What Google Could Do with ITA's Software

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-07-07 Print this article Print

Not even a week went by before word came out that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission were brokering to scrutinize Google's $700 million bid to acquire flight information software company ITA Software, as I noted on eWEEK yesterday.

ITA's QPX software organizes flight times, availability and prices.

Airline customers such as US Airways and Alitalia, metasearch engines including Kayak and Microsoft Bing Travel, and online travel providers such as Orbitz and Hotwire use the technology to improve the way they help consumers find flights and purchase tickets.

As a search engine, Google currently has little to offer consumers by way of flight info. Google merely points consumers conducting travel queries to Expedia and Priceline, and calls up departure and arrival times.

This isn't enough to make online travel actionable, and therefore truly valuable to users. More than half of all flights are booked online. Google is pathologically incapable of not extending its tendrils to every nook and cranny of the Web where massive amounts of eyeballs turn.

It follows that Google should join this flight info market. Google wants ITA's technology to build new tools that make it easier for users to search for flights, compare flight options and prices, and shuttle users to a site to purchase tickets.

How would ITA's software manifest on Google's search engine? Google CEO Eric Schmidt said on the call to announce the deal July 1:

"I think it's unlikely that anything we do will look like what's available today."

Also on the call, Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, provided some examples.

"We anticipate being able to build in some flight search capabilities in terms of flight tracking and in terms of being able to buy particular flights. ... Where can I get within seven hours and within this price?"

When pressed, Mayer acknowledged Google will, just like it does with current search queries, offer personalized flight info results based on users' location or likely future location.

She said this might be something as rudimentary as determining where the user is and letting them book flights based on location.

Finally, she said Google Alerts for travel are "not out of the realm of possibility." So if a user searched yesterday for a flight and it is about to sell out the next day, Google would fire off an alert to the user's e-mail on the desktop or mobile phone to warn him to act or miss the flight.

Tying location-based Web services to flight transactions is a no-brainer. Flights are incredibly fluid, and if Google can bring these transactions to the user instead of making the user track them down, it will provide great value to consumers.

Of course, if I'm the Bing team, I'm making damn sure the search engine starts providing what Mayer talked about. Bing Travel already has airfare pricing and routing, but alerts would be a nice next step.

As for Google's chances here, there's no telling yet whether the DOJ or the FTC will nix the deal.

Some believe that because Google is so absent in the flight industry vertical, regulators should bless the deal.

We'll see. Supposedly, the DOJ looks at air travel. For Google's sake, I hope so.

One gets the distinct impression the FTC has a score to settle with Google after the embarrassing AdMob debacle. And this time, as they say in blockbuster, shoot 'em ups, it's personal.

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