Tag Archives: google

✈️?️Travel – what’s new becomes old becomes new again

This week the focus in on travel and whether we are seeing the beginnings of a new disruption to how we go on holiday.

Travelling back in time

Back in the last dotcom bubble, the travel industry went through huge disruption as aggregator websites like Expedia, Lastminute and booking.com all changed the way we bought our holidays.

The idea of the package holiday came under threat in the mid 2000s as people started to book their flights and hotels both separately and online. The result was the merger of Thomas Cook with Airtours and Thomson with First Choice. The big four became the big two.

A large part of the profit for the aggregators came from selling hotel rooms. There is very little money in selling flights. For many years, hotel websites have been very poor experiences. Difficult booking systems, different currencies and not always clear information about the rooms themselves. You could do better going to the big travel websites previously mentioned.

Now the aggregators are under investigation for “clarity, accuracy and presentation of information”.

First it is the challenge Google originally had with placing ads at the top of its search results. How transparent are the big travel sites being when they are paid extra to promote hotels to the top of search results?

Another aspect is the oldest sales trick in the book – scarcity and social pressure. “Only two rooms left” and “three other people just booked this room” are all ways of increasing the pressure to make a quick purchase.

Travel is normally a considered purchase taking more like days than minutes. Partly this is due to the need to involve other people in the decision process. I wonder though if with the increase of smartphones this decision time is decreasing. This could in turn be fueling the growth of “secret sales” type platforms.

Finally, there always seem to be hidden charges around when investigations happen and this one is no different. Things like additional taxes or booking fees etc.

Government investigations though are slow and cumbersome and by the time they actually conclude the markets have moved on. In this case the shift is already starting to happen.

Hotels were never keen on giving away at least 15% of their revenues to the big travel websites and have slowly been overhauling their own internet presence using cloud based platforms like Triptease to provide better booking experiences without the large investment needed previously.

If you no longer need to go to the major aggregators to get the best price or information then they have a real problem.

A modern day online approach would be to create exclusive content to allow people to better identify the right hotel but these companies have never been publishers and I doubt it will scale as well as the old model in any case.

There is the old tried and tested model of being more and more specialised. Smaller hotels, hotels targeted at different age groups etc. Though this still suffers over time if its better to go to the hotel directly. Maybe they can create better quality loyalty programmes than the hotels themselves allowing customer to not stick to a single hotel chain.

Finally, they may instead opt for the full service approach offering end-to-end service taking away the hassle of organising a holiday or adding trips/experiences at the destination. All things that hotels themselves will find difficult to deliver on. For now.

🤖AI and retail. 🌎Tech looking outwards. 🤝Positive Social Media

This week we look at tech moving beyond its bubble and also talking to at their first G7 summit. Tech looking outwards can only be a good thing. Then a look at AI and its potential impacts in retail before ending on some positivity in social media for once.

It isn’t a tech thing.

The mammoth tech companies are joining forces to form The Coalition for the American Dream. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Uber, IBM, Marriott International and other top U.S. companies are listed as members with an aim to pass legislation allowing young people who were brought to the United States as children illegally to become citizens.

A noble cause indeed. A side note to this is the breadth of membership – it is good to see tech companies banding together with companies outside their normal bubble. Less tech vs the government. For more on the coalition go here.

The first step..

The major tech companies have been under fire for a while now when it comes to spreading hate material and fake news. They have not been able to keep up with even current targets for removing this content.

Their first appearance at the G7 summit has resulted in agreement to even more stringent targets to remove extremist content. Everyone was positive with the meeting but it will be interesting to see if tech firms can actually deliver quickly enough here. More on the meeting here.

Twitter meanwhile has already released new rules around hate symbols, sexual advances and violent groups. Twitter has a long way to go here though as it is still reliant on people reporting hate crime.

The targets outlined by the G7 group effectively mean only automated systems can deliver in time. This of course means we are reliant on AI censoring our content. We already know that AI can be biased so I wonder who will be monitoring the AI.

In fact Google AI lead, John Giannandrea is just as worried about it. There is a good look at his views here.

AI thoughts

Harvard Business Review did a thought experiment on AI suggesting that AI could eventually predict exactly what we need and so deliver whatever we need just in time. It states the benefit to Amazon is that people would end up shopping at Amazon more. I couldn’t disagree more with this. For most people price and brand does play a factor in decision making.

For me the end result of this thought experiment is that should AI prediction get to a level of knowledge about us where it can predict what we want before we do, the pessimist would say we have bigger problems. The optimist in me says that in that scenario the AI should be under an individual’s control not a corporate. Of course after that we then get into debating the rights of the AI. This is the problem with thought experiments..

Whilst we are on the topic though, this is similar to the movement that says voice ordering through Alexa will allow Amazon own brands to win out.

I think voice ordering integrated with a screen will transform grocery shopping online. Browsing through countless items on a store website is numbing. But the ability to say show me all the juices with orange in them etc is going to make things much faster. There are some items where price and brand do not come into this but supermarkets have known that for generations and price their product ranges accordingly. Amazon may well execute better than the competition on this, but it will not mean the end of the brand.

Awwwww

Meanwhile ending on a positive thought, Facebook bought tbh last week – an app that spreads positivity across its network. It was only available on iOS and in the US and let people anonymously answer nice multiple-choice questions about friends who then received the poll results as compliments.

👋👋Whats next for messaging as another stalwart departs.

This week we say goodbye to a messenger app that dominated North America and look at a new battle for messenger supremacy.

Its finally gone.

AOL Instant Messenger is shutting down in December. For most of you this will be a “so what” moment but it will be on almost all tech news sites as it was by far the biggest instant messaging service in North America. Here in the UK, MSN messenger was king for many years but that shut down in 2014.

Of course today it is all about WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. Originally, these companies did little to differentiate from old messengers other than being a better experience on the mobile. That it seems was enough.

Today though, the capabilities of these apps are increasing. Filters, augmented reality, chatbot and of course more artificial intelligence.

But language continuously evolves around us and as technology opens new ways to communicate, so does the way we communicate. Today the world is emoji crazy. Tomorrow though smart assistants, augmented/virtual reality and holograms are all going to have a large impact on how we communicate.

Facebook announced Spaces last year, their vision of social networking in the future which I suspect will be looked back upon much the same way as we now look back on Microsoft Bob, Microsoft’s attempt to transform the computer interface. We still don’t have mainstream 3D computer interfaces but they are coming and with it will come the ability to communicate within these digital realms.

Microsoft Bob

Interoperability is not important.

Meanwhile, Amazon has brought its Alexa calling capabilities to the UK. It will allow you to communicate with other Alexa users (and hopefully call US phone numbers as well).

Now there are a lot of Alexa users out there but it is still only a tiny minority of my friends. It isn’t like there is anything compelling for me to use it.

Amazon is a late entrant to the messaging space though early within the smart assistant space. Still, this is not an open and new market and with heavy competition from Google and Apple it is going to be an uphill battle to make Alexa calling a real success.

Now if it allowed me to call other platforms, message WhatsApp, Snap or Facebook Messenger – that would be useful.

There are of course benefits strategically to Amazon building an Alexa-only calling capability – it serves to lock people into the platform and reduce churn. That only happens though with major adoption, which of course they don’t have.

Back in the 2005, Google launched Google Talk its first of many unsuccessful forays into messaging. Very quickly though they made it possible to chat to Yahoo, AIM and MSN contacts and the big players worked together to create a way for them to interconnect. It never really worked though and its struggles do not bode well for Amazon. This was not due to the open nature of the platform but rather a poor user experience and completely missed the mobile opportunity.

Unfortunately that industry-wide effort to create interoperability was abandoned and we are left with messenger silos again today. If I only use Snap and you want to message me you either have to download Snap or fallback on SMS.

History seems to suggest that this interoperability will only happen when a market becomes mature and stable. Perhaps the instant messaging market had matured enough for that to start happening only for mobile to disrupt it.

Perhaps though we could agree on some basic standards which all platforms can build to and allow for basic messaging between platforms.

Without this, unfortunately we are not likely to see any interoperability between devices for a long time without external intervention – that intervention in turn would slow down innovation so I guess we are destined to continue in the same vein for now.

Perhaps we will see WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger release “apps” (aka skills) into the Alexa and Google Home ecosystems and make the whole Alexa calling thing disappear.