I am very lucky to have part of my family (my cousin) Marc A. Smith who is a research sociologist with Microsoft. Now rather than going off on the implications of Microsoft employing a sociologist, I instead wanted to share with you part of our conversation we had last week. Marc has been very accurate with predictions over the last 15 years. While he was getting his PhD. from UCLA he worked as a contractor with Microsoft developing a virtual world using avatars. The project was dropped by Microsoft, but we see evidence of this approach with environments such as Second Life. Also while completing his studies at UCLA, Marc created a product called Netscan, which analyzes the social trends of news groups. These are just a few things Marc has predicted, so when he provides me guidance, I listen carefully. During our conversation last week, Marc commented about how virtual tourism will play a major factor in travel planning for the future. Whether it’s Google Earth, Windows Live Local, Amazon’s A9 Maps or geo-coded pictures from Flicker, Marc believes that in the near term (3-5 years), Web surfers will be able to get a ground level view of a destination and take a virtual walking or driving tour. I am not saying that this immersive experience will replace travel, but by virtually experiencing a destination through ground level photos and videos, the planning of travel will permanently change.