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.

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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.

Using Twitter to plan a holiday

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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.

Where to stay at Birmingham airport

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So, if any of you that read this blog have looked around I’m sure you’ve realised that we work for holiday add-on company Holdiay Extras. This blog has little to do with that however, but I thought I’d relate this post to what I did last week for work as it might be useful for a few people in the UK.

As part of my job I occasionally have to visit hotels and car parks that we sell on the website. Last Friday I drove up to the Midlands to visit the Birmingham Hilton Metropole. Now here I could begin a rant about the state of British motorways and how one accident seems to gridlock the entire network for London and the South, but I won’t. Instead I’ll borrow a picture from Phil Plait to truely display how I feel about the average motorist.

The stupid, it burns

The stupid, it does indeed burn

Quite why everyone needs to slow right down to have a look at a crash on the other side of the motorway I’ll never know. It backs up traffic for miles and added at least another hour or two to my journey. At this point I feel I need to post a bunch of “Fail” photos, but I’ll refrain (for now).

In any case, motorway woe aside, getting the Hilton from Birmingham Airparks proved remarkably easy. I took the bus to the airport, and then the free monorail to the NEC. After a walk through the eerily deserted NEC complex the Hilton is just a short walk past the lake. It’s a little confusing at first as you come in through the back rather than the grander main entrance. However the signs are obvious enough that it’s not a problem.

What I really wanted to say was that the hotel is genuinely the best airport hotel I’ve visited (and I’ve visited many). It felt like a “real” four star hotel, unlike a few others I’ve been to that seem to be more stripped down due to their proximity to the airport and the assumption that people will only ever spend one night there. I’d attribute this to the location. Being so close the NEC I guess they’d get quite a few people staying the for a longer length of time.

Anyway, just a short post today. Just wanted to recommend (if you have the cash, it’s not cheap) the Hilton for a hotel stay if you’re flying from Birmingham airport.