It was not long that putting a search tool into a Facebook application was considered something of a landmark issue - but things are moving quickly now.
Ever since Malaysia Airlines put full booking, check-in and seat selection into a Facebook application (courtesy of SITA Lab) in early-2011, simply serving a user with a list of search results and then sending them off elsewhere to make a booking has seemed, well, limited.
Gomio (in conjunction with Appnostic) has recently shown how the user experience (and booking) of a hostel web platform can be integrated into a Facebook application (hotels are getting interested, too), but what about flight search across multiple airlines?
As part of the preparation for the November 2011 launch of its Developer Network, Travelport asked an external programmer to see what could done with the data provided through its API when thrown in Facebook.
The result (put together in a few weeks and, in typical hacking style, a bit rough around the edges) is the e-volve app, a platform where users can search and book flights for any airline via the Travelport GDS feed through the ePricing service coming into the Universal API.
But flight search is just flight search, though, right?
One of the remarks people often make about putting search tools into Facebook is: what is the point of doing it if the app doesn't utilise the very nature of what Facebook is? A social network.
In this case, as well as recognising the location of the user as the starting point, the app can also search for flights by typing a Facebook friend's name.
If the friend has identified their location details on the member page, then the app will automatically search for flights based on those two points.
Search results are displayed (at this stage - remember, it is only conceptual) in the usual way, with a map outlining the route and outlining the price, carrier, times, number of stops, duration, etc.
Users can share the results to a friend's wall (linking back to the fare) but, most importantly, book directly within the application.
Multi-stop results are also included:
There are a number of interesting and speculative elements to all this (especially as Travelport is keen to stress that e-volve is NOT a product as yet, just a plaything from an external developer using its API):
- Potential for collaborative booking is obvious.
- Point-to-point search is kind of there (it includes some rail operators and local transport systems such as the London tube) - but full multi-modal search results (such as what Zoombu and Travelfusion are striving toward) will play right into the heart of what Facebook is all about: connecting people in locations. Specific locations.
- Perhaps Facebook profiles will be legitimate and official PNRs at some point.
Travelport says e-volve is not available as a product as yet, but over time (with the obvious refinements required) it may eventually be placed in the Developer Network as an application for customers.