Dopplr gets Email, Twitter, SMS import

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:

Tripit’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 I’m really happy to say we’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 and… Email!

Dopplr Blog

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 trips@dopplr.com (wonder how many people will confuse plans@tripit.com with trips@dopplr.com – did they make plans@dopplr.com 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 Apple’s last OS X release, Leopard, and an intriguing feature called “Data detectors“.

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 “I’ll be in San Francisco from 3rd July to 7th July”. This means we can work with many hand-written emails, with Twitters, and with SMSes too.

Of course it won’t work with every variation under the sun (for example, it’s most reliable when an email contains just a return trip in a single hop), but we’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 trips@dopplr.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 plans@tripit.com and trips@dopplr.com, and be sharing my travel plans painlessly.

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  1. #1 • Thomas said on July 15 2008:
     

    Well, in regards to Dopplr’s generic email import approach, I’ve tried forwarding several different emails I have from my company, travel agent, and from major airlines such as American Airlines, but they don’t work one bit. For example, Dopplr thinks I’m going to different places in Europe when I send in my opentable reservation.

    In contrast, most of these work “out of the box” with TripIt. And when I complained about my travel agent not being supported, they added it within a day.

    What’s more, is that I don’t really want to “discover” people I do not know on a trip. All I’ve been wanting to do is to manage my business travels better and inform my family. TripIt fits that bill perfectly.

    So, I don’t really find Dopplr very useful. My two cents.

    Thanks for the nice write-up though.

    Best,
    Thomas

  2. #2 • John said on July 17 2008:
     

    Just a note on the above comment. The IP it was posted from is mapped to wall.tripitinc.com.

    I tried to contact “Thomas” to ask him to disclose his relationship to the company but he did not respond. Not sure if that was because the email address he supplied was fake?

    I’ve blogged about the issue (posting comments on blogs without disclosing your company affiliation) in a separate post.

  3. #4 • Scott Hintz said on July 17 2008:
     

    Hi, this is Scott Hintz, one of the co-founders of TripIt. I’m writing to apologize about the comment referenced above, posted under the name of “Thomas.” “Thomas” is indeed a TripIt employee who did not disclose his true identity. This employee was not authorized to post a comment on TripIt’s behalf, and we did not know about it until John posted something questioning the identity of “Thomas.” Please know that we take this situation very seriously and we responded immediately upon learning about it.

    That comment by our employee is inappropriate and we apologize to John, Open Parenthesis readers, and our friends at Dopplr for it. Our policy at TripIt is for all of our employees, contractors, and other affiliated parties to fully and honestly disclose their identity when posting comments like this online. In addition, we agree it is poor form to make negative comments about other companies who operate in our market segment. The comment does not reflect the opinions of TripIt. Both Dopplr and TripIt are focused on helping travelers, and there’s just no value in making negative comments that don’t ultimately benefit the people who we’re trying to help. We respect the Dopplr team and what they’re doing to promote travel social networking.

    Please know that we’ve taken corrective action to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And, once again, please accept our sincerest apologies.

  4. #5 • John said on July 17 2008:
     

    Thanks Scott – I appreciate your prompt and thoughtful response.

    Employees make mistakes. Heck, even CEOs make mistakes – the difference is in how one reacts when they happen. Hopefully “Thomas” will be more careful in the future – not in the sense of hiding his identity more fully but in the sense of just being honest about the position from which he writes.

  5. #6 • Matt MacKenzie said on July 17 2008:
     

    I like Dopplr, and I like TripIt (and I work for neither)…but I use Dopplr more even though TripIt sent me a T-Shirt and Dopplr did not. Why? Well, most of my travel is booked through Carlson Wagonlit on contract to my employer. In my experience, both of their itinerary types (agent booked and online) don’t work on TripIt…which is more interesting to me if it worked than Dopplr. Yes, I even sent sample itineraries. Maybe it works now, but as a beta user I was left in the cold.