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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pix Me Away: Imagining a Virtual Personal Assistant for Travel

What kind of traveller are you? Have you ever wished there was a website or app which understood you so well, it could choose where you went on your next trip away... and then find some buddies to go there with? PixMeAway might be just such a device... not quite the personal assistant of sci-fi movies, but definitely a step in the direction! PixMeAway relies on parlour game psychology (what the Japanese might call kokology) to determine your personality type, and then suggest to you the type of holidays you would be interested in going on. More specifically, it uses images, rather than text, and for this reason has been described as the world's first image-based search engine. As a community, PixMeAway is obviously aimed at those who relate more to images than text, especially when they are making travel plans. Upon visiting the site, users are directed to a screen of Polaroid style photos. Some of these photos are of famous icons (such as the Sydney Opera House), others show backpackers trudging along a beach, or snowboarders. You have to pick at least three of the photos which appeal to you, without thinking about it too much; in true kokology style, your choice is supposed to reflect your feelings. I chose, in this order, a photo of a church in a northern grassland, Stonehenge, and the Pyramids of Giza. I would have included something on an Asian or Indian bent, but for some reason I didn't notice the photo of the saffron-robed monks in front of an ancient temple (maybe that was subconscious omission, or maybe the pictures are too small.) Or maybe I am just all Asianed out at the moment! Anyway, PixMeAway concluded from my picks that I was a mix of Charlotte (85 per cent), Toby (74 per cent), Olivia (68 per cent), Amelie (27 per cent), Archie (28 per cent), Max (16 per cent), and Rocky (13 per cent), these being the seven archetypes it employs. Not quite Jungian archetypes, but definitely a step in the direction. Charlotte is described as a connossieur and a "culture lover", interested in "history of ancient civilizations, art & culture, first-class hotels, dining at the best restaurants, comfortable interior." PixMeAway informs me: "The way you travel is distinguished by exclusivity formerly known as mundane. You are convincing with your peers just as with your projects. Your weak spot for art and culture doesn’t stop at foreign destinations and lead you directly to the best museums, opera houses and much more. Interested as you are, you see travelling more than just a mere change of your everyday life. You also want to be part of the history of your chosen destination. You are also willing to speak the language and experience its traditions. But comfort is nothing to be neglected as you prefer to accommodate yourself in hotels with the brightest stars..." Spot on about the culture vulture stuff, wrong about the hotels... when I finally make it to Cambodia and Laos, I intend to practically live in youth hostels. Maybe I should have picked more pictures! But whatever... I'll take it. Click acceptance of your archetypes, and you're through to something a little more interesting, and practical: some actual travel destinations. According to the website, Harari (Ethiopia), Sonora (Mexico) and Wakayama Prefecture (Japan) are amongst the top recommended destinations. Since I am planning to spend the next 15 years in Asia/Africa, I narrow my search down to those two continents, and proceed to the next stage.

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, seen from the ground looking up.
After this somewhat hokey introduction, PixMeAway actually does pack some decent resources, once you get into it. It is sort of like an interactive Rough guidebook, with more pictures and less words, and driven by social media. If you ever want to stay at a pension in Eritrea or Benin, the website can help you make a booking, or direct you to the nearest bowling alley. You can read recommendations made by those with the same interests as you, according to your profile. Presumably you can meet up with some of these folk and travel with them, but I suppose you have to be a member to do that.

The canals of Venice, Italy.
PixMeAway's CEO points out that 500 million would be travellers are not sure where they want to go, and his community is intended to give them inspiration and ideas. As someone who knows very clearly where he wants to go (everywhere!), I don't think PixMeAway can really help me. If I need a community to hook me up, I would rather rely on Couch Surfing. Which is exactly the last place a true Charlotte would go looking for accommodation!

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