Excerpts From Gregg Brockway's The Beat Live Keynote, With Q&A

The Beat readers voted for TripIt cofounder and president Gregg Brockway to present his views on current and future travel technologies as a keynote presentation at The Beat Live in Austin Sept. 23. An excerpt of Brockway's presentation follows and his presentation deck can be found here.
When I found out I had been voted to be the keynote speaker, I was feeling really flattered. Then yesterday I found out all the other speakers actually rigged the vote so they sit on the panel. Seriously, it's great to be part of such an intelligent conversation as we've been having over the last day and a half.

I thought I'd start by introducing my tag cloud. This is all information about me that you can find on the Web. I'm the president of TripIt. I live in San Francisco. I grew up in the Silicon Valley. After a short tour of duty in the finance industry, I returned to my tech roots. I am a travel junkie--a long-time travel junkie--working on travel projects for the last 10 years. I was the cofounder of Hotwire and then after Hotwire was acquired by Expedia, I became the president of Classic Vacations. If you read my blog or my tweets, you'll find that I am really passionate about the end-user experience and spend a lot of time thinking about where the world is going and how technology might be changing it.

What I want to talk about today are three really big trends: Mobility, social networking and interoperability of services--talking to each other up in the cloud. What's really interesting about these three things is that I think they're all coming together and creating what we're starting to call at TripIt the traveler-centric future. It's big, it's real and I think it's a great opportunity to everybody in this room.

Most of the time innovation comes not from looking backwards, but from looking forwards. How you look forward is actually harder than it might sound. For example, I can tell you absolutely, unequivocally that the product I'm about to show is going to dramatically change the travel industry in ways we can't even imagine. This is the Star Trek teleporter. It's gonna be a game changer. You laugh, but there are real smart people working on teleportation. Quantum physicists, the problem is called entanglement and has something to do with quarks. As business leaders, it's not actionable knowledge because we don't know when it will be commercialized, so it's not a great way to look at the future.

As a science fiction guy, one of my favorite writers is William Gibson and he's got a different way of looking at the future. He likes to say: "The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed." What I think he means by that is the future is already around us in spots if we take the time to look. So I want to take this approach to looking at this unevenly distributed future to dig into these three big trends I talked about before--mobility, social networking and interoperability of services--and then bring them all together in the context of travel.

Trend 1: Mobility
Let's start with mobility. Everyone has seen the numbers:
~ 4 billion smartphones by 2012
~ Smartphone market is growing 20 times faster than PC
~ 80 percent of business travelers carry smartphones.

These are really, really impressive numbers, which is why everyone is paying so much attention to it. The reason it's growing so fast is not just that the phones are better. Yes the phones are better, but it's really this convergence of better phones with for the first time, really fast Internet connectivity and a tremendous amount of investment going into services to make these phones more useful. If you want to talk about innovation, just look at the iPhone app store--it's incredible what's happening there. It's not just about the lighters and whoopee cushions. There are serious, interesting things happening there.

But if you only look at the numbers, I think you're missing the plot.

The big thing that's happening is that mobile is changing how people behave. This picture here captures it well. Old world on the right, guy reading a book and new world on left with guy reading a book on his mobile phone book. "Keitshi tseuus" is the Japanese term for mobile phone book. It may come as a surprise to hear that last year five of the top 10 best sellers in Japan were actually mobile phone book.

The mobile phone is getting a tremendous amount of our most valuable resource--our attention--and it's not just in Japan; it's everywhere. I love this. This guy in the middle (of this picture) is actually sitting on an Internet-enabled surfboard. Behaviors are changing, I'm a perfect example of that. I used to wake up in the morning, hop on my laptop and blow through my email. Now, I can do that on my iphone. It's faster and easier, more convenient. The phone is getting so much more of our attention today.

From a travel industry perspective what does this mean?

Clearly you need a mobile presence, but I don't think it means that we should all rush out to build a mobile app. As we heard yesterday, there are already 2,000 travel apps in the iTunes app store. Research shows that after this initial period of activity, people usually use just 5 apps. If you're the 2,001st, I don't think there's a great chance of you becoming one of those top 5 apps. The right thing to do in establishing a mobile presence is to work with some of the players making big investments. Save your money and use it elsewhere.

Trend 2: social networking
Again numbers are incredibly large.
~ 300 million Facebook members. If Facebook were a county, it would actually be the No. 4 country in the world, right after the United States. In a few months, it will probably be the No. 3 country in the world because the United States isn't much bigger than that.
~ 50 million Twitter users
~ Gartner says: "Worldwide participation in social networks is growing from 118 million in 2008 to 800 million people by 2012."

Really, really impressive, explosive growth.

Again, if you just look at the numbers, you're gonna miss the point. Social networking is actually changing how people behave. It used to be that we were restricted and talked to one person at a time. But that's really not the case anymore. You have these one-to-many communication models which are really changing the landscape. If you are a determined individual, you can amass millions of Twitter followers who actually read what you have to say. That's a totally new phenomenon and it's got incredible implications for all of us marketers and brand stewards. This is where the attention is at and it's absolutely a space that we have to play in.

What does it mean as a manager and travel industry participant?

I don't think this means that you go out and try to build yourself a social network. Social network fatigue is very real. People are increasingly tired of joining networks. People want to participate in one, maybe two, possibly if you're aggressive, three and that's it. So how do you participate in this, or even should you?

I want to make the case that absolutely you should.

Older people are the fastest growing demographic for all this stuff.

This is data from an online survey we ran in TripIt last year. We were shocked to find out that 50 percent of those we surveyed already had a LinkedIn account and this was last year.

For those who are just getting used to the concept of a social network, Facebook, Twitter MySpace and all these things, I've got some bad news because the game is about to change in a really fundamental way. Someone started to talk about this yesterday, but social networking and the social graph are actually starting to get extracted from the social network itself.

What's happening is that your social network is starting to become portable and you can take it with you as you go around and interact with other services.

Urbanspoon is a cool service and Web site too--all they do is rate restaurant reviews.

Because they've implemented Facebook connect, I can go to Urbanspoon and instead of seeing just generically filtered reviews, I can actually overlay my Facebook network on Urbanspoon and just see what my network thinks about restaurants. Facebook is allowing me to export my social graph to make my experience on Urbanspoon, a third party application, that much better. So my social graph is moving with me as a cruise around the Internet, which is really interesting stuff.

The point I'm trying to make is that the social network is becoming ubiquitous.
Stowe Boyd, a prominent Silicon Valley blogger said: Social architecture will come to underlie all the successful applications of our day and the earlier apps will either rapidly adopt to this model or be eclipsed by other apps that do." ~Stowe Boyd, Message Feb. 2006.

If I said this two years ago (which Stowe Boyd said in 2006) you'd look at me and say I don't believe it, it's not happening, just a San Francisco guy. I actually think it's happening, it's real and is something we all need to pay attention to.
Again, don't run out and build a social network, but pay attention to this stuff.

Trend 3: Interoperability of Services

I want to take you on a whirlwind tour of the history of the Internet and online travel.

In the beginning, Web 1.0 was really about the one-way Web. It was about services pushing out content to users. Great examples of this in the travel industry are Travelocity in the early days or Frommer's.

2.0. I call this the two-day web. This is about people interacting, user generated content, social networks where people are the content. Info flowing both ways. Now the poster child here is TripAdvisor. New thing starting to happen, which gets at interoperability of services. I'm going to call it the bot web for now, but there are a lot of different names for it. Some call it the semantic web, web 3.0, the data web, intelligent agent web.

It doesn't matter what you call it, what's common about all these different descriptions is that applications are starting to talk to each other up in the cloud on our behalf without us being involved. It used to be that the Internet was this incredible resource for people, but all the content that was out there was really invisible to machines. They couldn't read it, couldn't understand it, couldn't do anything with it. That's starting to change.

Intelligent Agents Or Web Bots

Tim Berners-Lee--the guy who actually invented the Internet--predicted this a long, long time ago. He said this back in 1999 and was thinking about this long before:

"I have a dream for the Web ... when the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The intelligent agents that people have touted for ages will finally materialize."

Pretty visionary, far reaching stuff and we're starting to see bits and pieces of that come to life. Tim Berners-Lee likes to call things "intelligent agents." In the travel industry "agents" is such a loaded term that I don't like to use it. Instead I call it Web bots, but I'm really referring to this notion of intelligent agents out there doing stuff for us.

The Web bot phenomenon is being made possible through a variety of technologies. None of these technologies are recommended conversation topics for an 8 a.m. talk. But it's a range of things:

~ Open standards like those being promoted by the Open Travel Alliance.
~ Markup language; better natural language processing.
~ And then it's the kind of technologies that TripIt uses like open API. Openness is a big part of what's making this possible. And fancy regular expression parsing.

What do these trends mean for travel industry? Individually, each of these is a huge opportunity, but it's really as these start to come together that things get interesting.

In the old world, you could think about life as a business travel world, a leisure travel world and then this thing called the social Web. These were all unique and distinct spaces. With interoperability, all these services are starting to talk to each other and engage with each other. Then if you really throw fuel on the fire and say that everybody out there has this computing device that is so powerful it can capture the entire Internet on a handset, that's incredible. Traveler, the ultimate consumer of all these services becomes incredibly powerful and the whole architecture starts to realign around the traveler.

When I talk about the traveler-centric future this is what I mean, the convergence of these three trends coming together and making the traveler the ultimate decider.

There will be a lot of services that benefit from this Traveler Centric vision of the future. Everyone in this room's business can benefit form this travel centric vision. I want to talk just for a minute and use the example of TripIt trying to take advantage of this vision.
We take all the info about your bookings--we can take bookings from over 500 different services, restaurants, airlines, cruises, hotel, rental cars-pretty much anything related to travel. We created technology that we call the Itinerator that takes this all in. Once all in one place, we make it easy to share. You can add fellow travelers, spouses, your work group. So what's happening is that people are building these incredibly rich profiles. We're really focused on the post-booking experience. Engaging social networks--Twitter, LinkedIn, make it easy to sync it back to your calendar and support a range of mobile devices so you can always see it on mobile phone. So that's what TripIt is all about.

In the traveler centric future, we think this growing data asset is a really important piece of this trend. This data has to be aggregated to share it effectively.

We have a bigger vision of what TripIt is about. We want to make it easier for traveler to get information into any tool they want to use. This is much bigger than what TripIt can or should build, we want to open this information up to third parties to do something with. We've built a much bigger API. With an open API, you don't need our permission, you just go build it to add info to or extract info from TripIt. Our permission is traveler centric so you need a traveler's permission to get data. It's another example of how Open APIs are leading to this idea of interoperability.

In addition to lots of smaller company like lots of mobile apps, social networking and several expense reporting solutions starting to interact with TripIt data, we've also got bigger companies. Very excited to announce that BCD travel and the fabulous April Bridgeman has partnered with TripIt. I was hoping to be able to announce--we've inked a partnership with one of the largest OTAs, unfortunately I can't tell you who it is today. [TripIt later announced it was Hotwire.] We're seeing some really interesting traction and excitement with what we're doing throughout the industry.

Why would a company want to work with TripIt? The best post-booking experience, a rich, collaborative itinerary. We've got a range of mobile services. We're really focused on social network integration. This open API and developer ecosystem are interesting. One of the things it enables partners to do is we have a little company called FlightCaster which is predictive algorithms to predict when flights are going to be delayed. Many think it's interesting, but don't want to take the time to integrate. But it's integrated with TripIt so if you integrate with TripIt, can use FlightCaster without doing anything else.
There are some revenue opportunity with TripIt Pro and our APIs are built on standards that make it easy to implement and integrate with.

I'd like to talk about this unevenly distributed future from the perspective of the corporate travel manager, suppliers and then ultimately the traveler. From the company point of view, what's going to be possible in the future:

In the future everyone will have own little itinerator, whether from TripIt or somebody else. That little guide will have perfect visibility into everything so there will be no more falling off the grid or knowing where all travelers are. A personal bot is going to talk to the company bot and problem of where are all my travelers at is going to be solved, regardless of where they happen to book.

Individual bots will also be a great took for compliance. The company bot can talk to the personal bot and know what's in plan, out of plan and may be a new way to enforce compliance.

This is an example of a prototype from TripIt to show you where everybody from a particular company is at. This could actually get built today. We're seeing more and more companies start to build internal social networks or build groups within Facebook or others. This is something that TripIt has with LinkedIn. Looks where you're traveling, where your LinkedIn network is traveling and circles where they intersect. We call this kind of proximity matching 'who's close.' In the future we'll see this kind of proximity matching technology power all enterprise social networks. I think that will solve a whole lot of problems.

Somebody brought up problem of seven people arrive at the airport and take separate limos to same destination. With Who's Close that becomes a lot harder to justify.

Makes travelers much more productive. Every hotel lobby, coffee stand, every place travelers are at become networking opportunities with clients or other employees--really interesting future development.

If turn it around and go a little further out, great new revenue opportunities for the airlines. We all know that the airlines will charge for anything. If you combine proximity matching with some understanding of people's profiles, you could sell a whole new seat class: Social seats for $30 you can pay to sit next to someone interesting. You laugh now, but Dave (Hilfman of Continental) I see you writing this down. I think it will be a big hit with road warriors and randy young men.

But it also can solve some of the more mundane problems: ones I see at the airports all the time as limo guys are walking around the airport with signs. In the world of web bots, free flow of information, my travel bot will let the bot for the limo company know that my flights is delayed. When I arrive at the airport, I'll just look at augmented reality phone and see where the driver is-a much more seamless travel experience.

At the hotel, the guest service is in for reshaping as well. We'll see high touch taken to a whole new level. The concierge bot will have access to my profile and do a much better job of coming up with tailored hotel services. When I ask them to book me a restaurant or massage, that information will go automatically into my personal bot for my preference. When it comes time to get the massage, directions will come up on my radio watch.

As these things start to happen, as service providers start to compete more directly along the dimensions of easy access to information and service, the traveler is the ultimate beneficiary. The traveler is the one who will reap the most rewards. The in-trip experience is going to get a lot better because my bot is always going to be able to use these predictive indicators from FlightCaster, flight stats data to let me know when there is a problem and at the same time my bot is going to be able to search contextually relevant alternatives for me. My bot can go out and reschedule my limo, all my meetings, flights and let wife know I won't be home for dinner.

I want to go back to this profile of me sitting out there. I think this profile is one that I'm going to want to go out and share with service providers to get a better experience. When my info is protected and managed by my bot, I'll be able to tell all these service providers about me and give me much better service experience. They'll also be able to give me much better contextual marketing offers. They're going to be able to understand my past purchase history, interests, social network history, where I'm at in the planning process. In the event that marketers choose to ignore all this info, my bot is going to run interference and make sure I only see what I really want to see.

I'm super excited about the future of travel and this vision of the traveler-centric future. To wrap up: these three big trends of mobility, social network and interoperability are going to create the traveler centric future. TripIt is one example of that, but I fully expect that there will be others. I really think it will create opportunities for everybody in this room. The only limit is going to be our imagination and speed at which we can put this into practice. Sit down, relax and embrace this area of change. It's happening and fun to think about.

Because I think this is coming through the convergence of these three big trends, I don't think it's stoppable. It's not any one company's agenda or a group of companies pushing an agenda. It's something that is happening. Only question is how we want to respond.

Question for us is how we want the world to remember us in our respective businesses.

Travel is one of life's great joys and personally, I can't wait to see how we embrace this traveler centric future.

Q & A

Becky Waller, CWT: Profile data has to sit somewhere and we have travel profiles, Facebook profiles. Everything I've seen in terms of profiles are very one dimensional, but I have facets. We are multidimensional. I thought entire facets can be made available to one group and other facets can be presented to my best friend from childhood. The question that leads me to is as much as common language platforms and open APIs are paving the way for the kind of interaction and interoperability you're talking about, where is all this getting stored and how does that multidimensional of a human being get stored in that ether?

Brockway: I don't think anybody knows. I don't think there will be one universal, master profile sitting out there stored in one place. I'm a big proponent of Avatars. We'll have the opportunity to use these profile preferences as we perform different task. We might actually have multiple places where profile is stored. My point is that I think profiles will get richer, more comprehensive and ultimately controlled by the individual--maybe not today or tomorrow, but somewhere down the road. There will be multiple profiles--or personalities--to adopt as you see fit. We're starting to see that with social networks. I personally use LinkedIn for professional and I use Facebook almost exclusive for personal.

Waller: But TripIt goes to both.

Brockway: Yes, because there are times when I want to share to both. Ultimately you'll have the granular controls to decide which to share with what.

Waller: At some point, you need to be able to parse that down. Key bit of missing info in this cloud and that's the logic of who gets what, when.

Brockway: I actually think you're solving the next problem. The first problem to solve is how do you just bring that profile together in the first place. Right now it's spread all over. If we can solve that first one, we can start to do a better job managing it.

Pam Keenan Fritz of Egencia: But it's problem that is actually here now. We've created group trips to show where colleagues are on the plane and a lot of corporations don't like it. Companies say that's invading privacy and it has a security angle. Is that something we need to manage, or is it something that overtime will just disappear?

Brockway: I think privacy and security are one of the most important issues to address. But I'll share TripIt's experience. We hatched this idea about three years ago and started working on this. One of our concerns was are people going to be comfortable sharing info with us and how are we going to address this idea of privacy. We almost never hear privacy and security concerns. We get a ton of comments every day. Almost all related to privacy and security are going the other way. Make it easier for me to share my info. Give me ability to put entire trip--including pricing and confirmation numbers out there on the web for people to find--stuff that I'm not personally comfortable with. I think it's just a sign of the times and how people view personal information. What I think the right thing to do is to give the individual the degree of control to share info if they want. That's the principle that TripIt uses, individual control.

Cindy Heston of Wellpoint: What percentage of your customer base is in United States versus EMEA or Asia? EMEA has totally different privacy.
Brockway: It's mostly U.S., about 85 percent. We have a lot of users in the U.K., Asia, it's just the bulk are here in the U.S.

Heston: In essence what you've created for the industry and you mentioned that you stumbled on it is the super PNR and it's actively engage by the customers. From the travel manager standpoint, we were all spinning our wheels trying to create this, aggregate all data and you've created it from the customer. How can I as a company engage my travelers to not only participate in this, but glean data out of your systems for all Wellpoint travelers and take that data to make their experience better, give me more knowledge about what they're doing and not invade their privacy?

Brockway: Putting the control in the hands of the traveler solves the European Safe Harbor issue.

Heston: But what I want from you is the data out of those profiles to aggregate it all.

Brockway: That's absolutely possible.

April Bridgeman of BCD Travel: The open API gives you very significant opportunity and that's one of the things we're doing with our relationships with TripIt. Not only will we send data over, but as individuals populate more info into their super PNR we'll be pulling that back for security, and all sorts of other reporting opportunities to gain control over a wider range of spend and enhance the data that we have on the traveler. Each traveler will have to opt in to letting us have their info. That's the privacy issue, so it won't be a 100 percent. Can make it compulsory, but everyone has to agree to it. You'll get only as much data back as those who participates, but it's better than what you have today.

Heston: Can you say, "Pass this, don't pass this?"

Brockway: No, not yet, but the data model is catching up to that. Today, it's similar to calendar or email used at work. A lot of people receive personal emails at work, but they know how to manage it. They know not to put things on shared calendars. Eventually we will have greater control over what gets passed back to their employer.