27 July 2005

P&O Webcams and Ship-Tracker

Back in February/March when P&O Cruises' Aurora got herself into a big and rather public mess with engine problems postponing, and eventually forcing the cancellation of, the planned world cruise, I (along with many people, I expect) kept an eye on events through her onboard webcam.

It is a brilliant use of web technology and I've always admired P&O for doing it so well... and for keeping on doing it. It's the sort of web embellishment that can be expensive to run and prone to hiccups, but it must be a useful marketing tool and it probably has practical uses for travel industry partners, suppliers, etc. After all anyone can see where any of their ships is at any time - handy if you've got to meet it with a truck load of supplies when it gets into port.

When Aurora limped off to Bremerhaven to get her motors fixed, the url for her camera stayed on my browser's 'regulars' list for weeks because I got in the habit of quickly checking to see if she was putting to sea yet.

And it is still on my browser. It has become part of my routine. It's quite fun to click on the camera every day or so and see a sunny sea view, or exotic harbour... or Southampton docks. In the last couple of months it's been fun to see a glorious sunny sea view at 11.00pm at night as she works her way through arctic waters.

Sometimes, if I take my daily peek around 5.30pm, I catch her as she is leaving port. I've just been watching her back out of Messina this evening. At least it looked like Messina, but I wanted to check, so I interrogated the ship-tracker map.

And that's why I mention all this. I knew that when the little ship symbols are close together I could right-click and hide the large name tags that tend to get in the way and cover things up, but I had never bothered to explore the other right-click menu options.

Try it. You'll be amazed. You can zoom in for a closer look and then superimpose weather conditions on the map. Everything from wind speeds to wave heights. You can call up a display of where any individual ship has been recently. I had no idea it was so sophisticated!

The evening before last, I had an enjoyable chat with an industry colleague who used to work for P&O Cruises (actually that's a serious understatement of his position) and we were talking about how the company culture had changed since he left. I hope that doesn't include them getting beady about any costs in making their ship-tracker and webcams available online. That would be a great loss to my working day!

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