Archive for February, 2006

Death of a Disk, and the resurrection of

Monday, February 13th, 2006

The disk in died today, it was the sad end to a valiant disk, dieing just weeks before it was redundant as the new server arrived. So today was spent rebuilding the server, fortunately not too much was lost, the SVG logs suffered but the HTML versions are complete, and the logger will return soon. The blog needed rebuilding and the categories are lost but is otherwise okay - a couple of comments were lost, sorry!

Only has been brought up so far, if you’re using one of the other sites and seeing this instead, I’m sorry, they’ll be up soon.

Why travel agents are dieing out?

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Travel Agents are dieing out, we’re told this is because of the internet making it easy for people to book themselves, that’s almost certainly true, but there are still a large range of tickets that you simply can’t book online - the Round The World Ticket, or anything more complicated than a straight return.

I’m off on a trip to Jamaica, and Washington DC in March, most online travel sites can’t even attempt to price a round trip fare of this nature, but Opodo would give £445 for LON-KIN and £260 for LON-WAS, so if I was willing to go back via London I could do it for 705 quid. British Airways does allow you to specify the route, but they come to a total of £910 and route KIN-WAS via LGW and LHR, including having to get the Bus between the two at your own expense, and taking over 24 hours. Continental airlines offer the ability to specify such a journey too, but they come back with no routes at all. Virgin Airlines fare rules would allow you to have a stopover on the £445 LON-KIN above at Miami, and a MIA-WAS return could be got for £130. So that’s not bad with a bit of knowledge I could get to £575 and still use websites to book my ticket.

ITA Software have a nice little search engine for published fares which searches airlines published fares, and can deal with these kind of multi-legged round-trip fares, and can check airports within a set number of miles - with the city codes like WAS and LON there’s no problem, but checking MBJ and KIN makes you check twice on other sites.

This site comes back with lots of options at around the £450 mark, they don’t involve backtracking to the UK, but the cheap ones all involve long trips through NYC taking 15 or more hours to get to KIN, no worries I think I’ve got the time, I’ll have a stopover in NYC and see the city, never having visited before. Re-priced it with the stopover, and it came to £405, excellent I thought, I’m willing to pay that and £170 cheaper than I could’ve got online. So I print out the itinerary and go off looking for a travel agent to book it for me.

This proved to be a problem, none of the travel agents in Exmouth had a sabre connection to actually book the fare, I let them try their airline deals, either on the computer or on the phone to their “consolidator”. All these travel agents just laughed at the fare saying it was impossible, and ended up coming back with £750 minimum.

So off I went to Exeter, and tried a few more places, eventually STA Travel had Sabre access, and a knowledgeable South African to actually drive it, and he produced the fare no problem - charged me £15 for doing so, the only problem was the waiting whilst they’d dealt with lots of people asking for RTW advice.

The problem with travel agents here is not the internet, it’s that they simply do not have the tools to actual sell products better than the internet, if I was a simple buyer, I’d've found prices online £50 cheaper, yet with knowledge the fares were £350 cheaper, there surely must be plenty of margin there for a travel agent to survive?

Access to sabre appears to cost US$45 a month, I can’t see why that’s not a cost a travel agent would be willing to invest, it’s hardly much. Of course if there was an online agent which allowed me to book the multi-leg tickets, then I wouldn’t've had to leave home - maybe that’s a business opportunity there.

So I ended up with a good price for the flight, and I didn’t mind doing the work to find the route myself, it’s just a shame too much time was spent actually booking the ticket. Still I’m all booked, and now I just need to find somewhere to stay in New York, Couch surfing maybe?

The cult of consumerisation

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

Internet Explorer Beta 2 was released for review recently, and like Windows XP before it, it got a default mickey-mouse theme, with giant icons and completely different UI conventions from the business software that windows always has. With Windows XP though, it’s a few simple clicks and you’re straight back to the classic simple, professional view, IE 7 doesn’t have that capability, in fact in the classic view the new UI looks absolutely awful, I simply couldn’t find out how to work the thing, please MS don’t forget some people use the browser as a business tool.

The simplification and consumer focus is possibly a good idea, there’s certainly a market there that needs to be met, Windows Media Player is a consumer application so looking like it just fell off of the disney channel is perhaps not a bad thing, the browser though isn’t so simply a consumer application, it’s used daily on intranets by professional users, changing UI’s are a dangerous thing, simplified UI’s are simply not what this group need, they want consistency with their other applications. I fear it may be that Excel will have a nice mickey-mouse UI that forces existing users to completely re-learn their workflows. I fear this is purely a desire for the UI to look cool, completely ignoring the actual users.

This same problem has hit notebooks, it’s almost impossible to buy a laptop now that doesn’t have a widescreen, covered in logos and looking space age. To me these look completely unprofessional - a widescreen is only useful for watching DVD’s on - word documents, web pages etc. are portrait, minimising height is not helpful here. I would feel very uncomfortable walking into a pitch carrying one of these laptops, the only laptop I would comfortable with is of course the ThinkPad, but if lenovo decides to follow this consumerist targetting since leaving IBM, I’ll have nothing at all, and I might as well walk into meetings with the full mickey mouse ears and hope people can see the message behind the presentation.

Despite everyone on the web talking about the “long tail…” what actually is happening is everyone is chasing the biggest market - the consumer market. I recently needed a USB hub, they all were covered in bright flashy lights and big colourful buttons and … they simply weren’t something I could bring out next to the nice professional looking RFID readers they were going to sit next too.

Maybe I’m wrong and no-one makes judgements in the first moments of meeting you, perhaps it is purely the message and the presentation is immaterial, but I fear it’s not, and without the right presentation, I feel uncomfortable.

People, please don’t forget the professional user as you try to make your product more appealing to the incidental consumer - certainly there are more sales for the consumer, but the professional will pay more, and is much more likely to be loyal and upgrade more often. Don’t forget the professional, please!