Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cleartrip’s Waytogo Remains True To “Make Travel Simple” Goal

Cleartrip, the leading Indian OTA, has launched a beautiful integration of Rome2rio’s multi-modal journey planner. Customised to the specific needs of the vast Indian marketplace, Cleartrip’s Waytogo product is ideally suited to an environment where air travel often takes a back seat to bus, train and low-cost taxi alternatives.

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This search for Pune to Mangalore illustrates the difference clearly: a direct bus takes 13 hours and costs 600 Rupees, while at the opposite end of the scale a flight via Mumbai is priced up to 7,600 Rupees. Alternatives include taking the train to Mumbai and then flying, and taking the train all the way.

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While travel in India is not necessarily more problematic than in other parts of the world, the on-the-ground complexity involved in navigating the various transport options provides rich opportunities for Cleartrip. Since launching in July 2006 the company has remained very focused on its “Make travel simple” agenda, and the Waytogo product stays true to that original goal.

Here at Rome2rio we’re delighted to see the excellent re-interpretation of the UI that Cleatrip’s design team has produced. It’s clean and easy to follow and integrates beautifully into Cleartrip’s air and rail booking facilities; bus bookings are handled by Cleartrip’s partner, Redbus. In coming months we expect to see Cleartrip roll out a mobile version of Waytogo, and look forward to seeing broad customer acceptance of this excellent new tool.

Rod Cuthbert

Borders vs. Algorithms: A Rome2rio Dilemma

A significant challenge for Rome2rio’s development team revolves around the manner in which we recognise and treat political boundaries and borders, so that search results and drive overlays do not return unrealistic travel options.  We often get feedback from our users on this topic: search results such as the one below, Melbourne to Tel Aviv, demonstrate why. We correctly offer the option of flying into Amman, Jordan and then using a combination of buses and taxis to continue the trip to Tel Aviv, crossing the border at the King Hussein (or Allenby, depending on which side you approach it from) Bridge. Hmmm… while this route is certainly possible, it is perhaps not a journey many travelers would be willing to take. Israeli citizens, in fact, are not permitted to use the border crossing station at Allenby, so this route is simply not an option for them.

Tel_AMM
 
Technically correct, but practically unlikely for most travelers.

 

Another example of this dilemma is the US-Mexico border.  A search for journey options from Rosarito to San Diego suggests that a taxi will make the trip in just under an hour. Well, yes, but then again perhaps not. Even if a taxi were allowed to pass—it wouldn’t be—it would spend a couple of hours waiting to cross the border, no matter what time of day. So our result fails on a couple of scores. While the algorithm has produced a “perfect” result, we sadly live in an imperfect, complicated world, where perfect is not always useful.

 

Rosarito1
A pity about the San Ysidro Border Crossing…

 

We are committed to improving Rome2rio’s methodology so that in cases where political or geographical boundaries make certain results impractical, those results are minimized or eliminated.  While we continue to perfect our methodology we appreciate any feedback pointing to results that are less than ideal: if you’re aware of a Rome2rio search result that is practically challenging (or just plain impossible), let us know.

— Rod Cuthbert

Ten Tools That Help Us Make Rome2rio Better

While working as a developer at Bing, I worked on a tool called queryprobe, which we used internally to provide optics into the Bing ranker and help the team debug failed queries.

I learnt from that experience the importance, when developing a search engine, of investing in internal tools to visualize and clarify what’s going on under the hood. Search engines are complex beasts and it’s not uncommon to spend hours trying to understand why a certain result was produced for a certain query.

Investing in internal tools makes the team more productive, and generally happier. My former PhD colleague Yaniv Bernstein (who co-authored a couple of research papers with me) recently wrote about his experiences working at IBM and Google. He explains that Google does a much better job of investing in internal tools, and how that makes a big difference to his productivity and sanity.

With that comment in mind, here’s an overview of a handful of tools we’ve developed over the last couple of years; each is designed to help us to make sense of results produced by Rome2rio‘s search algorithm.

Graph search visualization

We originally developed our graph search visualization to create a cool slide in our 2012 PhoCusWright presentation. Since then we’ve extended its functionality and turned it into a handy internal tool for explaining why Rome2rio did not display bus route X or flight path Y.

Graph search

Search performance test

As we’ve said countless times before in this blog, search speed is critical to us. The Rome2rio routing engine combines a variety of stages to identify and display multi-modal search results. We use our performance measurement tool to visualize the time taken by each stage, for a variety of queries. This helps us ensure that search times for a stage don’t blow out when we make accuracy improvements to the algorithm.

 Search performance

Transport visualization

Anyone can check out our train, bus and ferry route visualization by visiting www.rome2rio.com and clicking on the Transport button at the top-right corner of the map.  This will switch to a monochrome map, with our own transport tiles rendered over the top. We find this incredibly useful for our own analysis of our transport coverage and whether our database has a particular train, bus or ferry.

Transport visualization

Query heat map

This tool provides us with a heat map showing the destinations our users are searching on, and helps us understand which regions of the world are of priority to them.

Query heatmap

Political region visualization

Rome2rio’s geocoder technology converts textual place names (such as “seattle”) to map co-ordinates for searching. One component of the geocoder is an awareness of political regions, which are required to identify that the city of Seattle is located in Washington state, in the USA. We have developed a visualizer to help check the correctness of this component.

Political region

Global taxi fares

We developed a repository of taxi fares when we launched our door-to-door indicative pricing feature this year. To assist with sanity checking the data, we developed a tool for visualizing taxi rates across the globe with dark green representing countries with more expensive fares.

Taxi fares

Landmass visualization

Rome2rio uses a database of connected landmasses (such as islands) to aid the routing engine. For example, the search engine will look for ferries and flights to reach a destination on another landmass, instead of considering surface routes. Our landmass visualization tool helps us make sense of our landmass detection logic and check its accuracy.

Landmass visualization

Transport agency fares

Our indicative pricing system also uses a repository of train, bus and ferry fares for thousands of operators. We have developed tools to easily browse the data to check its validity.

Transport fares

Missing transport visualization

We have developed a system that replays searches from our user query logs and identifies segments missing a train, bus or ferry route. This is a powerful tool for prioritizing expansion of our transport coverage.

Missing transport

Saved trip visualization

We use this tool to browse trips saved by our users, providing an overview of the types of multi-hop itineraries that are being created.

Saved trips

Internal debugging tools can make a significant difference to how the development team identifies and improves on the shortcomings of a complex technical system.  They can also have a dramatic effect on management’s planning and prioritization by providing important insights into user behavior. At Rome2rio, we’re pretty happy with the set of tools we’ve developed so far.

– Michael