How Google Can Help Facilitate Travel Inspiration

Of all the opportunities facing the travel industry, inspiration may represent the greatest challenge. Any organization that can effectively foster travel inspiration and scale the delivery of that inspiration to a broad market can expect substantial rewards for its efforts. Inspiration is normally considered as the starting point of a seven-step travel process that also includes research, planning, validation, booking, travel and sharing; it is also the most complex and least developed area of online travel. In this second installment of How Google Can Help Revolutionize Online Travel, we’ll look at how Google can help the travel industry inspire travelers.

maldives inspiration
Creative Commons License photo credit: muha…

Inspiration is not created by technology alone, but technology can help people become inspired

Travel inspiration is an intensely individualized process that is heavily influenced by personal psychology, sociology, geography & economics, but is not something that can be empirically analyzed through a college syllabus. Inspiring travelers is certainly more art than science. Some cool Web 2.0 start-ups have started to tackle the inspiration phase, including Tripbase, Triporati, Uptake and Youniverse. While helpful resources for helping identify potential destinations, they currently require a traveler to go to a web site and input information that results in a filtered list of options. Youniverse is perhaps the most forward looking. By asking users to select images, they not only simplify the process, but starts to reach a more essential and subliminal evaluation of core desires. All are great tools, but the results are not yet exactly inspiring.

As Web 3.0 begins to take shape, the building blocks for Travel 3.0 will see further movement toward small, fast, customizable applications relying on internet sourced data to provide highly personalized information in real time. The promise of a semantic web will create personalized intelligent search, behavioral advertising and enhance mobility. As a result, these web applications will know travelers and have a much better understanding of their likes & interests by working with the other web applications or expert resources.

Google engineers will not be creating travel inspiration and selling it through an online store. Instead, Google’s technology and business model will provide the foundation for the creation of innovative tools that will inspire travelers. Google’s support for travel inspiration will be manifested through its engagement of the Open Source development community.

Leveraging the Open Source community is a cornerstone strategy that provides access to a global technical resource that is free to collaborate and crowd source the design and development process, accessing innovative thinking and solutions from a broad range of developers. As Open Source provides the developers with access to the underlying source code and application programming interfaces, the development is often an iterative process, with developers modifying and improving upon the initial work of others.

Open Source also relies heavily on industry standards to facilitate interoperability. With travel industry volunteer organizations groups including The Open Travel Alliance (OTA), Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG) and the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association(HEDNA) engaged in defining travel technology standards, Open Source developers now have an opportunity to link with existing travel technologies and create new applications that operate within an accepted industry framework.

Open Source has radically democratized software development. It allows small niche projects that would often be overlooked within centralized development environments due to lack of scope, ROI, alternate priorities or political support to see the light of day. The hope for travel inspiring applications will result from the innovative integration of open source code bases applied to Google’s tools and based on Web 3.0 context & personalization data.

So how can the Google development community help advance travel inspiration? With two short words: Code & Wave. With Google Code, developers can create smarter software that can identify and pre-filter options that may be presented in an inspiring fashion. Google Wave is may be even more revolutionary by facilitating real time communication between expert travel agents, their clients, destinations and the suppliers of travel services. These tools also support the other phases of the travel process that will be discussed in future posts.

Google Code

Google Code web site Google Code Website
Google Code is Google’s site for web developers. It provides technical resources, developer tools and community features that help the open source developer community create new technologies built using Google and industry standard technologies.

Google categorizes its developer tools into several categories. Further exploration of these areas will take place in future series installments, but as inspiration is based on a multitude of variables, it is worthwhile to consider the wide range of tools that enable interaction with other software applications, products and data sources. Following are some of the current tools that can be used to create more inspirational and compelling content.

Supports Google’s advertising platform

  • AdSense – Generates revenue by placing ads on websites
  • AdWords – Automates and streamlines campaign management activities
  • Analytics – Tracks site traffic, write client applications that use Analytics data feeds
  • DoubleClick In-Stream (Labs) – Enables publishers to serve in-stream advertisements in video content

Builds mobile applications for Android, software for mobile devices

Enables implementation of rich, dynamic web sites using JavaScript and HTML

  • Feed -Easily mash up public feeds using JavaScript
  • Language – Easily translate and detect multiple languages using JavaScript
  • Search – Puts Google Search box and results on web sites
  • Visualization -Creates visualizations and reporting applications that access structured data in a common format

Enhances performance and functionality of web browsing experiences

  • Chromium – Open source project behind Google Chrome web browser
  • Gadgets – Builds mini-apps that run on multiple sites including iGoogle, Google Desktop, or any webpage
  • Gears (Labs) – Enables web applications to work offline, from a desktop PC or mobile device
  • O3D API (Labs) – Creates rich, interactive 3D web applications entirely in HTML and JavaScript
  • Safe Browsing (Labs) – Downloads lists of suspected phishing and malware sites
  • V8 – Google’s high performance, open source, JavaScript engine
  • Web Toolkit – AJAX application builder using the Java language

Provides location and navigation services

  • Earth – Embeds Google Earth into your web page
  • KML – Creates and shares content with Google Earth, Maps, and Maps for mobile
  • Mapplets – Builds mini-applications to embed within the Google Maps site
  • Maps – Integrates Google’s interactive maps with web site data
  • Maps For Flash – Integrates Google Maps in Flash applications
  • SketchUp Ruby – Manipulates Google SketchUp models by writing macros and custom tools
  • Transit Feed – Provides public transit route and schedule information for Google Maps and more

Google products are applications that improve data usability and accessibility

  • App Engine – Runs web applications on Google’s infrastructure
  • Application Developer Tools – Extends Google Apps, integrates with other systems, or builds new apps
  • Base (Labs) – Programmatically manages content hosted on Google Base
  • Chart – Dynamically embed charts in your webpage
  • Checkout – Enables eCommerce on websites
  • Data – A simple, standard protocol for reading and writing data on the web
  • Documents List – Enables applications to view and update list of Google Documents
  • Feedburner (Labs) – Interacts with FeedBurner’s feed management and awareness-generating capabilities
  • iGoogle Developer (Labs) – Builds and tests gadgets for iGoogle
  • Secure Data Connector – Connects data from behind the firewall to Google Apps
  • Spreadsheets (Labs) – Enables applications to view and update Google Spreadsheets content
  • Toolbar (Labs) – Creates custom buttons for the Google Toolbar
  • Wave – Builds extensions for Google Wave or embeds Google Waves in websites
  • Web Elements – Google Web Elements allows easy addition of Google products onto websites

Locates, organizes and prioritizes information on the web

  • Code Search (Labs) – Searches public source code
  • Custom Search – Creates a custom search engine for websites
  • Desktop (Labs) – Creates gadgets and indexing plug-ins for Google Desktop
  • Coupon Feeds (Labs) – Provide coupon listings that are included in Google search results
  • Sitemaps – Enables Google to quickly crawl websites
  • Webmaster Tools (Labs) – Updates site information and Sitemaps

Enables individuals to share information with others

  • Account Authentication – Provides user approved access into desktop or mobile applications
  • Blogger (Labs) – Enables applications to view and update Blogger content
  • Google Calendar – Creates and manages events, calendars, and gadgets for Google Calendar
  • Google Contacts – Allows applications to view and update user contacts
  • Google Friend Connect (Labs) – Supports Google Friend Connect
  • OpenSocial – Builds social applications that work across many websites
  • Orkut – Creates social applications for the millions of global Orkut users
  • Picasa (Labs) – Creates custom buttons and uploads files to 3rd party services
  • Picasa Web Albums – Includes Picasa Web Albums in applications or website
  • Social Graph (Labs) – Enables users to quickly add their public social connections to websites
  • Google Talk (Labs) – Connects client or network to the Google Talk network
  • Google Wave – Builds extensions for Google Wave or embed Google Waves in website
  • YouTube – Integrates YouTube videos into website or application

There has long been a debate on the future of Web 3.0 between those favoring algorithmic machine learning (similar to what Google uses to determine PageRank) versus semantic markup (RDF, RDFS & OWL.) With its recent launch of Rich Snippets in its search results, Google is now searching web pages to provide more relevant and context sensitive information in search results. One of the methods employed is the use of RDFa markup. Yelp is one of the partners that is working with Google on the Rich Snippet initiative to provide rating and review content on Google results pages.

While the Web 3.0 debate rages, it seems that the reality may be that the intelligent, context sensitive search required to produce truly inspiring results may be the result of a combination of technologies. The creative combination of Google’s Open Source tools already provides an excellent starting point for creating travel inspiration.

Google Wave

Inspiration currently occurs in the offline world and there is no reason to think that will stop when web applications create more inspirational travel scenarios. People gain inspiration from a multitude of sources, in very many cases from other people who offer some degree of experience or expertise in a particular area – Travel is no different. One of the hallmarks of a great travel agent is not only the ability to pair a traveler with a great destination, itinerary, flight, hotel, car and activities, but the ability to inspire the traveler to eagerly anticipate the trip.

In recent years, the ranks of professional travel agents have thinned. Agents that solely served as order takers were relegated to the sidelines by self-service web applications that could efficiently accomplish the same tasks. Unfortunately, many of those agents failed to provide incremental value to the travel process. Many of the remaining agents have focused on niche markets, continued to increase their product knowledge and provided outstanding customer service to their clients. The best agents intimately understand their clients’ needs and motivations, communicate effectively, and not only pair the travelers with perfect travel itineraries, but inspire those clients to travel.

Google Wave is a revolutionary new technology from the team leaders at Google that brought you Google Maps. It is currently in a private alpha stage for developer access only, with an expected beta testing roll-out in September. The public is expected to see Wave sometime in late 2009. Without getting too deep into the technology, which is highly complex, here are the key features of Google Wave:

  • Works in a browser
  • Enables Collaboration with one or many people
  • Communication client that integrates e-mail and chat
  • Real time updates (character by character as you type)
  • Content embedding (video, maps, widgets, etc.)
  • Interactive document sharing
  • Threaded conversations
  • Play back functionality
  • Highly customizable – can include gadgets to automatically access & update data

Below is an extended 100 minute video of Google Wave being previewed at Google’s annual developer forum, I/O 2009. While admittedly a bit geeky (they know their audience well) some of the demonstrations are incredibly innovative and provide a glimpse of future possibilities. Google is actively embracing the Open Source community to create applications that capitalize on the capabilities presented by this new technology.

Google Wave will provide Travel Agents with unparalleled opportunities to inspire their clients. Not only will agents have the ability to provide the traveler with Waves containing highly customized rich media content, but also be able to cooperatively integrate content provided directly by destination experts or travel suppliers regarding special services or value added offers. The delivery of this information can be sequenced or delivered in real time, with the client having the ability to review, exclude, or change their mind on any particular item. Clients can even interact independently with suppliers and merge the full process back into the agent’s Wave to keep everyone in the loop regarding updates.

Some of the early Google Wave Extensions that may be of interest to travel agents include (Please note that some names may have been created by individuals that never had a date in high school, spend way too many hours playing World of WarCraft, and if they weren’t doing this might be hacking your bank’s ATM network…)

  • Dr. Weather – Weather information and weather forecasts
  • Dr. Maps – A robot inserts a mini-map locating an address in the Wave and links to a Google Map locating the address
  • Rickrolley – Embeds a YouTube player in the Wave
  • Checky the Checklist Gadget – drag and drop to-do checklists
  • Yelpful – A robot that will take input and return yelp results based on the location and keyword
  • Twiliobot – Converts telephone numbers in the Wave into click-to-call links. Big deal, right? Almost forgot to mention it can also record, transcribe and automatically insert the conversation into a Wave as text with a link to the audio of the conversation…

Or, if the travel planning just becomes too much and you need a break –

  • Piano Gadget – Because you always wanted to play piano with your friends using Wave

Google Wave will not replace travel agents. It will make travel agents better by making it easier for them to collaborate with clients in real time. The only downside for agents will be that Google Wave will also democratize the ability for others with appropriate skill sets to potentially become competent travel agents by engaging and actively collaborating with clients. What will separate the true professional agents from the pretenders will remain product knowledge, but most importantly, knowing the client and matching appropriate product to their needs. Add to that an ability to leverage a new technology like Google Wave to inspire not only their interest in travel, but their faith in the agent as a trusted expert.

I am optimistic Google’s engineers and leadership, heavily assisted by the open source community, will be able to develop technologies that will help inspire individuals to become travelers. Not just to create an economic stimulus that can foster job creation, or the prospect of the global community gaining tolerance and understanding through exposure to different cultures; no, I have a more noble goal – the permanent eradication of the term “staycation” from our vocabulary.

The next installment will look into the next step of the seven-step travel process: Research.

[Note: This is the second in a series of eight articles contemplating how Google can help revolutionize online travel by improving the organization and accessibility of tourism related information. The radical democratization of travel information, a process Google has initiated through its search and advertising technologies, can increase commerce throughout the travel industry by fostering fair competition among hotels, airlines, destinations, attractions, and online travel companies – regardless of size or geography. – RKC]

Why Google Will Radically Democratize Online Travel

Other articles in the series:
How Google Can Help Revolutionize Online Travel (part 1)
How Google Can Help Enhance Online Travel Research (part 3)
How Google Can Help Simplify Online Travel Planning (part 4)

About Robert Cole

Robert Cole is the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. He also authors the Views from a Corner Suite Blog and publishes the Travel Quote of the Day. Robert speaks regularly at major travel industry conferences, authors articles for leading travel industry publications, advises travel-related startups and the equity investment community. He is an evangelist for the global travel industry.