Thursday, June 01, 2006

A question of semantics for travel search

Imagine a world where the consumer doesn’t have to wade through tons of results from a search engine when they type in, say, “flight New York”.


Okay, so search engines are already getting becoming sophisticated in that they and pay-per-click advertisers can produce results from on a relatively lengthy query, such as “flight heathrow JFK july 22 return august 2”.

But now a number of brainy people in the IT world are beginning to reveal what is likely to be the next significant growth area for search engines – one which will apparently make the life of the travel consumer far easier.

The so-called Semantic Web, an idea from the minds of Tim Berners-Lee (he of World Wide Web fame) and two eminent professors, will allow every possible piece of data available to be digested by complicated systems and, essentially, carry out “intelligent thinking” on behalf of users.

The Semantic Web is not a new concept, by any stretch of the imagination - it's just how it might be applied that is becoming clearer.

For the online travel industry this could be pretty fundamental. One interpretation highlighted at last week’s 2006 World Wide Web conference in Edinburgh is that rather than the current simple search, users of a semantic search engine would be far more able to make the right decision.

Travellers could effectively ask a search engine to bring back results on a hotels based on their own preferences, such as price, location, availability, facilities, connection with flights, food requirements.

This isn’t too far off, depending on who you listen to in the industry, but the Semantic Web gets very exciting when the prospect of personal travel agents comes into play.

Professor Wendy Hall from Bournemouth University, in an interview with the BBC at the conference, reckons the Semantic agent will be able to pick a holiday for users and possible even negotiate a price.

Clearly the “search providers” or those about to embark on this type of search will have to extract the vital information from users.

And who is already best placed or in a strong position?

It’s no wonder that the likes Yahoo!, MSN and AOL have been creating vast databases about their users, and why Google is so anxious to push personalised products such as GMail.

[Click here to see Swoogle, a prototype Semantic Search Engine, built by the University of Maryland, for academics]

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

1 comment:

yatin said...

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