One Two Click on Farecast, Google: A Perspective

27 09 2006

I’ve spent some time lately starting to book holiday travel. The time spent highlighted the frustrations around travel booking and trying to find the best deal.

Here’s how it generally goes: you start out looking for airfare. Usually because I’m not that great of a planner and pretty frugal, the fares aren’t generally low enough. You go to the old stand-by sites: Expedia and direct sites (Southwest, AlaskaAir, JetBlue are my main ones), but Kayak has a new seat among my favorites. Even among these, you still don’t find exactly what you want. You spend some time looking around (sometimes it’s 15 min., sometimes it’s hours), then either give us for later or settle, basically deciding that the time to whittle $15-$50 off the airfare is no longer worth the time spent researching fares.

Along comes Farecast, a predictive technology for airfares that was started by UW Professor Oren Etzioni, whom I took my undergrad AI course from. On the bottom right hand corner of Farecast, an airfare prediction site, is one of the coolest features I’ve seen EVER on a travel site. Enter your city and it generates a quick map across the U.S. with all of the lowest fares within the next 30 days. A cursory glance shows a $240 round-trip fare from San Diego to Honolulu this Friday to Tuesday – something I’d gladly take up when the time was right.

This particular feature doesn’t use all of the cool predictive technology that has mined through past airfare history to apply pattern recognition and other predictive technologies to show you whether you should buy now or wait. No – this feature only queries future fares, then quicky applies a neat UI on top of the data. It combs through data, but there’s no technological stretch here.

This is a perfect example of one two click. A lot has been said recently about simplification, the overabundance of features and specialized tools. Largely, a lot of this is hype, but much of it is rooted in reality – as tools and noise get more and more abundant, the only way you get noticed is through the sheer impressiveness of one two click. It’s a wealth of information from the smallest possible input.

Google’s ultimate success is in one two click. Everyone knows that. What’s number two success? Probably Google News. What’s it’s second easiest to digest service?

Recently, on a podcast with Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble and Om Malik, it was highlighted that the explosion of start ups has made it more difficult to filter through the noise. It might be harder to gain adoption and reviewers typically have no more than cursory glances to make snap judgments about start up services.

For this reason, I think that most future success will master one two click. Lots of information for a little work.

This might be an oversimplification, but it has additional implications. For example, don’t make users bite off more than they can chew. You could argue that MySpace, Facebook and data-rich services do just that. Make the steps incremental, such as one page to see what a broad summary of a person, band or organization. One step to sign up. One step to add a friend. Pretty soon those pieces add up. As I’ve mentioned previously, I believe that social networking could get easier, but these are the reasons why I don’t believe MySpace and their ilk are necessarily a counter-example.

Forbes has a recent article about mashups and their importance to Google. Not to take anything away from the true usefulness of mashups (such as the original famed HousingMaps example), but some of the criticism that surfaced over this article is deserved. Mashups are not the be-all and end-all. The ultimate reason is that these are just features – if there’s no meat behind the pretty interface then it’s either trivially useful or easily replicable if it’s not trivially useful.

Synthesizers, such as Ajax home pages like Netvibes and other personalized home pages, will have a place in the “mashup” of these simplified features. Someday, I’d love to put this Farecast widget on my customized interface when it gets to be marginally easy enough. This is another more easily mimickable space as is already happening, while I still understand and acknowledge the usefulness.

Back to my favorite little Farecast feature. It’s probably replicable (why haven’t I seen this before is my only other question), but just as Google continues to innovate on their search – Farecast has the tools in place to innovate on this and other one two click features. Overall, I think it’s a recipe for success.

Any thoughts? Other great one two click examples?

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