Collaborative Information Gathering (CIG)
Planning a trip overseas requires a lot of work, and there are many
decisions to be made — choices of airline, hotel, rental
cars... these are just a few of the possible components of an
overseas trip. With the advent of travel companies on the World
Wide Web, a traveller could, in theory, make all their own travel
arrangements. Travel agents, however, provide a
"value-added" service by having background knowledge and
sometimes even personal experience of the destinations and airlines,
access to wholesale fares, and experience with the booking systems
and companies involved. When a travel agent and client work
together to plan an overseas trip, the itinerary for the trip is a
shared piece of information, into which the travel agent and the
client both have an input perspective.
With this in mind the Collaborative Information Gathering (CIG)
project was started; its aim to investigate and provide a means for
travel agents and clients to visualise and edit some shared digital
representation of a trip. To this end, the HCI group collaborated
with a local travel agency for the purpose of both determining
industry needs and testing software solutions.
When creating a travel itinerary, which is basically a plan for a
trip away, a travel agent and their client will work closely
together, the travel agent extracting information from a variety of
systems (airline booking systems, hotels, the internet, etc.) to
meet the needs of their client. The client in turn provides the
agent with information about the trip they would like to take.
This is perhaps best illustrated with an example (entirely fictional):
Dana is planning a trip to Canada to see friends
and family. She needs to visit Toronto and Edmonton, and would like
to spend a couple of days in Los Angeles on the way home to visit
Disneyland. This means she needs flights to all her destinations, a
hotel in Los Anegeles, and she also decides to pre-purchase her
passes to Disneyland.
Dana calls her travel agent, and explains
what she needs. She also specifies that she wants to leave on a
Friday and return on the Monday two weeks later, and she wants to
fly Air New Zealand.
The travel agent checks on flight availability
for the dates Dana requires, and finds that there are no available
Air New Zealand seats. United, however, still have seats available.
Alternatively Dana could postpone her return to New Zealand by one
day. The travel agent also makes hotel bookings at a hotel close to
Disneyland that will be to Dana's taste. The travel agent calls
Dana with the news about the flights, and Dana decides to travel
United. Armed with definite dates, the agent confirms the hotel
booking, and pre-purchases the Disneyland tickets.
This is a very simple example, yet it shows that arranging an
itinerary is a process of negotiation. The CIG project has
produced a piece of software that helps to manage this process, by
allowing the travel agent and the client both to access an
up-to-date version of the travel itinerary in an online system, and
use "alerts" to pass messages to each other. An example of
how alerts work is as follows:
The travel agent tries to call Dana to let her
know that there are no available Air New Zealand seats, but can't
get hold of her. Instead the agent puts an alert on the flights in
the itinerary. When Dana logs on to check the itinerary later in
the day, she calls the travel agent and confirms that she will
Dana finds out that a family member is sick and
decides not to go to Disneyland after all. The travel agent is not
in when she calls, so she logs on to her travel itinerary, and
leaves an alert asking the agent to cancel the arrangements for Los
Angeles. The agent does this, and the itinerary is automatically
updated. When Dana checks the itinerary
later on in the day, she sees that her stay in Toronto has been
extended and her plans for LA cancelled.
This simple example gives some indication of the negotiation
process that goes on for even a simple trip away; for longer or more
complicated trips the process can span many days, sometimes even
continuing while the client is overseas. The CIG software allows
both clients and agents to alter the itinerary and ensures that both
parties always see an itinerary that is up-to-date. Furthermore the
itinerary facilitates message passing between the client and the
agent to further support negotiation.
When we organise our lives, we use calendar dates and times to
discuss time. These dates and times are an important part of a
travel itinerary, and can be easily represented by using a calendar
(picture, for example, the travel agent checking a desk calendar to
find out the date of "the first Monday of the month"), or
ordinary text (as in an ordinary Microsoft Word™ printed
itinerary). However, mix in changing time zones and the
international dateline and the calendar representation of time
begins to lose meaning (12 noon or 12 midnight? departure or
destination time?). To account for these issues in discussing time,
the CIG project allows three visualisations of an itinerary.
The user views the itinerary as a calendar, with events
marked as on a desktop calendar. Days can be clicked on to add
or alter travel events. This provides a good way to get an
overview of the itinerary.
Microsoft Word™ visualisation
The traditional printed itinerary that travellers are
familiar with. This visualisation has been shown in usability
studies to be comfortable for travellers to use (probably due to
its familiarity), and particularly useful when the traveller
wants detailed information on a travel event (for example the
exact departure time of a flight).
This visualisation was developed particularly to deal with
the confusion created by traditional visualisations when the
traveller is changing timezones. It is simple to work out
time-related information using this visualisation. For example,
how long a flight takes, or what time it will be at home when
the traveller arrives at their new destination. It is a
graph-like representation, with locations shown on the vertical
axis and time on the horizontal axis. Day and night (local
time) are represented by shading, and travel events such as
flights and hotel stays are represented by the lines on the
graph. Clicking on the lines that represent travel events
allows the user to get more information or change the events.
To the right is an example of the timeline visualisation in
use, the trip shown is from London to Auckland and back again.
The flights are represented by the yellow lines, and the one-day
stay in Auckland by a green line. Arrival and departure times
are shown in boxes.
Obviously, these are just some of the potential ways to view a
travel itinerary, and there is research potential for developing new
visualisations and methods of interaction.
For this system to be effective in allowing collaborative
creation and maintennance of a travel itinerary, it is vital that
any updates to itinerary information are immediately propogated
through the system. So, for example, if the agent changes flight
information via the booking system, this must immediately be
reflected by the timeline view of the itinierary. To facilitate
this immediate update, a client-server architecture is used, where
itinerary information is stored in a central database, and all
visualisations/modifying applications are clients. This
architecture is illustrated in the diagram below.
There are a variety of directions in which research on this
project could devleop: developing collborative information gathering
software for other domains, creating new visualisations, and
integrating new interface tools to the exisiting system to name just
a few. The HCI group is currently pursuing two directions:
There is vast potential for the CIG system to be used on the
move; while travelling, or simply while out of the office. A
laptop can be a cumbersome piece of equipment, and more and more
people are carrying smaller computing devices to remain
Work has already gone into modifying the CIG software to
allow use from a mobile phone, and the system is currently being
adapted to a Personal Digital Assistant. These devices present
special challenges both technically (the mobile phone, for
example, doesn't have the computing power to allow modification
of an itinerary), and in terms of interaction (displays for
small screens have to be stripped down to be usable, for
The CIGS system still requires evaluation for long term system
soundness. Moreover usage testing and usability testing could
reveal areas for further development and improvement of the CIG
software. The use and usability testing is particularly
important in the use of CIG on mobile devices.
These are only some of the possible research
opportunities in this project.
Masoodian, M., and Lane, N. (2002): "MATI: A system for
accessing travel itinerary information using mobile phones", in
Proceedings of HCI '02, The 16th British HCI Group Annual
Conference, London, UK.
Masoodian, M., and Lane, N. (2001): "Access to personal
travel itinerary information using mobile phones", in
Proceedings of OzCHI '01, The CHISIG Annual Conference on
Human-Computer Interaction, Perth Australia, p 90-95.
Apperley, M., Fletcher, D. and Rogers, B. (2000):
"Breaking the copy/paste cycle: the stretchable selection
tool" in Proceedings of First Australian User Interface
Conference, AUIC 2000, Canberra, Australia, Australian
Computer Science Communications, 22(5), p 3-10.
Apperley, M., Fletcher, D., Rogers, B., and Thomson,
K. (2000): "Interactive visualisation of a travel
itinerary", in Proceedings of Working Conference on
Advanced Visual Interfaces, Palermo, Italy, p 221-226.
For more publications from this group, see our publications page.