Travel fare predictor

farecast-oldMIcrosoft, which paid $115 million for the Seattle-based company six years ago this month, has turned off the price prediction tool that informed travelers of the likelihood that airfare prices would rise or decline.

When Farecast’s price prediction technology launched in 2004, it grabbed headlines since it was one of the first and most understandable consumer Internet applications of “big data, ” a term that was not really in use. At the time, Farecast founder and former University of Washington computer science professor Oren Etzioni dismissed critics when he said that “computers are comfortable sifting through large volumes of numbers to find patterns.”

Those patterns were used to tell travelers whether a future flight between Boston and Seattle or thousands of other combinations was about to increase or decrease in price.

Reached this morning, Etzioni said he was sad to learn that the price prediction tool was being turned off, calling it one of the “most distinctive features of Bing.”

Etzioni, who now leads Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Artificial Intelligence Institute, said that many travel technology and business experts left Bing’s team. In addition, he said that Bing was “outflanked” by Google when the search giant purchased ITA Software. While Microsoft and others attempted to block that sale, Etzioni said that “Bing didn’t want to pay Google for the data required to power Farecast.”

“So, we end up with Bing travel as a thin veneer that redirects users to Kayak, while Google innovates with which I now use all the time, ” said Etzioni. “Google 1, Bing 0.”

In fact, Kayak introduced a similar price prediction tool for its travel search engine last year.

Here’s the statement Microsoft provided to GeekWire on the rationale behind the end of the price prediction service.

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