I Love TripIt (And You Will Too!)

Late last year I came across TripIt, a free Web 2.0 travel organization service. TripIt helps you automatically build an itinerary, access it from multiple locations and devices, share it with others, and more. It also automatically includes maps and weather forecasts, among other information.

I’ve used TripIt four times now. The first was my trip to New York over Christmas. I managed to convince Sharon to join, and we built our entire itinerary using TripIt. I also used it for my trip to Yellowknife, for Northern Voice 2008, and for my recent weekend trip to Calgary. TripIt is dead simple to use, and once you get used to using it you sort of get addicted!

The way it works is you book your flights, hotels, car rentals, and restaurant reservations as you would normally. Then, forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com. TripIt will automatically recognize the information, and insert it into your new itinerary. The only time this hasn’t worked for me was when we made our reservation at Bar Americain in New York (which supports OpenTable). I have to think that was a temporary glitch, because it has been flawless ever since (including our OpenTable reservation at Blink in Calgary). Megan booked the flights to Vancouver for Northern Voice, so I didn’t have a confirmation email to forward. I entered the information manually, and TripIt even made that easier – it knew the departure and arrival times and other information based only on the airline and flight number. Pretty cool.


That’s why I love TripIt – it’s just so deliciously simple! Forward the confirmation email and you’re done.

Sure you can add extra information and custom items to the itinerary, but TripIt does the heavy lifting and that’s what is most important. You can print your itinerary of course, and the formatting that TripIt provides is really clean and simple. If you forget to do that however, no worries – TripIt can send you your itinerary via email! You can send the command “get trip” to plans@tripit.com, and it’ll respond with your information. Or you can send something more specific, such as “get flight”. It’s really quite neat! You can learn more about the TripIt To Me feature here.

Some other handy features that TripIt includes:

  • The ability to share your trips with others. They can be either viewers or collaborators, meaning they can add items to the itinerary.
  • A travel guide for your destination. TripIt will load information from Wikipedia, Flickr, Eventful, and more.
  • See Who’s Close is a new feature that shows you when your connections (friends) are going to be near you at any given time.
  • iCal support, meaning you can load your itinerary up in Outlook, Google Calendar, and more.

As much as I love TripIt, it’s not perfect. Here are the top three features I’d like to see them add:

  1. Twitter and SMS support! Most other apps that I use on a regular basis (such as Remember The Milk) have this. Email is great, but Twitter and text messaging are better.
  2. Facebook widget. What I’d really like is for TripIt to do what dopplr does – show upcoming trips, and post an item to my news feed when traveling. If TripIt had this feature, I probably wouldn’t use dopplr anymore.
  3. Library of locations. When we went to NY, we added items like “Greenwich Village” and “Statue of Liberty” ourselves. It would have been really awesome if TripIt could have recognized those locations and automatically included relevant information (such as directions from/to our previous/next locations, pricing information, etc). This feature would make TripIt absolutely incredible!

If you’re just planning a quick road trip to see family or friends, TripIt may not be that useful for you. For all other kinds of trips however, I think you’ll find TripIt to be absolutely indispensable. I can honestly say I won’t travel without it anymore!

Mind Mapping with MindMeister

mindmeister If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s brainstorming. Sometimes I would rather come up with a bunch of new ideas than actually work on existing one! Since I do most of my brainstorming on the computer, it makes sense that I’d seek out software that makes it easier. I use OneNote a lot, and lately, I’ve started using MindMeister too.

MindMeister is an online mind mapping application that I’ll talk about in a moment. First, what’s mind mapping? From Wikipedia:

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.

It’s basically a way of visualizing ideas and concepts in a non-linear way. A list can only take you so far. Once you get used to the idea of creating a mind map, it can become very addictive!

One of the most popular mind mapping software packages is MindManager from MindJet. I played with a trial version a while ago, and I really liked it. I especially liked that it worked with ink on my tablet – that’s very neat! Unfortunately, it isn’t cheap ($99 for “Lite” and $349 for “Pro”). As much as I might enjoy it, brainstorming isn’t my primary gig, so that’s a bit pricey.

So I started looking for alternatives, and came across MindMeister. From their about page:

MindMeister brings the concept of mind mapping to the web, using its facilities for real-time collaboration to allow truly global brainstorming sessions.

Users can create, manage and share mind maps online and access them anytime, from anywhere. In brainstorming mode, fellow MindMeisters from around the world (or just in different rooms) can simultaneously work on the same mind map – and see each other’s changes as they happen.

Right away I liked the look of it (sorta Web 2.0 I guess) and decided to give it a try. I was surprised to find that mind mapping can work so well on the web! MindMeister doesn’t contain all of the whizbang features that MindManager does, but I think it includes just enough to make it really usable. Some of my favorite things about MindMeister:

  • It works in Opera! This despite a warning telling me I may notice weird things because I am not using IE or Firefox. Exceeding expectations is a good way to get me using your product.
  • All I need is a browser. The one major negative about MindManager is that you need to install it on every computer you want to use it on. I have three computers that I use regularly, so having my mind maps on the web is really handy.
  • You can export to other formats. Notably MindManager’s MMAP (with a premium account) and PDF.

Currently I’m using the free account, which gives you up to 6 mind maps and most of the other features. A premium account is just $49.90 per year, and adds unlimited mind maps, SSL encryption, exporting to MMAP, and the ability to work on maps offline.

I’m going to continue using MindMeister for a while, but I might give their competition a try too. Currently they look like the online app to beat. There’s a good list of mind mapping software at Wikipedia.

Have you used MindMeister or any other mind mapping software? Any suggestions?

Why isn't Twitter dead?

I started using Twitter back in about October of 2006. It had a pretty sizable following by that time, and it has grown quite significantly ever since. I quite like the service, and I’m totally enamored with the idea of microblogging and micromedia in general. And like everyone else, I am frequently annoyed at how often Twitter simply doesn’t work.

Which begs the question – why hasn’t it died? Why do thousands of users like myself keep coming back?

I’m getting really sick of the various messages Twitter displays when it’s down. Too many times I’ve sent text message updates, only to have them never appear or worse, appear days later. Too many times Twitter has stopped sending me updates altogether. Yet despite all the complaining I do, I always find myself back with Twitter as soon as its up.

Why that is, I’m not sure. But I think it may have something to do with the API.

The smartest thing the dudes over at Twitter ever did was make an easy-to-use API, and I bet they didn’t even realize how important it was at the time. It has resulted in dozens and dozens of third party services that build on top of the Twitter community. Positive reinforcement. It’s the API that makes Twitter so versatile, and it’s the API (primarily, I think) that keeps me coming back.

Of course, there’s something to be said about the large, active community that lives at Twitter. Even though in theory it should be simple to hop from service to service on the web, it never happens that way, and the large number of Twitter users certainly exerts a strong gravitational pull. Still, you’d think people would say “enough is enough” after a year and a half of 404 errors and other problems.

But they don’t. Twitter is as popular as ever. I think the API is largely responsible for that.