget for transport, or The Travel Magazine for destinations and other travel anciliary services.


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