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Google and the Future of Travel 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the who-needs-minority-report dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It's been one year since Google's $700 million acquisition of ITA Software was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice after an antitrust review. So what does the search giant's strategy in online travel look like now? Google's Flight Search and Hotel Finder tools have met with mixed reviews in recent months, but a new bit of analysis argues that the future of travel is not about search, it's about data. More specifically, Google wants to make available everything from airfares and restaurant reviews to maps and transit schedules, throughout the entire travel process. And it wants to use travelers' online behavior to serve up better targeted ads and content across all of Google's sites and services."
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Google and the Future of Travel

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  • I live in a part of world that has little limits on how you can advertise, sell your services and that has large structures for commissions regarding, well, pretty much anything. Want to take a ride somewhere? The driver will try to sell you anything. Instead of taking you where you want to go, or what is the best place for what you want to do, he will take you where he will get commissions from anything you spend. Be that restaurant or any other venue of entertainment. You can't ever be without thinking if
    • by ygslash (893445) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @03:23AM (#39792105) Journal

      ...Instead of taking you where you want to go, or what is the best place for what you want to do, he will take you where he will get commissions from anything you spend... For me, Google is largely the same. That is how they make money.

      No, I don't think the people at Google are that stupid. They make their advertising money by being the biggest in search, and the only way they'll stay the biggest is by continuing to give the best results. It really doesn't make sense for them to squander their advantage for the few extra pennies they might get by skewing. And they know that very well.

      Google's business model is built on the assumption that the days of traditional Big Media are numbered. The way people get information is changed forever. Now you make money by being better at gathering information and making it available, not by "owning" information and selling it.

      But Big Media is not dead yet, and they are fighting back. They are using what's left of their hold on the public's attention to attack Google, and the concept of a free Internet in general, in every way they can. The amount of blatantly distorted anti-Google articles in traditional news media and on their web sites lately is astounding.

      Don't get me wrong. The old slogan of "do no evil" is impossible to sustain for a for-profit company as big as Google has become. They'll do whatever they can to be the *only* ones who can present information as well as they do. They'll push the bounds of privacy, as long as it doesn't risk causing their basic business model to be clamped down.

      But don't be fooled by Big Media into thinking that they'll be stupid and destroy their own business model.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Google puts ads along side the search results and clearly separated from them. In other words they still give you impartial search results* and you can just ignore the ads if you choose.

        * Except where they have been forced not to, e.g. DMCA take-down notices and the like.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Don't get me wrong. The old slogan of "do no evil" is impossible to sustain for a for-profit company as big as Google has become.

        Please explain. Are you saying that it is inherently impossible for a large for-profit company to behave morally, or that it is just impossible to organize themselves in such a way that they don't?

        I agree that there are few, if any large companies that are not evil, I just question your assertion that such a mythological establishment cannot exist.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vought (160908)

      This is why Google's efforts lately have been received relatively poorly. People know that Google sees them as marks. There is no free lunch, and Google's products lately show a distinct lack of polish and execution needed to make it a one-stop-shop for "categorizing the world's information". People know Google is looking over their shoulders constantly, and their products aren't getting better fast enough to keep ahead of the free/utility versus 'leave me alone' curve for some.

      When you are getting somethin

      • Android users I talk to are pissed - I mean pissed - that Apple supports a three-year old phone with the latest iOs, but Google doesn't give a ahit enough to work with carriers to make that experience more valuable - to the customer

        It's nothing to do with the carriers, it's to do with the handset makers. It's also largely the fault of Google for some poor design in Android. With an iPhone, there is no artificial distinction between flash that can be used for the OS and flash that can be used for everything else. If iOS becomes 100MB bigger, it just means 100MB less for the user. If Android becomes 100MB bigger it means a load of phones stop being able to run it. My phone is about two years old, and the latest official release the

        • by Anonymous Coward

          It's nothing to do with the carriers, it's to do with the handset makers. It's also largely the fault of Google for some poor design in Android. With an iPhone, there is no artificial distinction between flash that can be used for the OS and flash that can be used for everything else. If iOS becomes 100MB bigger, it just means 100MB less for the user. If Android becomes 100MB bigger it means a load of phones stop being able to run it. My phone is about two years old, and the latest official release the manufacturer supports is 2.2 (from about when the phone was launched), although they unofficially support 2.3 (from about six months later). CyanogenMod supports a slightly newer 2.3 release.

          This was changed in 3.1 (and later). The reason the memory was broken up was to allow the user space to be mounted via USB. This means it "had" to be formatted FAT32 to make it compatible with the most computers. All of the devices that come with 3.1 or higher native use MTP to mount the user space and they are all one partition. It does mean that earlier devices are subject to this shortcoming.

      • I think the problem with the carriers not offering updates to older phones is because the carriers don't want to since when you renew that contract to get the new shiny phone they can change the price.
    • by chrismcb (983081)
      Caveat Emptor
      I'm not sure what your point is, or how things are different today than they are 2000 years ago.
      Not everyone is trying to screw you over. But pretty much everyone is trying to make a buck. Sometimes that means what is best for both of you, sometimes it doesn't.
  • big is bad (Score:5, Informative)

    by ozduo (2043408) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @02:29AM (#39791923)
    I stopped using Lonely planet for travel advice because everything they suggested was congested with other Lonely planet users.
    • by MastaBaba (530286)
      I stopped using LP for advice on where to eat or stay *when options are plenty*. The books are still an excellent source on general information and, if you have limited time, on understanding what to do (and what not to do) in an out-of-the-way location. But, indeed, I typically, too, avoid specific venues recommended by LP.
    • Re:big is bad (Score:4, Insightful)

      by erice (13380) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @03:21AM (#39792095) Homepage

      I stopped using Lonely planet for travel advice because everything they suggested was congested with other Lonely planet users.

      I think your problem isn't LP. The problem is that you keep going the same places that everybody else goes. There is no "Lonely Planet Effect" is Madagascar.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Well many people like to go to great places, so unless you don't go to what are considered the "best places to visit" you will run into this problem.

        Another problem is that in many places if you want to eat something you will go to the one restaurant that provides English menu (because the rest is unreadable - incomprehensible scripts) and that's where all the foreigners end up going to. Unless you're very adventurous and don't care what you get on your plate.

        That said, if in an unknown area, if I have to c

        • by Rasperin (1034758)
          That reminds me of the Japanese food vending machines in the train station. Cant read katakana to save my life but they put down the yen amount. Ended up with sake instead of food (and didn't eat all day). Though luckily enough the japanese usually have pictures of food so you can get idea and do a little dance for that waiter/waitress.
      • by CRCulver (715279)

        The problem is that you keep going the same places that everybody else goes. There is no "Lonely Planet Effect" is Madagascar.

        Lonely Planet has published for six editions now a guide [amazon.com] for Madagascar, and even if that island nation draws fewer tourists than some other countries, I've no doubt that that the specific lodgings recommended in the guide are now patronized by a steady stream of LP-toting backpackers -- and the proprietors have jacked up the prices once they've noticed that they've a guaranteed sou

      • by itsthebin (725864)

        There is no "Lonely Planet Effect" is Madagascar.

        I have see a lot of backpackers in the last year here in Tamatave - Google maps/earth lists many of the hotels and restaurants

    • by oldelpaso (851825)
      When I went backpacking around Europe 10 years ago, the cliche was that nearly every American backpacker had a copy of Let's Go. In some cities it was noticeable that hostels were far more likely to be fully booked if they appeared high in the list in Let's Go Europe. It'd be interesting to see how this has changed for today's backpackers, among whom smartphones and netbooks seem ubiquitous, and where bookings are primarily web-driven.
      • When I went backpacking around Europe 10 years ago, the cliche was that nearly every American backpacker had a copy of Let's Go. In some cities it was noticeable that hostels were far more likely to be fully booked if they appeared high in the list in Let's Go Europe. It'd be interesting to see how this has changed for today's backpackers, among whom smartphones and netbooks seem ubiquitous, and where bookings are primarily web-driven.

        Yeah, nothing would scream clueless american tourist quite like a let's go guide of Europe... Even the japanese tourists mostly have guidebooks of individual countries or regions of europe.

        To a European, having a single guide book on the entirety of europe seems pretty absurd. And no, it is not the same as having a single guidebook of all of the USA, simply because of the practical differences between culturally and linguistically distinct countrires and the cultural variety and density of sights in cou

    • I stopped using Lonely planet for travel advice because everything they suggested was congested with other Lonely planet users.

      "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

  • How to I determine if any of all this gargantuan amount of information is any good? Are they real reviews, from real people . . . ? Or thinly veiled spam . . . ?

    I don't need any more information. I just want to get from point A to point B at a reasonable price with the minimal amount of hassle.

    My parents used to have a thing called a "travel agent" who would do that for them. She knew may parents likes and dislikes, so one short call was enough to book a trip.

    Maybe someone could patent that idea, and then implement it in software?

    Please note the development order. Patent first, implement later.

  • by krups gusto (2203848) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @03:00AM (#39792025)
    this is an area where there's a market that I was really hoping google would bust into. All I want when booking a vacation is: - What's the cheapest flight to X. I don't care when or what carrier. This functionality used to exist. Then it disappeared. I never understood why. This was a killer feature on a variety of vacation sites. If they want to blow my mind, I'd cream my pants at: - Ability to search for cheapest flight anytime including taxes/fees and assuming one carry on bag. I'd even be willing to accept a 30s must watch video add with flashing lights if the above were offered.
    • by vought (160908)

      SAABRE and the other booking systems are a bit too smart these days to actually make tickets available at some sort of pre-determined price.

      Jet fuel costs four times what it did ten years ago. Fleets are getting replaced. You really think they're going to let the system release any $300 seats unless the load factor for that flight is low and converging with the flight day?

      Still, it only costs about 30% more in actual dollars than it did in 1999 to fly cross country. That little fact doesn't exactly make me

      • Still, it only costs about 30% more in actual dollars than it did in 1999 to fly cross country

        As it should. Personnel cost has gone down, computing and information management has gotten more efficient. Overall seats booked per flight has gone up. Jet-A is only one small part of the equation. Inflation across all goods and services has only been 28-30% in that time frame.

    • by sanyacid (768747)
      You didn't state where you live, but if you are in Europe, or travelling inside of Europe, then the best tool I've found is Azuon. It includes all the features you mentioned and more. Azuon is not free. If you want a quick and free solution then ebookers website offers in my opinion best free service, though, not nearly as good as Azuon.
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      In my area these sites still exist.

      Great for finding cheap rates, and then move to the ailiner's own web site for generally even cheaper fares.

      Airlines don't pay commission to agents anymore on tickets, so the price you see at those agents is including an agent's mark-up. Of course my behaviour is killing off those agents... but that's what airliners want anyway.

    • What you are describing is one of the main features of Google flight search (the quick-scroll lowest fare bar chart).

      You posting this makes me think you have not even looked at it at all.

    • Lonely planet and a huge raft of other middleman websites are going to be pushed out in the process though. Hotel portals, tourism portals, review sites, gone.

    • by cornjones (33009)

      I always wondered why someone wasn't clearing unsold seats at the last second. as the flight time approaches, the value of a ticket on a still-empty seat starts to approach 0. Why doesn't somebody allow me to say, i want to fly somewhere tomorrow, where is the cheapest place to go. Or send me an alert when a ticket to NYC drops to under 30$. Even if it means I have 2 hours to catch the flight.

      • by Caratted (806506) *
        I hear this argument a lot on these types of threads. I'm curious as to why you think the value of the still-empty seat is 0. There is still the opportunity cost of letting you have a seat now, as opposed to being pretty confident (with their big-budget analysts, the margin of error is probably quite low) that you will book a different over-priced seat ahead of time like everybody else. I realize the fuel is still being used, but that is not how a bottom-line works.

        Basically, I'm under the impression th
      • by chrismcb (983081)
        Because the airlines don't do that. I was flying internationally and thanks to the TSA (and Delta's stupid baggage fees) missed my flight. I was meeting someone and had to get to Europe. I found a later flight to my connecting city and would let me catch my overseas flight. I went to the gate, bought a ticket, and was one of the last people to board the plane. Cost? Full price, in fact probably more than what most people on the plane paid. If I didn't buy the ticket, the seat would have been empty, as you c
    • Maybe I'm not understanding your issue, but Kayak does something like this. You can do a search from multiple airports, to multiple airports. You can include surrounding airports. You can have it email you daily search results for the cheapest flight per month for the next few months. That way, say you want to fly to Amsterdam or Paris or Geneva, and you don't care when you fly between today and October, and you're willing to stay for anywhere from 7-14 nights, you can get daily notifications of fare ch
    • Use this tool and have fun: http://matrix.itasoftware.com/ [itasoftware.com]
      You can't actually buy the tickets, but once you've found what you want, you can just go to any other travel site, airline site or real-world travel agent and issue the tickets.

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @03:19AM (#39792091)
    The more I get targeted and harassed the less likely I am to buy. I'm sick to death of being force fed advertisements that are "targeted" to me. I thoroughly understand the need for ads but the more oppressive the ads the more unlikely I am to buy so it's counterproductive. The fantasy of "forcing" people to buy is a fantasy so they need to back off the ads that attack customers and try to politely "inform" customers. Beating a customer senseless isn't going to make them more likely to buy their product!!!! I often feel like I'm in the movie "A Clockwork Orange"where they demand I watch their ads so I end up with a negative impression of their product.
    • Although your comments apply to me and probably a lot of slashdotters, the vast majority of sheeple on this planet buy stuff and services if they are targeted with ads for those at the right time. This is a numbers game, played on individuals, not an individuals game played in numbers.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:13AM (#39793207) Homepage

      Who are "they"? Google's text ads don't seem anything like what you describe.

    • The fantasy of "forcing" people to buy is a fantasy

      Yes and it's a multi-billion dollar fantasy.

      Beating a customer senseless isn't going to make them more likely to buy their product!!!!

      I guess you'll never gonna get a job in the marketing department.

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      The more I get targeted and harassed the less likely I am to buy.

      If you are a guy, what would you rather see? An add for tampons, or an add for WOW or beer or other manly product?
      A targeted ad should be less harassing, less oppressive, and more likely that you will pay attention to the ad.

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @03:38AM (#39792153) Homepage

    This kind of data would be so much more useful if I actually had access to it when I'm overseas, but mobile data charges make that far too expensive to contemplate. I tried Boingo and Fon but coverage for both is terrible.

    • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @05:06AM (#39792471) Homepage Journal

      Right now the best bet is just to pick up a sim with data in each country. I am hoping sooner or later will see international sim cards with decent rates. It's frustrating when I get in my car, drive for 2 hours and lose my data because I just crossed the border.

      I've seen some o.k. smart phones that are dual sim. I'd really like to see that feature in a higher end model. Then you can always keep in your 'home' sim and switch out as needed when you are traveling on the other slot. Google Voice needs to go international too - that would really solve the dual sim stupidity immediately.

      Which, following this rabbit trail, leads to my biggest reservation about google knowing where I am. Way too many things they release are only available to users in certain countries (often just the US) and I depend on them not knowing where I am to use some of their stuff I really like. Our legal systems lag so far behind our technology and it's frustrating at times.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Problem is to get a Japanese SIM you need to either be a citizen or have a long term residency card to show. I guess the phone companies got fed up with people getting stuff on contract and then leaving the country, but even for pay-as-you-go SIM-only deals it is a requirement.

        I do in fact rent a SIM for voice when I am there from Mobal, but data is not cheap with them either.

        • by nyamada (113690)

          Actually, I just returned from Japan and got a 1 gb sim card from econnectjapan.com for data use without needing to be a citizen or having a long-term residency card. Did it on line and it was quick and easy.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            Thanks, I had not seen that. Still rather expensive but much better than anything else I have seen.

      • by houghi (78078)

        It's frustrating when I get in my car, drive for 2 hours and lose my data because I just crossed the border.

        At the current rates you for international data roaming, this should be seen as a plus.

  • So, ITA Software makes an "airfare search and pricing" according to Wikipedia. Is there a big deal around this? Is that a problem that requires a sophisticated algorithm? I mean, how can you run a big company around this? If there is something technically interesting to it, it would be nice to know. (Also, it would be a motivation for bringing this story up on Slashdot at all.)

    • by Mr.Ned (79679) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @05:30AM (#39792545)

      Airfare search is hard. Really hard. The guy most responsible for ITA's (now Google's) flight search engine wrote up a presentation:

      http://www.demarcken.org/carl/papers/ITA-software-travel-complexity/img0.html [demarcken.org]

      See in particular "Some complexity results": http://www.demarcken.org/carl/papers/ITA-software-travel-complexity/img24.html [demarcken.org]

    • by brunes69 (86786)

      Airline search is actually a very complicated problem. You have a variety of complex things working in tandem

      - The fact that between any two hubs you have a very large number of possible routes when you include non-direct flights. This by itself is already a non-trivial shortest-path problem.

      - The fact that flight prices change multiple times daily and thus your engine and its indicies have to be fully dynamic, thus making them harder to optimize for real time queries.

      - The fact that you must weigh flights

      • There's also the issue that if you use some trivial metrics to sort your search results, you will probably obtain a dozen flight schedules that are only trivially different. It's difficult to translate any human definition of "search result usefulness" into numbers.

        - The fact that flight prices change multiple times daily and thus your engine and its indicies have to be fully dynamic, thus making them harder to optimize for real time queries.

        I believe they do this by staging upgrades of code and data in a cluster of nodes. You rebuild the data file (a serialized graph data structure ready to be mmap()ped), upload it onto nodes that are down and bring them up; once you have enough of

      • If only there were a way to automate that. Use some kind of storehouse for the information, and be able to do a valuable sorting on lots of data. I realize that would be thousands, maybe even millions, of computations for just one route. Someone should invent something that can do that kind of math automatically instead of having to do it all by hand.

        Once they figure this one out, they should really tackle routing automotive traffic between points, accounting for the multiple possible paths, varying speed

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I actually worked on an air fare search engine similar to ITA's and let me tell you - the industry is based on a 50-year old paradigm and 40-year old companies with their 30-year old traditions and procedures. Everything is meant to be easily filed on paper or dumb forms manually by people who are qualified to do just that. It is NOT meant to be easy to use or search through. There are no flights, really. It's rules upon rules upon rules upon rules. To get data on a single flight you need to query like 3 di

    • I'll tell you what the big deal is. Finding routes and sorting them by price, time, or any other criterion is essentially a multiple traveling salesman problem. It can not be solved in polynomial time. You have to jump through several techniques akin to making the computer play chess or play Jeopardy to solve this problem. ITA had a break through using some kind of push/pull cache based thing that makes it efficient or even possible to do it.

      The CTO of ITA software topped entire India in his high school

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Page & Brin: We control the horizontal. We control the vertical.

  • "And it wants to use travelers' online behavior to serve up better targeted ads and content across all of Google's sites and services."

    Seriously? Who thought this wasn't Google's goal?

    And that's why I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Google's services - they're increasingly designed to serve their customers, and the user be dammed.

  • And it wants to use travelers' online behavior to serve up better targeted ads and content across all of Google's sites and services

    It can want whatever it wants, but I'll be leaving happily in oblivion not knowing how hard Google tries to target me with their ads. They might know where I am, what I am doing right now, even what I am thinking, but as long as a nice pair of superheroes: ADP and NS exist, their spam arrows won't reach me.

    I keep saying this. At the time of Megaupload crackdown (streaming becam

  • Google is more evil than Microsoft ever was [kimmoa.se]. You know it's true.

  • You can only use Google Flight Search for flights originating in the United States. Therefore, it's a non-starter for me in Canada when compared to, say, Kayak.
  • Google's real travel project: an ultra-deep, very large tunnels, starting with San Francisco to Dulles, VA.

    Once complete they will have
    - Self-driving, high-speed long-range passenger "delivery", as long as synthetic light for 8 or 10 hours is tolerable (great wifi though)
    - Same for freight delivery.
    - Just as a bonus, easy to build long-haul network connections.

  • beaming!

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