In a quiet update, Google's Flight metasearch product has made some user-experience changes for desktop and mobile in the US that adapt innovations pioneered by metasearch startup Hipmunk.
When there are multiple flights departing at about the same time, Flight Search now bundles together similar flights like a deck of cards and displays those departure times on a one-day timeline -- rather than call out each flight one-by-one, as it had been doing. (See image, above.)
The move by Google Flight Search is similar in concept -- without using bar graphs -- to the user interface introduced by Hipmunk in 2010. The San Francisco-based startup has long condensed the list of flights it displays so that its users aren't overwhelmed.
Google Flights' new, accordion-style approach to displaying flights to popular destinations is relevant to a different feature, that was introduced a year ago, namely, "Best flights" -- a grouping of a few flights at the top of search results, by default, according to desirability. Google describes the function this way.
"We choose these flights to give you the best trade-off between price, duration, number of stops, and sometimes other factors, such as amenities and baggage fees."
The "Best flights" functionality is reminiscent of Hipmunk's 2010-era ranking of flights by "agony", which is primarily a combination of price, flight duration, and number of stopovers.
The recent Google Flights enhancements are integrated. So a "Best Flight" for any given search may have a link saying, for instance, "4 similar flights" if a user is looking for alternate times -- taking advantage of the new compressed listings functionality.
Hipmunk declined to comment on the similarity of the functions, and Google was silent.
It's a small change, but one of the many examples of how user experience standards in search can change over time, especially as companies adapt to user behavior on new devices.
Condensing results creatively and showing a curated selection isn't a unique effort by these companies, of course. Just think of Orbitz with its Matrix, which displays one lowest-price nonstop per airline, in a grid.
But who's copying who is always a little bit interesting.