Thursday, October 27, 2005

Google Travel

Yahoo is all over travel; they have the new Trip Planner in Yahoo! Travel and they bought Farechase. Since Yahoo! announced Trip Planner today the naughty among us might have expected Google to do something to divert some attention back their way.

It so happens eagle eyed Google users caught the search engine testing a new travel GUI. I've stolen this image from Search Engine Lowdown.

So what's going on here? Google's spotted a trend in the keyword search - that someone is considering going from A (Atlanta) to B (Madrid) and responded by inserting a specialised search box above the SERPs. We've the choices of Expedia, Hotwire and Orbitz. This is controversial - imagine you're a big travel company and you're not there. This is also very American; over here we don't have Hotwire or Orbitz. For example, Lastminute or Thomson aren't represented here. The lack of Thomson would be more significant as they're a huge travel company and do not operate through the likes of Expedia. Another tricky example would be something like the easyGroup who have a number of companies but not in one site, there's easyJet, easyCar and easyCruise to name but a few.

Google has a mixed track record here. Let's leap in and talk about toolbar three as it introduced the auto-mapping and auto-isbn features.

Auto-mapping allowed uses to press a button on the toolbar and get links to maps automatically added to the web page they're currently on in suitable places. Google had Google Maps at the time and has Google Local (the two merged) so they could have exclusively used Google's own maps but at the minute you can pick a different provider if you want. Sure, the selection is not huge but despite Google having a commerical incentive to push their maps there is some wriggle room here.

The auto linking of ISBN numbers is not so good. Press the button on the toolbar and you'll have any ISBN numbers on the page linked to Amazon. It's a monopoly despite other online bookshops being available. Certainly here in the UK Tesco Books have as wider and often cheaper selection.

There might be a circular situation too. If Google continues to improve it's results through personalisation and, at the same time, promotes the current market leaders then Google's users are going to show a "personal bias" towards these market leaders and so Google's personalisation will promote them further. If, for example, this travel GUI links to British Airways Holidays for UK users (if they make the distinction) then a lot of Google users are going to search and then click through to BA Holidays. This could bias their search results, through personalisation, in favour of BA Holiday