Image: Tripit.com
Tripit.com  /  tripit.com
This new service has users book travel using the Web sites they normally do and then forward their confirmation e-mails to TripIt. The site’s software, aka the Itinerator, can read e-mails from more than 70 booking sites; it then incorporates them into a single master itinerary complete with pertinent destination information.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/17/2007 5:07:57 PM ET 2007-09-17T21:07:57

I’ve never met Gregg Brockway, but I think the guy has been poking around my office. How else would he know that that manila folder by the clock is crammed full with travel articles, street maps and confirmation e-mails for various flights, hotels and rental cars?

Probably, Brockway would say, because most travelers have one just like it, which is why he’s launching TripIt, a Web-based travel organizer now going from private to public beta testing. “It’s an intelligent travel organizer with a social twist,” says Brockway, who previously co-founded Hotwire.com and has obviously fought with a few manila folders of his own.

It works like this: Users book travel using the Web sites they normally do and then forward their confirmation e-mails to TripIt. The site’s software, aka the Itinerator, can read e-mails from more than 70 booking sites; it then incorporates them into a single master itinerary complete with pertinent destination information.

For example, I recently booked a trip to San Francisco using frequent flier miles on United.com, a coupon on Dollar.com and the luck of the draw on Hotwire.com. When I forwarded my confirmation e-mails to TripIt, the Itinerator organized them in chronological order and added date-specific weather data, local maps and driving directions between the airport and my hotel.

The site also lets you add personal notes, daily plans and links to local attractions. Input a restaurant address and it will provide driving directions; invite “friends” and you can coordinate your travels with theirs. The site’s TripClipper application lets you add items of interest from anywhere on the Web (no more Post-it notes), while Travel Guides will eventually provide links to articles, photos and local events, all pegged to your destination and travel dates.

The site isn’t intended to be a one-stop shop for travel. For one thing, there’s no booking feature. For another, says Brockway, most people already have Web sites they like to use: “We want to empower them to do that and be the place where they put that information.”

Applets, mapplets and mashups, oh my
In other words, it’s a bit of a mashup, i.e., a resource for combining data from disparate sources and “repurposing” it based on your own needs and interests. As such, it’s one of a slew of new offerings that are leveraging the power of software to create more personal, more functional and, perhaps, more intuitive online experiences.

This summer, for example, Google Maps introduced Mapplets, a new mini-application that lets users layer third-party information directly on any Google Map and then save it in a personal library. Currently, the site features hundreds of independently developed Mapplets, ranging from the practical (e.g., live local weather conditions) to the incomprehensible (does anybody really need a global map of YouTube videos?).

For travelers, the possibilities are equally diverse. Driving? Track fuel prices along your route via the gas-station overlay from GasBuddy.com. Need a hotel room? Check out pricing and availability at your destination using the inventory on Orbitz.com, Hotels.com or Booking.com. Local transit maps, walking distance calculators, guides to global Web cams and traffic cameras — if a particular overlay isn’t already available, chances are someone’s working on it right now.

Social networking that works for you
Meanwhile, Orbitz.com recently added a new feature that adds a travel-savvy twist to social networking and user-generated content. Instead of random reviews and anonymous insights, the OrbitzTLC Traveler Update lets users share real-time information about what’s happening at 40 of the busiest airports around the country.

Forget historic wait times at security (although they’re also available). We’re talking about travelers currently at the airport using their laptops and mobile phones to provide insights on local traffic, check-in lines, taxi availability and how long the wait is at the security gate they just passed through. At O’Hare, for example, security lines in Terminal 2 are running 10–15 minutes — at least they were according to Flowergirl22, who posted an update while I was typing this.

Finally, consider Facebook, which is currently augmenting its social-networking prowess with thousands of mashable mini-applications created by third-party developers. To date, the site offers 135 travel-related applets, although far more are designed to enhance members’ profiles than to facilitate actual travel. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really need to know the GPS coordinates of my friends and relatives.

More to the point, perhaps, I sometimes wonder if this bumper crop of applets represents a new step forward or simply more noise in our already busy lives. (Got an opinion? Share it here.) Personally, I’m already too easily sidetracked to add more distractions to my day, which is why I like the idea of an online organizer that compiles data from multiple sources into one handy package.

The Itinerator is a good start. I only hope that someone is already working on a Web site that will eliminate the other 37 manila folders on my desk.

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