Earlier this month, Microsoft killed Bing’s Farecast feature, which predicted whether airline fares were likely to rise or fall in the future, the company confirmed to Geekwire’s John Cook.
Microsoft paid about $US115 million for Farecast back in 2008. It was one of the first-ever “big data” consumer apps, when Oren Etzioni created it in 2003.
It was also, arguably, one of the most intriguing features on Bing Travel, helping people decide the right time to book their tickets.
Companies change and kill features to their online services all the time. Bing is no exception.
But it’s an interesting case study all the same. One reason Farecast died was because Google outmaneuvered Microsoft over it, says the man that invented the tech, Oren Etzioni. He who now works for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, leading Allen’s Artificial Intelligence Institute.
And while Bing Travel still exists, Etzioni doesn’t use it. He prefers Google Travel, he tells us.
Etzioni is known as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the Seattle area, thanks for his knack for building companies that predict things. In September, he sold his sixth startup in a row, Decide.com, which predicted when prices for electronics would drop. eBay bought it for an undisclosed sum and closed the service down.
Farecast actually hit trouble way back in 2011 when Google bought travel software company ITA Software for $700 million. ITA supplied the underlying data that Bing needed for Farecast. Microsoft, Kayak, Expedia and others tried to block the sale. A judge told Google it must make travel data available to its rivals, but in the end Microsoft didn’t want to pay Google for the data, Etzioni told us.
Bing’s other problem was that most of the Farecast team left Bing shortly after the sale. Some of them joined Etzioni in his next venture, Decide.com, and are now working for eBay.
We asked Etzioni his thoughts about Bing, Farecast, Google and booking online travel. This is what he told us:
BI: Why do you think they killed Farecast? It sounded like Google one-upped them by buying ITA Software, the source of the data?
Oren Etzioni: A combination of that, and the fact that travel expertise both technical and business left.
BI: Can you point me to some examples?
OE: The entire Farecast executive team left including: Hugh Crean (CEO), Mike Fridgen (VP of Product and Marketing), Jay Bartot (VP of Engineering). In addition, the entire Farecast data mining team (led by Dave Hsu) left as well.
BI: Today, you use use Google Flights, is that right? You like it better than Kayak?
OE: Google Flights is fast, clean, simple, and doesn’t try to “monetise” me by showing me results of dubious value.
Microsoft offered Geekwire this comment about why it turned off Farecast:
“Bing is no longer offering Price Predictor, but remains committed to delivering a comprehensive travel experience that gives people great travel information including flight and hotel search functionality. In addition to Bing.com/travel, travellers can find relevant travel information in new and visually compelling ways through the Bing Travel app and Bing Smart Search for Windows 8.1 and Bing Maps.
As to why price predictor was turned off — It was a business decision to focus resources on areas where we feel there are the greatest opportunities to serve travel needs.”
We have reached out to Microsoft and will update if Microsoft provides us with further comment.