Brainstorming on how web technology can improve flying

There were some interesting ideas at yesterday's V-Jam - an all-day brainstorming session organised by Virgin Atlantic and Nesta at which 60 guests (techies, air travellers, bloggers, etc) were invited to do some blue skies thinking on ways air travel could be improved, particularly by technology and social media.

IMHO too much time was wasted on the traditional 'families v travellers' debate (how can you separate families with young children from adult travellers who want a peaceful flight). Greater minds than ours at longhaul airlines all over the world have been pondering this for years. Other than a bit of tweeking on schedules, pricing and seat allocation, there's very little airlines can do. Like cats & dogs, motorists & cyclists, roundheads & cavaliers, they'll just never get on!

I thought a couple of ideas were "flyers", but that's largely because I thought of them.

Social logbooks for aircraft (to compliment their maintenance logbooks). Virgin Atlantic already name their aircraft - Sweet Dreamer, Bubbles, Lady Penelope, etc. So they already have identities/personalities. Each aircraft should have its own digital log book rather like a blog which lists the social history of the aircraft - eg. posts by staff moderators about famous guests or incidents - but the main contribution would be from passengers themselves. Like a guestbook, passengers can write (and read) posts when they are on board.

Flights are often about the big things in life - going to weddings, going to see long-lost relatives, going on the first teenage backpack adventure, going to secure that mega deal in New York, going to LA to make that movie, going to Miami for that operation - and coming back from those things. There's lots of time to write about those things, and to read them. A grandmother flying to Sydney to meet her grandchildren for the first time might search her aircraft's social logbook for "Australia + grandchild" and read about other people's experiences.

Passengers might learn that theirs was one of the aircraft sent to rescue stranded Brits from Hurricane Frances, and maybe read some of the experiences written up by passengers returning on board. Or a search for "football" (tag?) might reveal that Becks flew on this aircraft to his new life at LA Galaxy. He might even have written about it himself.

On a practical level, each social logbook would need a moderator (eg. you wouldn't want seedy passengers leaving sexual fantasies for youngsters to read). They should be available as an option on the v-port entertainment system. It would be good if there was a wireless interface with the on-board server so that could write using their own laptops (a bit hard to write anything lengthy on controller keypads). It would be good/interesting if all social logbooks could be available to read externally through the Virgin website. Maybe passengers could use a unique ref on their boarding card to login and add extra comments or images days or weeks after a flight.

Travel inspiration search engine. (I didn't entirely think of this one! Jeremy Head started a train of thought on where we get travel ideas. I've been refining in my mind my idea for a customised search engine to aggregate inspirational ideas for travellers.) Instead of working in the traditional way, using rational algorithms to produce SERPS based on authority/link popularity, it would be manually biased towards particular travel sources (based on human-edited authority ratings) and produces a 'SERPS mash' comprising x% newspaper articles, x% travel forums, x% review sites, x% travel blogs, x% social network posts, etc.

One of the other ideas (not from me) that straddled several other thought lines and ran throughout the day, was about enabling social interaction on board. There was a lot of interesting talk about opt-in systems that allow passengers to register their interests and find others on the flight that they might meet, sit next to, chat online with, or engage with in some way.

It's based on the 'six degrees of separation' concept. Put another way, in any group of thirty people it's an almost mathematical certainty that two of them will share a birthday. On a flight of 350 people it it inevitable that many will know people in common, or more practically, will share similar interests or professions. Put even another way....wouldn't you want to know if there are other Arsenal supporters on board - all right-thinking people would!


Roland Harwood said…
Hi Alistair,

I enjoyed your summary and meeting you briefly at V-Jam on Friday. BTW I was part of the Nesta team that co-organised the event. The intention is absolutely to develop some of the ideas discussed so let's see if the mood cloud or any of those other ideas can be developed.


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