I’ve been using the Air France / KLM social networking site Bluenity a bit over the past week, and it was better than what I was expecting. There does seem to be a curiosity factor in being able to see what type of people will be on the same plane journey as you, but the difficulty is not to make it feel like, in the words of my wife, “a site for people looking to pick-up.”

The comment above is interesting because sometimes the people covering social networking become such evangelists that they forget to factor in the views of those who haven’t yet jumped on the bandwagon, or were on it but have since jumped off.  But there is no doubt that knowing who is (or isn’t) sharing your journey can’t strike a chord with people. Just look at the bold PR stunt this week from Activities Abroad who claimed they could promise ‘chav free’ holidays as they supposedly searched there database and found no-one with the names Sharon, Chantelle, Britney, Bianca, Tiffany or Chardonnay. But they did find travellers called Sarah, James, Charles and Rachel which according to them implies a higher quality of holiday-maker! I say it touched a chord because they apparently received threatening calls as a result, but the company founder was unrepentant.

“We have had £300,000 worth of PR from this. We had a few nervous moments and knew it was a bold piece of PR but we’re getting great results.”

Using Bluenity, I don’t recall seeing any Chantelles or Britneys on my flight, but a site like this needs more than names of some of the fellow travellers to make it compelling. The share a taxi to/from the airport is interesting, although as an experiment I added a share taxi request and received no enquiries – I’m not sure if people could see it was me offering to share a taxi from the airport, of if there was a general lack of site usage, but eitherway no-one took me up on the offer. I suspect it was the latter, or at least I hope so! 

I don’t think getting travellers to review restaurants etc will ever take off in a closed community like this, but I question why it needs to remain closed. If AF/KLM opened it up so people on other flights could input their flight details, then they could make the site stronger. I’d never suggest doing it all overnight, as the progressive opening up of Facebook from Harvard to other Ivy League, to other universities, then to schools etc is a great case study in how to ensure the audience is widened in a sustainable way. But with Tripit launching an API this week, and other companies getting into the itinerary space, airlines who want this business face some innovative opposition. I honestly believe a clever airline can own this space; having all the direct channel PNRs and the frequent flyer database is an incredible head start in any race of this type. The real question going forward is will Bluenity be able to build on its existing functionality, or will another airline pick up a cheap yet catchy domain name and come out with a site that leverages all the assets they already possess and take a lead in this very interesting area of e-commerce.   

Overall verdict on Bluenity: Congratulations to Martijn Van der Zee (VP E-commerce, Air France/KLM) and his team for taking such a bold step. Potential is definintely there, but it is early days yet, and it needs to offer more compelling and unique content before it can really succeed as a community for travellers.