If you haven't had a chance to use it, I strongly encourage you to get your hands on it. In a nutshell, you can plan day trips, weekend trips, vacations into a trip plan. You can build the trip plan collaboratively with a group of fellow travelers or if you are a control-freak, all by yourself ;-)
At a later time I may blog about the details of the interface. Others have gone into lots of detail. And the team has lots of really cool features planned. On top of that, the team is full of talented folks and they are jazzed about this product. I am too.
Trip Planner is a good example of how an older idea can be transformed as it moves to become a Web 2.0 tool.
I used to use Microsoft Trip Planner. However it was limited since the maps and travel guide information were based on a snapshot on my CD. I loved it but it was severely limited in what it could give me as well as rapidly growing out of date.
There are a lot of things I love about this product:
- Collaborate on trip planning
- Share trips publicly
- Pulls trip planning into a single location
- Can find other's trips
- Uses the ever expanding Y! Maps products (map view)
- Has enormous tie in potential to other Y! products (watch for upcoming features!)
- I just love travel. Hey I live in the Bay Area. Lots of places to explore!
But I think what has really excited me about this product is how it illustrates the power of Web 2.0 Content Objects.
In Microsoft Trip Planner the trip plan was a file on my disk. I could send the file to a friend and if they had the same application they could access it.
But think of the power of the web as a platform for these Web 2.0 style files. I can create trip planning content, share it publicly, and allow others (of my choosing) to collaborate with me on it. And once good trip plans surface over time, there will be less and less need for me to create trip plans from scratch.
This is what del.icio.us (and later furl.net and myweb2.yahoo.com) did for bookmarks. Shareable and findable.
microformats.org is an attempt at defining the underlying data format for sharing user generated content. I don't want to discuss the merits of whether it should be in HTML or XML format. I just find the idea of movie reviews, restaurant reviews, trip plans, news clips, and a host of other content being in a format that is shareable, bloggable, findable to be really exciting.
Challenges for User Experience
So that leaves several challenges for us in the User Experience world. Here are just a couple of issues.
- Discovering Content Objects. Progressive disclosure (giving the user just the amount of features they need at the beginning and growing with the user) will help. Finding other trip plans while just searching around travel related items lead the user to explore.
- Getting folks to share. We all have suspicions about sharing information on the web. Do I want people to know where I travel, what I like to do? To some of us it is not an issue. To others that is terrifying. How do we create assurances (and more importantly we had better do the right thing with their data!) that there can be some anonymity? Trip Planner allows you to choose to share or not. But perhaps there should be a way to share anonymously. Have Trip Planner only post the outline of the trip and no user generated comments (only from other sources).
- Understanding collaboration. At Y! we struggle with who your community is. Is it Y!360, address contacts, IM buddies, flickr friends and family? And do user's really understand how they would work with other people (or how many will do this?)
- Avoiding feature bloat. We are building full-scale applications. Yet most user's engage us ligthtly. How do you make feature rich, discoverable applications? Providing "feature invitations" unobtrusively at the moment they need it.
- Getting users to understand how other tools might work together to solve their problem. Trip Planner uses Y! Local, Y! Maps, Y! Travel, Y! Search, Y! Travel Guides. It will use more properties in the future. How do you take a slice like trip planning across all of these products? Obviously you have to treat the other properties like services and build a complete application out of this slice. That leads to understanding how to present robust applications (without undue clutter, etc.) as a web application.
What do you think the challenges are for these types of applications? For these types of shareable content objects? Other examples you have seen?
The Blurry Line
And, one more thing. I notice that Microsoft has Streets & Trips 2006. Looks to be very full featured. It seems to pull its content from the web. This raises a number of questions about what is the right approach. Do I build a product like this as a desktop application or as a web application? Sounds like a good topic for another blog...