Oh, the chaos.
The very recent growth of location-based services like foursquare and Gowalla, Google's potential acquisition of ITA Software, and the introduction of Facebook's social graph, with its universal website sign-in functionality and Like buttons, has the potential to shake up the travel business and the wider Web in really big ways.
How much? It's anyone's guess.
That was the theme of a PhoCusWright Town Hall at the Travdex trade show in Atlanta late yesterday afternoon as CEO Philip Wolf pointed to the disruption and led a discussion about the potential fallout.
Which will have a greater impact, he asked, a Google acquisition of ITA Software or Facebook's social graph?
The views were mixed as Travdex attendees and analysts, sipping various libations in the exhibition hall at the Cobb Galleria Centre, chimed in with their opinions.
Wolf said Google's acquisition of ITA Software could be "needle-moving" if it leads to "the best little app" for air search and Google "makes it open to the world."
PhoCusWright analyst Norm Rose argued that both Facebook's social graph -- because its ripples will be felt way beyond the travel industry -- and Google-ITA, which he says would bring travel metasearch into Google's core search functionality, will both be big.
But, Rose argued that Google-ITA may be more impactful because there is so much push-back against Facebook out of privacy concerns.
Several Travdex attendees waded in with their views, with one arguing that Facebook's impact would be larger than Google-ITA because of Facebook's 400 million or so users, and another participant speculated that it would take Google a year to integrate ITA anyway.
As the town hall rolled on, Wolf came down on the side of the Facebook social graph having greater kapow than a Google-ITA mashup.
He said the impact of the Facebook social graph, with millions of consumers using its univeral log-in feature, could be "humongatory."
With consumers signing-on across the Web with their Facebook screen names, bringing their personal information along with them, and with your social-network friends being able to rate hotels with the Like button, these kind of changes could be far-reaching, he argued.
"You don't think that's big?" Wolf said, referring to the universal log-in.
Rezgo CEO Stephen Joyce concurred, noting that the personal-data aggregation inherent in the social graph will bring game-changing delivery of pay-per click product advertising for travel and other businesses.
"This could be personalization on steroids," Wolf agreed.
In fact, Wolf contended that the advent of the social graph's universal log-in and the platform fragmentation inherent with the potpouri of mobile devices, are among factors leading to a conclusion that the "golden era of the Web is officially over."
Well, that was fast.
Oh, the disruption.
And, the speed of change.
Wolf pointed to travel companies' challenges these days when they have to optimize their offerings for the PC, disparate mobile platforms, including the iPad, as well as for YouTube and Flickr.
And etc. etc. etc.
There was much talk and debate at the Travdex town hall about the implications of other hot trends and and seemingly mind-numbing developments. Among them:
- Online travel agencies on a growth path amidst the hotel industry's worst year, and whether consumers would return to supplier-direct channels once travel rebounds?
- The explosive growth of foursquare and Gowalla "out of nowhere."
- The impact of ancillary services and merchandising and the nature of the changes it would engender.
Amidst the discussion, an occasional smartphone would ring, a text message would ping, an iPad or two emerged out of their cases, and one attendee said he would never go back to booking his travel via fax.
Faxes were big in a seemingly less-chaotic time.
But, today faxes are so yesterday.