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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Dopplr's new set of features

Dopplr, a service that lets you share your future travel plans privately with friends and colleagues, released a new version codenamed “Copenhagen” some time ago. There has also been other updates we’ve been writing about along the way. With this post I wanted to recap some of the developments and go a bit more into detail on how the new features are working for the users.

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Among other improvements I can now publish my Dopplr profile page on the Internet for the public to see and for the search engines to find. This is a needed addition as it was frustrating to ask people to create their own profile if they only wanted to follow my whereabouts (yes, there was the widget, but only with one default disclosure option). Dopplr also plays along with what is a desired and much overdue positive trend among many social networks, namely giving users the ability to control how much information they want to disclose to the public. This is done via modules which the user can which on and off as she wishes.

After a little tinkering I was able to find my public profile, but there’s still no way to do a search of public profiles on Dopplr’s home page. This would be great addition especially since Google’s Search bots hadn’t found my profile yet, making it practically nonexistent.

Another very useful feature that Tripit already has and which Dopplr has now also added, is the possibility to input your trips to the service via email and SMS. Dopplr didn’t stop there but let’s the users also use Twitter to input one’s itinerary. This was a positive surprise. It took me a few back and forth confirmations to make it work, but not too much to make it an inconvenience. After I follow Dopplr on Twitter I am able to input a new trip just by doodling my destination and the dates into Twitter and post the Tweet to add it to my Trips at Dopplr.

A user can also choose to use Twitter to post her itinerary ‘silently’ to Dopplr in which case it does not even show in her Tweets. I did this, but due to the usage limits that Twitter has imposed it takes a long while for the posting to go through. Once a trip is confirmed a user can also forward relevant emails such as hotel reservations to the service where they will be automatically attached to her trip.

Email, SMS and Twitter upload is a welcome addition that let’s Dopplr to strike back as Tripit already added what was Dopplr’s killer feature, namely the serendipity feature which allows me to see all my friends who use Dopplr and are in the city at the same time that I’m visiting there.

I found this quote (from Dopplr blog) fascinating on how Dopplr works out the the dates and other info from the doodlings we send them:

There are an awful lot of ways to format a travel itinerary. When people asked us to extract trips from emails, we looked at our long history of e-tickets, confirmations and reservations, and scratched our heads.

Inspiration came in the shape of Apple’s last OS X release, Leopard, and an intriguing feature called “Data detectors“.

We realised that instead of creating a piece of code to decode every email format out there, we could look for patterns of dates and place names in the text (and later, other information too) and turn those into trips.

A happy side-effect of this approach is that as well as extracting information from automatic reservation emails, it works well with short text strings like “I’ll be in San Francisco from 3rd July to 7th July”. This means we can work with many hand-written emails, with Twitters, and with SMSes too.

Of course it won’t work with every variation under the sun (for example, it’s most reliable when an email contains just a return trip in a single hop), but we’ve had very satisfying results in our testing. And of course every email you send us will be added to our test suite so that our engine can get better and better over time.

I’ve always liked Dopplr for its simplicity, but there has still been the feeling that its a one trick pony with its fascinating serendipity function. With the Copenhagen release this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and I could see myself move all my travel planning to Dopplr, if I only could access my full itinerary from my mobile with the same ease I can Twitter it up there. Something that Tripit makes possible even though not via Twitter but via SMS.

One can speculate if the new version is codenamed Copenhagen because Tyler Brûlé just recently nominated Copenhagen ‘the most livable city in the world’ in the latest issue of what is supposedly every city hopper’s bible, Monocle. Regardless, I think Dopplr has made itself much more useful for all of us with its latest version.

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