One of the more popular posts on this blog is the one which describes how to import trips from TripIt into Dopplr, in order to avoid the re-entry tax. After all, as I wrote in my comparison of the two services last October, TripIt‘s email import was the critical factor in my decision of how to manage this information:
Tripitâ€™s mechanism for adding trips is superior. The ability to simply forward (or even set an automatic rule to forward) confirmation emails is a major step forward . . . Where TripIt seems better at pulling data in, Dopplr seems to be better so far at pushing their data out, or letting people pull it into other contexts.
Well, now Dopplr’s gone and added some new import mechanisms of their own. This post from the Dopplr blog (ok, it was posted back on July 8th, but it has been sitting in my queue to write about) lays out three new options: Twitter, SMS, and Email:
Today Iâ€™m really happy to say weâ€™re taking the wraps off a number of new ways to get your future into Dopplr and share your travel information with those you trust: Dopplr by Twitter, SMS andâ€¦ Email!
Although I love twitter as a notification service (a way of letting me know something relevant happened) I don’t see myself using it as a data input service. For those of you who would like to, just follow the dopplr user and send direct messages with your trips, like: d dopplr a trip to London July 28th to August 3rd. (Nicely, it also happily accepts @dopplr posts, in case you want to announce your trips as well as put them in dopplr). SMS is another option – you associate your SMS number with your Dopplr account and you can text message the same types of messages to Dopplr’s number.
Finally, they’ve got email working at email@example.com (wonder how many people will confuse firstname.lastname@example.org with email@example.com – did they make firstname.lastname@example.org an alias?).
Interestingly, you can use the same kind of shorthand messages used for Twitter or SMS – “a trip to London July 28th to August 3rd” – or you can forward confirmation messages from booking services (which is how TripIt handles import). This is because Dopplr did not set out to parse all the complex formats used by different agencies, but took a simper approach, as explained by MattB:
There are an awful lot of ways to format a travel itinerary. When people asked us to extract trips from emails, we looked at our long history of e-tickets, confirmations and reservations, and scratched our heads.
Inspiration came in the shape of Appleâ€™s last OS X release, Leopard, and an intriguing feature called â€œData detectorsâ€œ.
We realised that instead of creating a piece of code to decode every email format out there, we could look for patterns of dates and place names in the text (and later, other information too) and turn those into trips.
A happy side-effect of this approach is that as well as extracting information from automatic reservation emails, it works well with short text strings like â€œIâ€™ll be in San Francisco from 3rd July to 7th Julyâ€. This means we can work with many hand-written emails, with Twitters, and with SMSes too.
Of course it wonâ€™t work with every variation under the sun (for example, itâ€™s most reliable when an email contains just a return trip in a single hop), but weâ€™ve had very satisfying results in our testing. And of course every email you send us will be added to our test suite so that our engine can get better and better over time.
In other words, rather than specifically targeting all the different potential formats, and parsing them in some structured way, Dopplr looks for some specific patterns in the text and tries to understand their meaning without knowing the format of the email in advance.
I wonder how different this is from what TripIt actually does behind the scenes – how much they plan for specific formats they know in advance – and how successful it will be “in the field.” For now it is enough to convince me to turn off my automated importing and give email@example.com a try on my next few confirm messages. Then, I can automate a rule in my email such that travel confirmations get auto-forwarded to both firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, and be sharing my travel plans painlessly.