The Bing/KAYAK Partnership: The Impact on the User

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There has been a lot of buzz in the last few days about the parternship of KAYAK and Bing, including exhaustive reports on how the deal is yet another effort by Microsoft to stick it to its rival Google.

For the record, KAYAK is a travel search company that made news when it burst on the scene in 2004, boasting that its technology searched wider and faster than anyone else. But speed and technology aside, some wonder why didn't KAYAK immediately rise to the top of the travel search engine food chain. Maybe because faster and wider didn't necessarily equate to a comfortable user experience.

In my early flight searches on KAYAK, for example, I would sometimes end up with odd itineraries comprised of, say, circuitous routes or absurdly long layovers. If anything, it was too much information presented in a chaotic fashion, sort of like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

Over time, the company continuously revamped its structure, and the engine became a lot more user friendly, while still allowing customers to "compare hundreds of travel sites at once," a model we have since seen imitated. The company also added hotel, car rental, and other deals to the mix.

By contrast, Bing Travel, which launched in 2009, has the advantage of being part of a search engine that covers a variety of areas besides travel, including shopping and entertainment. In other words, it has reach. It has users. It has, well, Microsoft.

But while perfectly respectable as a travel search site, not being the company's sole focus could diminish Bing Travel's ability to be innovative. The addition of KAYAK to power its travel search could solve that dilemma while giving users a more robust experience.

On the other hand, if search engines continue to gobble each other up, they may become too much alike to inspire brand loyalty.

There is also a danger that they will offer more information than an everyday user really wants or needs. I like the idea of a baggage fee calculator, for example, and I do use mobile apps, but I can't see myself letting any travel site select my destination for me.

And, finally, if this is really more about trying to one-up Google than providing a better travel tool for consumers, it will be interesting to see if the user gets caught in the shuffle.

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