Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Deal About a New Metasearch Site's Scraping Ways is putting its claim down on a metasearch niche as it focuses on aggregating "deals" from users' home airports.

But, as I wrote in my post, "SideStep Dream Team Launches Voyij, but Parts of the Voyage Appear Shaky," the self-funded start-up, which launched last week, risks earning the wrath of online travel agencies and suppliers by its Web-scraping tactics.

A Voyij spokeswoman conceded that the metasearch site is not using ITA Software, as do several other metasearch sites, for aggregating airline information directly from the carriers' reservations systems because it would be relatively expensive. And, using ITA for these purposes also might not be especially helpful because Voyij primarily is interested in deals inventory and is not conducting more comprehensive, real-time searches of airline fares.

And indeed, the spokeswoman said, Voyij has yet to form relationships with the wide array of sites -- including most of the major OTAs, major airlines and hotel chains -- that it is collecting data from.

For example, Voyij gets data from Travelocity, which told me that it has no partnership with the new site.

On the screen-scraping issue, the Voyij spokeswoman said: "Yes, old-fashioned, but based on the content we are going after, specifically 'deals' and 'sales,' this is currently the best, if not the only, way to get it."

"The main point here," the Voyij spokeswoman continued, "is that we're doing something new and unique in the industry by focusing on this specific content and, as hopefully you can appreciate, we'll certainly have some of the growing pains associated with any start-up doing something new."

Indeed, despite some of the search glitches on Voyij that I referenced the other day, a tech guy at another online travel company told me he likes the clean look of the Voyij GUI, especially the way the search for deals from the departure city takes place on the home page and further decisions are pushed off to the next page. The techie also likes the way Voyij integrates Twitter.

Regarding partnerships, the Voyij spokeswoman said: "We needed to launch to get credibility and to get someone to pick up the phone at an OTA. We will be looking to formalize our relationships with the OTAs as well as other suppliers now that we are live."

It is shocking to me that Voyij management, with all of its experience at SideStep, can't get OTAs to answer their calls.

But, I have the feeling that the OTAs now will be answering Voyij's calls -- or will be making their own calls or writing formal letters to complain about the scraping.

Speaking of SideStep, Kayak bought the company in 2007 for around $200 million.

The SideStep expatriots who now are running Voyij feel "bitter sweet" about SideStep's imprint in Kayak because you'd be hardpressed to see any trace of it other than in the Kayak Deals section these days, the Voyij spokeswoman said.

"We are very happy with the sale, but do wish we could point to a site and say, 'see that's what I spent so many years of my life building,' the Voyij spokeswoman said. "Given the choice between the two, I think everyone at SideStep would pick 'exit.'"

Kayak CEO and co-founder Steve Hafner had no comment.

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