A new player enters the online travel niche today. A UK startup called Kukunu emerges from private beta testing with some exciting features, at least for a very early stage innovation. We took a look inside Kukunu for you, what we found was a cutting edge simplicity, but some lacking areas as far as social interaction, and deep content or data. Kukunu’s striking design and simple interface offer potential. More importantly though, is Kukunu designed to be Kayak’s or Google’s TripAdvisor? Let’s see.
Kukunu is the brain child of Gerald Goldstein PhD (physics), and Itamar Lesuisse, engineer and guru consultant at Boston Consulting Group and Amazon. Their obvious technical expertise is reflected in Kukunu’s minimalist design, as well as the flawless ways in which it currently works. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Kukunu is striking in some ways, and misses the boat in a few others – so far.
Bon Voyage with Kukunu
Signup through planning your first trip(s) with Kukunu is probably faster and more efficient than signing up to Facebook. I started a trip to Copehagen, as you can see in the screen I made, because I have been there several times. For new Kukunu users, adding elements to your trip is drop dead simple.
The navigation on Kukunu is near perfect actually (a couple of bugs), but everything from creating a vacation by adding venues, to sharing them on Facebook, and people being directed back to Kukunu – works perfectly. Then there are the negatives. But, let me say the design elements are super nice too, so the engineering types did not just set out to type in some code that works great (like so many do), they actually had a designer in the closet somewhere.
Simplicity is key to any cutting edge startup actually, but particularly so for emergent travel ones. As anyone can clearly see, Expedia’s TripAdvisor, TripWolf, NileGuide, and several others betray this principle. This is for two reasons. First, the massive amount of data on say TripAdvisor, lends itself to a grossly complicated UI and navigation – and almost unavoidable cluttered platform – almost I said. Secondly, TripAdvisor and the others mentioned, are really renditions of Web 1.0 design and function. It is easy to see Kukunu is addressing this, as our clients at Stay.com have. But here is where Kukunu’s problems really begin and end.
Kukunu’s Coming Elements – Or Else
Kunkunu’s developers have the “slickness” aspect down pat. As suggested though, a clean UI and flawless interface to nowhere is not exactly a value proposition worth mentioning – but let’s take a quote from Charlotta Hedman at TechCrunch UK for some insight.
Kukunu wants to offer a broader service than their competitors and guess their way to all your travel needs.
The hard part of building a cutting edge, super valuable online travel hub is the libraries of content. Even TripAdvisor’s volumes are hollow magazine clippings compared with what they should be. The challenge for “the next” great travel startup is to be clean like Kukunu, but possessing Wikipedia-like drill down for people’s scrutiny. Kukunu will no doubt add a mobile app – it is the next frontier for all actually. But gateways to less than perfect data are simply useless, or will be in the very near future. Google is in the game, Facebook is in the game, social is about to be in a paradigm shift, and as Richard MacManus so aptly put it:
So if I was an entrepreneur or developer wondering what to build for this era of the Web, I wouldn’t be thinking social. I’d be thinking: How can I use all of this data and build on top of it?
Data. A heap of it. Organized and accessible from a multiplicity of angles – this is what my old friend is talking about. Social is here to stay too, but that is the “people” end of things. I disagree slightly with Richard on this point, especially where travel is concerned.
Media and data elements created, shared, added to, and enhanced by THE People of THE places is the most powerful “convincing” factor there is. Call my nebulous thoughts “real people advertising” for lack of a better term. Kukunu is not so very well tied into this YET. As an early stage startup, Kukunu is fine – for now. But, as you can see, subjective ratings and suggestions, limited choices, unrefined media elements (pint sized views of places), and the ability to print some names (the limited equivalent of Stay.com’s personalized PDF guides) won’t get it.
I mailed Kukunu’s CEO, Itamar Lesuisse, about the ratings issue above, and some other issues. He responded almost immediately. According to Itamar, Kukunu’s suggestions now are based on their own algorithm, plus ratings for hotels by Booking.com. Apparently Kukunu will tilt these toward user generated results once user engagement goes up. Itamar fended off my question about “content” by suggesting more open source and no premium content acquisition basically. User generated stuff being again, the Holy Grail (which it is).
Ways To Skin A Cat
As far as the “data” question, Itamar says Expedia and Bookings.com provide much, while Google API’s and others should allow users to access a wealth of data – generating it in suitable and usable form being the hurdle there. On Kayak? Itamar told me my visit to Kayak was inconsequential, Kukunu is intent on their own booking engine doing the “hook” up work (that one I want to see). Itamar says Kukunu already has “100,000 hotels and more then 200,000 activities, ” an unless their is an open source booking engine out there I am unaware of, rates and commissions included? Well, I could be wrong.
Regardless of my criticisms, this is a very nice development, to say the least. But, there is no way in this world around an immense data structure in travel – without it every travel agent in the world still has the edge for many millions of travelers. I guess Kukunu can scrape all the data necessary – but given their level of funding so far – I seriously doubt it. The loss of SEO and high quality data value would be greatly lost any way. But, maybe Kukunu has something up their sleeves I do not know about. Maybe it is being made for Google? There are many ways to skin a cat.