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Using Twitter to plan a holiday (test repost)

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Recently I’ve been doing a bit of work on the HolidayExtras Twitter account. We’re trying to use it as a way to promote products and special offers and generally spread the word about the brand and the company. It’s been fairly successful so far, we’ve gained 261 followers over a month or two and that’s with really very little work. It’s something that two of us work on in spare time between other projects.

I’ve been using Twitter for my own purposes as well outside of work, my Jon Clarke account for friends and then another for my band SecondEdge. It’s a really interesting tool for discovering new content on the web and seems a great way to connect with people. I never really got into Facebook, it was too much spam for me to really be bothered with. Twitter has forced people to really condense their message into what they want to say, which I think is a good thing. Enables me to cut out the useless fluff (pokes and pie throwing anyone?) and get to the good information.

Twitter search I think is big news for the Internet. It’s essentially a canvas of current public opinion. I’m using it at work to find what people are saying about the company and if anyone is having any problem with parking or hotels. It’s at this point that we can step in and offer a helping hand. It can be an invaluable boost to public opinion of your brand, even if you don’t make a direct sale the fact that you’re seen to be going out of your way to help can give a positive boost to your image. As soon as my band finish our recording I’ll be taking what I’ve learnt and applying it there as well.

So what does this have to do with travel, the whole point of this blog? Well what better medium to ask people about a hotel before you book a stay? What better way to find people who have been to your resort of choice beforehand? If you think about it, you can even ask locals where the best places to eat are before you get there.

I’ll try to paint a scenario for you. I’m planning a holiday for the summer, let’s say to New Zealand. I’m planning on staying at a Gatwick hotel before I fly out. I can search Twitter for Gatwick hotels and see what people have to say. Like this;

It's easy to get public opinion

It's easy to get public opinion

So what I could do is directly message this person and ask what hotel they stayed at and what they thought of it.

Let’s say I booked my hotel, I’ve flown over to New Zealand and I’m looking for a good place to eat in Wellington. Well, what do I find on Twitter?

So where are the best restaurants in Wellington, New Zealand?

So where are the best restaurants in Wellington, New Zealand?

As more and more people sign up (hopefully it’ll be bigger than Facebook) it’ll become easier and easier to ask almost anything you like and get genuine help and opinion.

However you still have to be careful, and just like the rest of the Internet there’s a lot of crap out there. Make sure you can wade through the rubbish and find the trustworthy stuff. Right now the majority of the Twitter population is made up of early adopters and tech-savvy people. As it becomes more mainstream then it’ll inevitably attract the whole plethora of people we’ve (sadly) come to expect online. That being said, I’ll still be using Twitter search and I’d encourage you to as well.

As a final point I’d like to consider the possibility that Twitter and the services that will inevitably outdo and supercede it have brought in Web 3.0, or the Semantic Web. The Wikipedia article defines the Semantic Web as;

The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content. It derives from World Wide Web Consortium director Sir Tim Burners-Lee’s vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange.

And this is exactly what you can do with Twitter. You can ask an open question and hope that your followers will answer. Or you can find an “expert” through Twitter search and then ask them. Now the problem with it as that you’re reliant on other people responding and that they’re reliable. And what if you don’t have enough followers? What the real Semantic Web will be is an automatic process that will work much like Google’s current search engine but will understand language and your questions. I think that Twitter is a step in this direction and that anyone going on holiday would be foolish to ignore its potential.

The message I’m trying to get across here is that even if you don’t really care for the Internet Web 3.0 theory stuff is that it’s never been easier to ask about where you’re going on holiday and get genuine recommendations. The strongest referral one can get is from a friend that has already experienced what you’re thinking about doing. The difference here is that you can have friends from all over the world, and that’s just never been possible before.

Airport world records, again

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Biggest, smallest, oldest, highest, lowest. The Guinness World Records have fascinated us for decades. From the bizarre to the surreal to the amazing they seem, at least to me, to tap into that innate human curiosity. Sometimes you feel you just have to know who is the person that can put the most clothes pegs on their face at once. Stupid records aside, most are genuinely interesting. For this post I thought I’d have a look at a few with regards to airports round the world.

The highest airport in the world is Quamdo Bangda airport in Tibet. It’s located 4,334 metres above sea level and its runway 14/32 is the longest publicly used in the world, at 5,500m. The low air density at such a high altitude makes take off and landing more difficult than usual. Although I think that flying to other airports must be pretty easy, just glide down!

The highest airport in the world

The highest airport in the world at Quamdo Bangda

The most remote airport in the world is on Easter Island, 2603km from the nearest airport in the Gambier Islands. Matavari International splits the island and apparently almost separates the mountain of Rano Kau from the rest of the tiny landmass.

Mataveri International, the most remote airport in the world

Mataveri International, the most remote airport in the world

It’s a place I’ve always had a keen interest in visiting, and the knowledge that I’d be in literally the most remote spot on the planet kind of adds to the mystique. Perhaps one day I’ll visit and get some photos first hand.

The oldest airport in the world is College Park airport in Prince Georges County, Maryland USA. Established in 1909 after a visit from aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright the airport has been the home of many flying firsts. Notably in 1909 when Frederic Humphreys became the first military pilot to solo in a government aeroplane.

I dug around a little (OK I admit, I looked at Wikipedia) and the title of world’s busiest airport seems to be shared around a bit. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atalanta International airport in Atalanta, Georgia USA has the highest number of passenger a year, and London Heathrow has the largest number of international passengers. I guess I’d attribue that to the much larger amount of internal flight traffic across the USA compared to the UK.

After all these though, I think this is probably my favourite. The video speaks for itself, and the Princess Juliana International airport takes my award for “most insane airport”.

The reason they come in so close is that the runway at the airport is incredibly short. I can’t think that it’s too relaxing on the beach there, and a little bit noisy. Still, if you’re a planespotter I guess it’s ideal.

So that’s just a few world record breaking airports. I’ll probably expand on this post in a few weeks and add in some more records. Posting that YouTube video has given me some ideas, so I might try and find some crazy/wacky airport footage. We shall see.

The craziest forms of transport

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For a blog that’s about travel I’ve realised that we haven’t really talked too much about the myriad of different modes of transport we have available these days. I’ve spoken a little about cars, spaceships and implied some about planes. However I think I’d like to talk about (and show) some of the lesser known (and wackier) methods of transport that we can choose from. I’m probably stretching my luck, but maybe Holiday Extras will one day send me off to try a few out.

The Jetpack has been a kind of Holy Grail for science fiction enthusiasts, military types and those with no sense of personal safety. It’s gone through an incredible amount of iterations since its conception. The Germans first tried, without success, to use jetpacks during World War 2. The US military has written them off as unusable and prefers helicopters. However there does remain a scene of hardcore enthusiasts, and in 2008 Yves Rossy became the first man to fly over the English Channel using a jetpack.

Once the stuff of science fiction could it be that the jetpack is finally here? Probably not, heat is an issue (Rossy wears a flame retardant suit) as well as the distinctly un-aerodynamic properties of the human body. They have some use in space where the microgravity means that minimal amounts of thrust are needed, and I imagine that the jetpack is something that is going to remain in the hands of astronauts.

Some of the craziest modes of transport are the most low tech. The bicycle has been around for a long time and has spawned a number of offshoots. For a long time I thought that the unicycle was the wackiest of bike variants. While usually the domain of those crazy types who just love being “different” I think that the unicycle has met its match in my next nomination. The monowheel.

The monowheel is a single wheeled (surprise) bike, usually motorised, that doesn’t seem to provide the rider with any benefit whatsoever over a regular bike. They look uncomfortable, dangerous and difficult to ride. However, they do look ridiculous and so therefore earn their place in this hall of fame. If you’re having trouble picturing the monowheel, then here’s a video. Be warned, the crash at the end is excruciating to watch.

Last on this list is something decidedly less high-tech. I’ll show you the video first.

The ostrich. Probably the last animal I would ever want to ride. Look how the guy is clinging on for dear life as the giant bird tries to run away from him. I had a friend who lived near an ostrich farm and when we walked up to the fence they’d come over to have a look at us. They strike me as an animal that’s constantly pissed off. Something it’s probably best not to go near, let alone try and mount. Still, it looks quite funny so they make this inglorious list.

And that’s that. It’s the end of the day so I’ve run out of time to write more. Any other suggestions for wacky rides just let me know in the comments.

Airport world records

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Biggest, smallest, oldest, highest, lowest. The Guinness World Records have fascinated us for decades. From the bizarre to the surreal to the amazing they seem, at least to me, to tap into that innate human curiosity. Sometimes you feel you just have to know who is the person that can put the most clothes pegs on their face at once. Stupid records aside, most are genuinely interesting. For this post I thought I’d have a look at a few with regards to airports round the world.

The highest airport in the world is Quamdo Bangda airport in Tibet. It’s located 4,334 metres above sea level and its runway 14/32 is the longest publicly used in the world, at 5,500m. The low air density at such a high altitude makes take off and landing more difficult than usual. Although I think that flying to other airports must be pretty easy, just glide down!

The highest airport in the world

The highest airport in the world at Quamdo Bangda

The most remote airport in the world is on Easter Island, 2603km from the nearest airport in the Gambier Islands. Matavari International splits the island and apparently almost separates the mountain of Rano Kau from the rest of the tiny landmass.

Mataveri International, the most remote airport in the world

Mataveri International, the most remote airport in the world

It’s a place I’ve always had a keen interest in visiting, and the knowledge that I’d be in literally the most remote spot on the planet kind of adds to the mystique. Perhaps one day I’ll visit and get some photos first hand.

The oldest airport in the world is College Park airport in Prince Georges County, Maryland USA. Established in 1909 after a visit from aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright the airport has been the home of many flying firsts. Notably in 1909 when Frederic Humphreys became the first military pilot to solo in a government aeroplane.

I dug around a little (OK I admit, I looked at Wikipedia) and the title of world’s busiest airport seems to be shared around a bit. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atalanta International airport in Atalanta, Georgia USA has the highest number of passenger a year, and London Heathrow has the largest number of international passengers. I guess I’d attribue that to the much larger amount of internal flight traffic across the USA compared to the UK.

After all these though, I think this is probably my favourite. The video speaks for itself, and the Princess Juliana International airport takes my award for “most insane airport”.

The reason they come in so close is that the runway at the airport is incredibly short. I can’t think that it’s too relaxing on the beach there, and a little bit noisy. Still, if you’re a planespotter I guess it’s ideal.

So that’s just a few world record breaking airports. I’ll probably expand on this post in a few weeks and add in some more records. Posting that YouTube video has given me some ideas, so I might try and find some crazy/wacky airport footage. We shall see.

More stupid signs

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Yep, it’s late on a Friday afternoon and I’m looking forward to the weekend. As the last post about funny road signs has proved to be so popular I thought I’d give myself an easy task and collate a bunch more into a blog post. So without further ado, here they are (and yes, I realise that most are probably photoshopped, but they’re still funny).

Caution: Stating the obvious?

Caution: Stating the obvious?

Erm what? Warthogs?

Erm what? Warthogs?

Not literally, I hope.

Not literally, I hope.

Would be useful for a pre-schooler. But should they really be driving?

Would be useful for a pre-schooler. But should they really be driving?

As far as deterrents go, this is a good one.

As far as deterrents go, this is a good one.

So there we go, I expect this won’t be the last crazy signs post I do. I might try and move off onto other things for the “fun” posts. Next week – back to the regular content.

More Internet tools for travel information

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In my last post I touched on the semantic web and how the Internet will come to understand your query and find your information directly. Well it turned out to be interesting timing as the following week Wolfram|Alpha has launched. For those not up to date with such things (which I expect is most people reading this blog) Wolfram is a new search engine that claims to make the world’s knowledge computable. If you give it a search term, rather than giving a list of websites about your keyword like Google does, it will trawl its knowledge base and provide the answer directly. For example if I put in a maths equation Google will direct me to a maths website, while Wolfram will just give me the answer. Great for students, but how does this help the rest of us? And is it of any use to anyone planning a holiday?

Well the short answer is yes and no. It does some things very well, and others you’re better off using Google. As an example let’s say I’m planning a holiday to Barcelona in Spain next Saturday. So if I try to book a flight, Wolfram doesn’t really know what to do with my query.

Wolfram doesn't find flights all that well

Wolfram doesn't find flights all that well

Whereas Google is a lot more useful in this respect.

Google is great for flight information

Google is great for flight information

The difference is much the same when looking for airport parking and airport hotels. However what I think these kind of searches show is that Wolfram isn’t a search engine at all. At least not like Google in any way.

If I try “Barcelona” the results are a lot more useful.

Useful info?

Useful info?

What’s interesting is that the data that Wolfram brings back is absolutely up to date. It shows current weather, today’s weather. This I think could be fantastic holiday information. It could be really handy for anyone holidaying in the UK, at least you’d have an idea when it’s going to rain. You can even look up the weather in advance. I did a search for the weather in Barcelona next Saturday. Wolfram|Alpha shines in this respect giving me a detailed forecast and meteorological history. A search in Google brings up several websites with good information, but the beauty of Wolfram is that it’s right there on the SERP (search engine result page).

Comparing the two engines in this way is perhaps unfair. They’re entirely different animals and at the moment, not really in direct competition. Wolfram is fantastic for technical information. When travelling you can find information about the country you’re visiting – population, GDP, area, currency etc but it won’t give any opinions or pictures. If you need a quick currency conversion then Wolfram is the place to go. For a well-rounded opinion on a place and pictures then the websites Google brings you are a better bet. I’m continuing to play around with Wolfram, and if anyone thinks of a killer way to use it for travelling then feel free to let me know.

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