Mapping Technology Powers Search of Worldspan Database

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Worldspan, an online travel information firm, is expected this month to begin offering its mainly corporate and travel agent customers a new method of searching its vast database -- Web mapping.

The firm is implementing WebMap Server, new software created by WebMap, Boston.

WebMap's so-called Zooming Technology allows companies to organize files by preset rules and to present them on a screen that looks like a topographical map. The company's technology scans its customers' databases, then categorizes and ranks files according to parameters set by the customers. The software then groups the information into bordered regions. Files with the highest ratings -- and, therefore, the most likely to be relevant to the current search -- end up on "higher" regions of the map.

"There are all kinds of visual cues instead of text," said Michael Iron, CEO and co-founder of WebMap. "We can represent them as icons on top of a map in regard to the different text they belong to. It makes it easy to direct the right audience to the right place, even if a company has 300,000 or 400,000 documents."

In the case of Worldspan, the screen displays a map that is sectioned off in categories such as budget travel, directories, reservations, travel sites and business. A person researching tropical islands, for example, can zoom in on specialty travel, point to pixel images -- where text of links will appear -- and click the item he wants. Any information can be promoted as an icon, such as mountains, cars or boats, Iron said.

WebMap can feature more than 2 million links on a single screen. A series of servers aggregate the links, match them with rating data, position the icons within territories and send the information. The software works on existing servers, and implementation time is 30 to 60 days, Iron said.

Worldspan began usability testing last month and expects to provide the service officially sometime this month, said Charlie Sullivan, senior vice president of business services and strategic planning at Worldspan, Atlanta.

"WebMap depicts [information] in what has been historically [shown] in a textual context," Sullivan said.

"What I needed to do is utilize it in a travel space and have something people can see how it works," he said. "I use [the software] as a showcase and sales tool. Our [travel] agency community will soon be able to utilize this application so they can better fulfill their customers' needs. We're offering it as a valued service, and hopefully it will provide for a more robust customer relationship."

Worldspan, which was established in 1990 and is owned by Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and TWA, has 250,000 links to various Web sites used by the travel industry. The company aggregates air, car, hotel and cruise contact information in its system and distributes the information to the travel agency community. More than 50 percent of all travel transactions on the Web are processed through Webspan, according to Sullivan.


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