About a week after the ash cloud from Eyjafallajökull started wrecking havoc to airtravel all over Europe, The Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH) has launched Reishjem.no (Travel.no) in collaboration with the Norwegan foreign department.
Unveiled yesterday evening, the new website is almost identical to Schibsted-owned VG.no's Haikesentralen (Hitchhiker's Central) - dubbed a "mini craigs list" by Jeff Jarvis - but enables professional tour operators, mostly coach companies, to advertise their routes in Norway and Europe for free. The site will only be up during times of emergency such as the one we're experiencing now.
It's a useful site. It would have been much easier if I could have found a coach company with a direct route to England and seats still available when Journalism.co.uk trainer Colin Meek got stranded in Oslo last weekend than organising a private car via Haikesentralen. But isn't this too little, no routes I could have used are currently advertised there, and much too late?
I once worked as a PR for a government-owned destination marketeer so I understand why such collaborative measures take time to organise and get up and running. But this kind of institutional inertia is exactly what makes governments and big companies appear slow, incompetent and often irrelevant in today's media landscape, and that goes for many media companies too.
As Jarvis says: "What’s failing us, all in all, is our power structures, which aren’t built to think big and fast at the same time."
Thing is, more and more of us have become accustomed to turning to our online networks when we need help or get stuck. Most of the time someone in those networks will respond instantly, or at least within the day. It will certainly not take a week before our calls for help are answered. The beauty of this is that the online tools we use to build such networks are there for governments and companies to exploit as well, and yet, almost eleven years after the blog went mainstream, too few governements and travel companies have fully done so.
As mentioned in my column this week (in Norwegian) several airline companies, such as KLM (in English), Norwegian, SAS, did make an effort to keep their passengers informed via Facebook and Twitter, and many passengers shared information that could benefit their fellow travellers here too. But it's a half-way house at best.
These tools and sites are so easy to use that there really is no excuse: one of my favourite places for travel updates during the ash cloud crisis was this Coveritlive bloog by Tnooz, which is nothing but an aggregation of travel related Twitter and newsfeeds and requires no techical know-how to set up.
However, whether we call it the internet age, age of social media, web 2.0 or what have you, the age we live in today requires a different way of thinking than when monopolithic media controlled most publishing platforms. When writing my column this week I was reminded of something Adam Tinworth once told me about how we need to move from seeing journalism as a product to seeing it as a service (in Norwegian). It would seem a bit strange, though not entirely out of sync with my own experiences, but perhaps that goes for the travel industry too?