I’ve been thinking about all of the places that ‘allow’ customers to do the data entry tasks for them with little in the way of reward back to the customer. Think about it, you get to key in all the information for your airline reservation, but what do you get in return (ok, maybe a discount, but hear me out)? What I would like to see happen is that more online companies provide value added information in return.
For example, when I make an airline reservation, why can’t the airline shoot me an iCalendar with all of the departure/arrival information that I can drop into my calendar? If I order some merchandise from an online vendor like Apple that requires a signature on arrival, why not provide me (again) with an iCalendar that I can easily add to my calendar so I can make sure someone is available to sign for the delivery? You would think that the delivery companies (UPS/DHL/FedEx) would be all over this as it saves them the time/effort/fuel associated with re-delivery. For that matter, why not give me an Atom/RSS feed that allows me to easily track the package. Once the package is delivered, they can trash the feed URL. Actually, the same would be cool for the airline example as well.
This isn’t such a leap — many banks allow you to get your transaction information in a format (QIF) that you can easily import into Quicken; why not for the more mundane stuff as well?
But the thing that would really make this work, is to craft the value added data so that it would work with mobile devices. That way I don’t need to be tied to a feedreader or calendar that is on my desktop computer, I can be anywhere. This is obviously important for the air travel scenario. Perhaps part of the problem gets solved by having a feed reader that can send SMS messages based on certain feeds changing (like my flight schedule). You can sort of make that work now with Yahoo alerts, but a more integrated solution would be preferable.
One last thought: perhaps an interim method of bridging the data gap is to provide the scheduling information in a microformat like hCalendar and embed it in the confirmation/receipt screen (HTML) that is typically provided by a web site. It could then be mined out with PiggyBank or some other GRDDL-like scraper. Not perfect, but at least avoids the re-keying that is required now.