Thursday, December 20, 2007

POTW: TripIt

We're polishing plans for a trip down south after Christmas. Two nights in Avila, then a few nights (wrapped around the UCLA-UCD hoops game) in L.A. It's a pretty basic trip -- no flights or car rentals -- but there's still a lot of there there. Pre-departure we'll probably fill a folder with hotel confirmations, tickets, maps and the like.

Which leads me to this week's POTW from Springwise: Effortless Online Travel Organizer. Snapshot:

Anyone who's ever traveled is surely familiar with the dreaded Manila Folder—that sheaf of printouts, receipts and tickets we rely on to stay on schedule during a trip. Now TripIt promises to free us from those manila shackles with an online service that organizes all the pieces into a single, consolidated itinerary.

Users begin by simply forwarding all their travel confirmation emails to TripIt. The site can accept booking confirmations from most travel agencies, airlines, hotels, rental cars, rail providers and even restaurants. All information is kept strictly secure and confidential, and TripIt's "Itinerator" automatically combines everything into a single master itinerary. TripIt then searches the web for complementary information, including Google maps and directions, weather from the NOAA, SeatGuru airplane seat advice, Wikipedia city information, current events information from Eventful, city photos from Flickr, and dining reservations from OpenTable. Users can print out their itinerary and go, or they can customize it with additional maps and directions, notes and webpages. Itineraries can be accessed while on the road from a mobile device, synched into Google or Outlook calendars using iCal, and also shared with friends, family and colleagues through the site's social TripIt Friends component. TripIt is free to users around the world; advertising and referral revenue opportunities are in the works.

Sounds cool and I can see the combinatorial value, though it's a nice-to-have service. TripIt's virtues remind me of two recent conversations. The first occurred in Gainesville a few months ago with a row of fanatical Vanderbilt undergrads (the poor engineers were wearing ties to a football game; 'tis tradition for Vandy students). I asked the pimple-faced gents: What's more valuable to you, email or Facebook? Duh ... Facebook by a mile ("I only use email for classes and talking with my parents."). How about Facebook or instant messaging? After a few pump fakes, the Vandy boys agreed: We can't live without IMing. (My read: Email is nice to have, Facebook is cool, but IMing is a gotta-have tool.)

Conversation two, via last night's dinner-table discussion. What does Berkeley (our lab) need? Food and water, chimed Scott. Two bowls and his bed, opined Ty. Tennis balls and baths, I offered. No, dad, Berkeley doesn't need those things.

Be it travel planning, college communications, or the life of a lab, pursuing needs (versus wants or likes) is imperative.

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