Let's say you were traveling to Chicago back in 1990, and you wondered about the weather during your trip. How would you find out Chicago's weather? Well, you could turn on the Weather channel and wait for Chicago to come up. Or, some national news will have it, but you have to catch it just at the right time. Or, if you really needed to know, you could go to a library and look at a newspaper. There were also call-up services you could call and get the information. It was such a hassle, though, that you would probably not bother, especially if you already had a feel for what the weather is like for a particular time of year. The Internet changed that. Now, it literally takes me less than 15 seconds when I'm at my computer to get a 10-day forecast for Chicago (or Singapore or Jakarta). The Internet makes things so easy that you'll actually do them. While getting the weather wasn't impossible, it was such a hassle that it was discouraging.
Fast forward to now. A while back, a friend invited me to Dopplr, a social networking site for travelers. It allows you to see when the other people in your social network are nearby. Great idea, and useful service, but the duplication of data was bothersome for me. My calendar is already incredibly complex, and keeping another calendar up to date didn't appeal to me. I decided to wait and see if you could point it to an iCal instance or something, which would ease that pain.
Then, TripIt came along. TripIt is a new web application that helps manage your travel. Here is the scenario. Let's say you are going on a trip to Des Moines. You book your flight on Delta, a room at the Marriott, and a rental car from Avis. Each of them sends you a confirmation email. In the past, I had an editor template set up to enter all that information (confirmation numbers, addresses, etc.) so that they would be consistent, and I harvested the disparate information myself. That's where TripIt's genius comes in. They parse standard confirmation emails from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, aggregators (like Orbitz), and even travel agents and build a standardized itinerary for you. When you get the confirmation email, you just forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it automagically does the rest. It builds a nice itinerary, with airline checkin links, a link to SeatGuru with the type of plane already selected, a map of your destination city -- basically, everything you need to know. That's nice and painless.
But it gets even better than that. TripIt maintains an iCal instance for you, to which you can subscribe with all your travel details. So, here's my new workflow. I have forwarding rules set up for the airlines and other travel services I frequent to automatically forward the confirmation to TripIt as soon as it hits my inbox. I book travel, and that's it. Five minutes later, it shows up on my calendar, organized beautifully. And remember Dopplr? It will also allow you to see when friends are close and let your invited friends see your itineraries (on a case-by-case basis -- you can share specific trips with friends). It does what Dopplr does without Dopplr. TripIt took the good idea of Dopplr and supercharged it.
TripIt is an awesome combination of travel service, social networking site, and personal travel information manager rolled into one seamless whole. It is one of those services that you instantly wonder how you ever lived without. In the past, when I knew I was going to be in the same city as a friend, we would email exchange our itineraries. Now, we just share them on TripIt. It's so easy, it's trivial to do, like getting the weather, so it's much more likely to happen. For some social networking sites, you have to experience it before you understand the attraction (like Twitter). TripIt has no such grokking curve: I instantly knew that it was going to be an important improvement to my workflow, with social networking goodies thrown in for free.