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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lastminute.com, Fancyapint.com & Google - 10 years on

A lot of my favourite websites are having their 10th birthday this year. Even what I nostalgically still call my "main" site the sadly neglected
Goingunderground.net will be ten on New Year's Day. A key site for me in those early days (specially for my London on the Cheap page) was Lastminute.com, so I was somewhat shocked & kind of flattered when I heard that they really wanted me to visit their labs & show me some new products they were launching.

Lastminute on the Tube

On Monday evening, fighting the wind, cold, heavy rain & the beginnings of man flu, I grumpily made my way to their offices at St James's Park, thinking this'll better be worth the trip.

Thankfully it was. I was introduced to Marko Balabanovic (top name) their Head of Innovation, who showed me a couple of tools that they just launched in beta yesterday. Pronto & Radar. We spent a lot more time talking about Pronto as I'd recently just used Lastminute to book a hotel for a trip to Paris in December & I often book restaurants & theatre tickets online.

Basically Pronto makes the search a lot more human, friendly & visual and lets you look for things with out ticking endless boxes. So you can start typing a sentence like "I want to find a Chinese restaurant in Crouch End tonight .." and it cleverly second guesses the things you might be looking for as you type.

Lastminute pronto screengrab

I asked them how easy it would be to incorporate all London Underground Tube stations into it too. So you could say, I want to find a restaurant near Gloucester Road Tube. Also finding restaurants that had free wifi or reliable wifi would be a god send. Apparently the Tube thing was doable and the wifi, possible depending on the info they had about the restaurants themselves.

Anyway, they are really open to people playing around with the tool and making suggestions for improvement, as it's only in beta and they'd love to know what you think. We also discussed stuff like adding more human reviews to their restaurant listings, as if you've booked any hotels with them - you'll know you can see real people's reviews from Tripadvisor next to the hotel.

Google also turned 10 this year and last week the Queen visited their London HQ to check out her gmail and have a look at YouTube.

The Queen Visits Google

Apparently both Queenie and the Duke of Edinburgh are avid internet users who regularly send emails to all their grandchildren. She's got her own Royal Channel on YouTube, (which Google own) that's been viewed 1.6 million times since Xmas.

Finally, last night I went along to Fancyapint.com's London Pub Awards. Fancyapint is also about 10 years old & this is the fifth year of the awards. I liked how they ran the visitors awards, as rather than just using pubs that get the most reviews - they also judge on which have the most visits arranged to them through the site. For example they look at things like usage of the "Let's meet here" tool & how many people print off directions or maps to the pub.

Landlord of the Windsor Castle with Fancyapint.com Pub Award

Fancyapint for as long as I can remember have had a tool where you can find a pub by its proximity to a Tube station and I use that a lot when arranging places to meet.

I loved the very British looking landlord of the Windsor Castle pictured above, who was clearly delighted to win a Reviewer Award. He rocked as he had a fab tache, a cravat, a jolly landlord's beer belly AND a monacle. I only hope that we went outside for the odd puff on his pipe. Thanks muchly to TikiChris for taking me along the awards last night.

Congrats to all the dot.coms that have managed to survive 10 fooking hard years & the prospect of some rough times in the credit crunch. The good ones certainly look set to survive it & are responding to what their visitors want. Here's to the next ten!

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