Semantic web: context for the rest of us
Semantic web and its impact on travel was the focus of the opening session of the OpenTravel Advisory Forum in sunny Miami.
This comes on the heels of an IBM report, released earlier this month, that looked at travel in 2020. One of the interesting conclusions focused on consumer dissatisfaction with how they are handled by online travel agencies.
Let’s face it, the consumer is tired. He (perhaps it’s more likely to be she) is tired of the lack of innovation and bored with the ways the consumer is gamed by the system to deliver less than valid responses.
Sadly little has been done about it and any efforts have been few and far between.
However, there is some encouraging news coming from OpenTravel members Avis Budget and Amtrak. Avis Budget has actually invested a fair amount of money in semantic web activity and has donated this work to OpenTravel.
But, what does this mean for the travel industry in general?
I believe there is a desire for a move away from the conventional four-element search widget. The widget forces users down a funnel that does very little to help the customer reach his goal of relevant results. What every consumer thinks is “Why the heck do I have to do all the hard work?”
And, they are right. Surely in this day and age the consumer shouldn’t have to work hard. How many people in mature web markets are actually going online for the first time?
Semantic web or web 3.0 essentially moves forward from the access to basic data on scarce resources, which was very much the first generation of the web, through to the social side of the web and now to the context, that is, where the results the user gets are more relevant, with less information of no value.
There is a belief by many that if a human answers a question then the human will likely make a mistake sooner or later, machines, however, should not make mistakes.
In the case of travel, ‘mistakes’ are largely data that is not relevant, served up to the consumer who then has to sift through to find any nugget of information.
In simple terms, look at any travel website and see if it actually enables you to enter the information in a precise enough form that will fully address your questions. Nope, not going to happen. Consumers cannot express themselves clearly within the confines of the current generation of travel sites.
What people relate to is that they can match certain elements in a generic query and then adjust the query to better match the possible right answers.
What travel implementations of semantic web will do is place both the query and the results into context making the experience better, faster and more germane to the respective users.
However, before we all get too excited, along the way there are many challenges. Not least is the creation of the ontology ecosystem necessary to have the data objects have the right meanings.
As I listen to the discussions at OpenTravel’s session, these are almost mind numbing in their complexity and tedium of detail but someone has to do it.
Travel needs people to define the standards of the different data types and meanings in all their forms and interactions. Thank goodness for open standards groups who can make some sense of it.
So get involved because if you don’t then the whole industry suffers.
One of the speakers – a distinguished professor from Rensselaer even went so far as to describe the travel industry as “third world”. That description is accurate in my opinion and needs to addressed.
Travel itself needs to get over itself and its overinflated view – only then can the customer get what he wants.
If not, then travel will get labelled as a sick country – but we don’t have the European Commission to bail us out.
Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is a contributing Node to Tnooz. He writes about travel, in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.
He has two day jobs: managing partner at travel consultancy firm T2Impact, where he serves as the lead for the airline, aviation and airport practice. He is also co-founder of VaultPAD, an accelerator devoted exclusively to travel and travel-related startup businesses. One of the first companies to emerge from the incubator is Air Black Box, a cloud-based software company providing Airline Connectivity Solutions.
Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as head of technology, where he managed international technology services from infrastructure to product.
Timothy is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards.