Many consumer advocates and more than a few industry groups opposed Google's acquisition of airline flight data company ITA. ITA provides commercial flight and ticketing data to most existing travel sites; if Google acquired them, then it wouldn't be much of a stretch to see something like the following:
How cool would it be if you could type "flights to somewhere sunny for under $500 in May" into Google and get not just a set of links but also flight times, fares and a link to sites where you can actually buy tickets quickly and easily?
This is from Google's own blog today, announcing that the US Department of Justice had finally approved the ITA deal. What they fail to mention in this cool bit of search integration/Web 3.0 goodness is that since that information will begin surfacing at the top of your search results, you aren't going to bother clicking the link to Kayak.com halfway down the page. Instead, you're going to click through Google's ITA-powered results and purchase your tickets through whatever Google company or partnership exists and Google will take a cut instead of Travelocity or Expedia.
As Larry Dignan pointed out earlier when he first reported on the DOJ approval,
The DOJ said that [its] settlement with Google will “protect competition for airfare comparison and booking websites” and allow ITA to “power their websites to compete against any airfare website Google may introduce.”...Google is also prohibited from entering into agreements with airlines that would restrict information flow to competitors.
It feels to me like Google's vision of how the ITA deal will play out and the DOJ's conditions for letting it happen don't quite align.
And yet...Back to the title of this post. What does it mean for us as consumers?
As with all things Google, it means convenience, first and foremost. This isn't a bad thing. I rarely bother going to Weather Underground anymore, unless I want to read the detailed forecaster notes from NOAA that they conveniently provide. I just start typing weather in Google and Google Instant surfaces the weather for my location. Via weather.com. Wunderground obviously isn't happy about this; weather.com is. So am I, because it's easier, especially from a mobile device, and I didn't like the new design that Weather Underground recently rolled out anyway.
We can probably expect the same from Google's ITA acquisition. There will be winners and losers and it will simply be easier for us to find air travel information. I would argue, in fact, that this will also benefit users in terms of competition, not because it won't crush Kayak (it probably will...poor guys, they were just getting started), but because the travel sites that want to survive are going to have to start getting creative. We're going to see more value adds to draw us to Expedia rather than simply Googling our next air travel requirements.
Amazon has done this very successfully. Most of us now just head to Amazon if we want to buy something online rather than Googling the product and finding it online somewhere. Smaller sites with really smart, creative people are going to figure out ways to use the ITA data to make our lives better too, perhaps with mobile apps or new partnerships with specific carriers or by catering to particular frequent flyer mile alliances.
Any way it goes, we come out of this on top and, not surprisingly, so does Google.