Yesterday’s disclosure that Microsoft had acquired Farecast was a surprise to many in the travel industry. Is this a new online travel initiative from the original creators of Expedia? Will Farecast be integrated into Microsoft’s Live Search?
First a bit of background. I was first introduced to Oren Etzioni through my client Fetch Technologies. This was back in 2002 when the company was called Hamlet. The founders of Fetch are well recognized experts in AI as is Oren Etzioni . I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical during my initial discussion with Oren on whether a predictive fare model would be embraced by the travel consumer. My next interaction with Oren was at a PhoCusWright Travdex conference in Dallas back in 2005. My colleague and friend Philip Wolf commented to me that Oren’s presentation at Travdex was the most technical he had seen. This presentation helped reinforce that Farecast was more than a service that tracked historical fares to recommend a buy or no-buy decision. The algorithms created by Mr. Etzioni use advanced AI technology to look at historical fare history creating a recommendation based on complex data mining techniques. It is my belief that this is the core value recognized by Microsoft and thus triggered the acquisition. I doubt if Microsoft is interested in becoming a major travel player, but I do anticipate that the Farecast technology will be expanded to other non-travel segments and incorporated into Microsoft’s Live Search. Of course things could change if the Microsoft/Yahoo deal went through as Yahoo! has many travel properties including Farechase which was the first meta-travel search engine.