Traveling by Virtual Reservation By John Makulowich
The abundance of information resources on the Internet, especially World Wide Web pages, places an increasingly heavy burden on users shopping for the best bargain. The commercial caution "caveat emptor" takes on a different ring in virtual reality.
Given this setting, I've drafted a list of criteria for user acceptance, that is, what are the features that bring users back time and again? (I encourage readers to send their suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org; in the subject line, type Criteria.)
Certainly, information qualities like timeliness, relevance, completeness, objectivity and accuracy pop right into mind. Then come the technical issues of a well-designed Web page that are intuitively obvious - a search engine, a sensible array of colors (given different monitors), options for those with lower bandwidth, older and/or different browsers and varying Internet navigation skills.
Still, the list is not complete. What's missing are content, support, look and feel and, using a Tim Berners-Lee term, intercreativity, which includes both feedback and value-added comments, such as suggestions for other services and trip experiences.
Practically, content and support include value-added extras such as currency converters and travel tips, physical address, telephone and facsimile numbers and e-mail address, as well as hours of operation, staff to call with questions and company return policies. Look and feel amount to qualitative or psychological elements, such as pictures of business travelers or children and warm colors, which add up to comfort factors.
Using this list of criteria as a starting point, how do the different travel services, all of which claim be-all, end-all information and service, stack up? While we could assign a numeric value to each criterion, coming up with more than 25 variables to value, I will leave that to another exercise.
Now for the evaluation, starting with fourth place is Ride.com. While I don't have anything against animated GIFs or pages with black backgrounds, I find these features rarely add value for users. These distractions continue with other Ride.com links, including blinking and more animated GIFs.
In third is Travelocity, which has a slick Java-Script running in a box on top of its page for advertisements. In fact, five advertisements on its home page are a bit too much. Generally, the design and content are excellent, with clear hot-keyed images pointed to valuable services, such as a listing of 32,000 hotels.
Second is Expedia. While well-designed and presenting excellent content, it loses points by extending unnecessarily beyond one page and by not clearly identifying links. That is, the hot links to other pages are the same color as the background.
The best of the lot is TheTrip.com. Noteworthy is the valuable airport information, which is unique to this site.
Surprisingly, not one of the sites carried information on its home page about its physical address, telephone or facsimile number, staff names or numbers to call with questions.
John Makulowich writes, talks and trains on the Internet. Send e-mail to email@example.com. The URL for his home page is http://www.cais.com/makulow/ or http://www.trainer.com/pub/journalism/
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