Enterprises tune into travel-tracking Web app

Web 2.0 application lets users track their travel and buddies at once.

The Web 2.0-social networking phenomenon's seemingly irresistible force field has ensnared yet another niche: travel.

Dopplr, a hosted service, allows users to track the travel schedule and whereabouts of themselves and their friends through a visual interface reminiscent of Facebook, rather than traditional means such as e-mail.

Although the application is still in private-beta phase, its backers have wasted no time in courting workers in large enterprises -- those with the most intense travel schedules. While for most users, Dopplr is invite-only -- a buzz-building gimmick harkening back to the early days of Gmail -- the company more recently created the Dopplr 100. Employees from the 100 companies on the list can sign up for the service. Among the 100 are Sun, Microsoft and IBM.

Other startups, such as Tripit, are also trying to marry social networking and travel itineraries. Tripit takes user-submitted information such as airline and hotel confirmation e-mails and uses the data within to generate a tailored itinerary, replete with maps, local weather info and the like. It also allows users to create lists of friends.

But Dopplr may stand out in terms of early buzz -- the company claims nearly 100,000 users -- and for quickly orienting itself around business users.

Dopplr's chief operating officer, Taneli Tikka, said the company's enterprise ambitions arose from research into their existing user profiles. "We analyzed the user base and found that clearly there were industries ... that were using it more than others," he said.

James Governor, an analyst in the U.K. with Redmonk, is a vocal cheerleader for Dopplr. (Governor also shares an office with Dopplr founder Matt Biddulph, but says their business relationship ends there.) Governor recently issued a challenge to software companies listed on the Dopplr 100 through his blog, urging employees to sign up.

He says Dopplr ultimately provides "manufactured serendipity," for social and business-related scenarios.

For example, if you had to travel to a distant city on business, you might well spend the night in your hotel room alone. But Dopplr could alert you to the presence of a friend or colleague who by happenstance is also in town, Governor said.

Governor also notes the enduring presence of Web 2.0 conferences, despite the ever-growing richness of the communication-centric technologies that give rise to such events. "Increasingly we work and meet in online interactions. .... That's not to say it's not rich, but it's no substitution for face-to-face contact."

"Some people don't like other people, and Dopplr probably isn't for them," he joked.

Dopplr could also help enterprises save time and money, Governor speculated. A company might send three teams of workers with slightly overlapping responsibilities abroad on separate trips over time, for different reasons. "With Dopplr you might be able say wait, let's send one guy on all three calls."

The question outstanding, though, is how Dopplr will evolve its service into something fully enterprise-ready.

One crucial topic for CIOs is security. Business users have given Dopplr feedback regarding this issue, according to Tikka. "That's definitely something we need to carefully look at. We think companies should keep their confidential information with them and keep it confidential," he said. "We would only be limited to kind of trivial stuff that doesn't really help if someone was to eavesdrop."

In the meantime, Tikka said, Dopplr plans to monetize its service through a couple of avenues. Later this year, the company hopes to offer subscription-based premium accounts, which would include assorted value-added services to the basic platform. The company also intends to deliver finely tuned commercial advertising based on user profile information. Also in the works are plans to extend the Dopplr 100.

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Chris Kanaracus

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