Color me a bit surprised. My parents are planning a big family get-together next spring at Disney; it will be their first chance to get all four grandkids together in over a year. After a few e-mails back and forth about some details (dates, location), I got an e-mail from Dad inviting me to download Disney’s Magical Gatherings “planner” software. Once downloaded, it’s a fully-featured social software application for families to plan their vacation.
The main features are group e-mail (to specific people or to the whole group), voting, personal and shared bookmarks (within the disney.com domain), notes (groupwide and private) and shared browsing with a chat window. The application also tells you when other group members are online, and has a calendar that includes (among other things) a countdown of how many days until your vacation.
It’s a nice example of an application add-on to a website; it relies on your Disney login (I had forgotten, but had an old Starwave account from the early ESPN days that Disney, to their credit, still had in the system) to activate, and uses a unique ID for your group vacation (which makes calling the Disney operators that much easier and more efficient). While browsing the Disney websites, you can always click “add to my favorites” — and the site will now be bookmarked in your planner (and shared with the group). As you discuss restaurants, places to stay, and rides that might be of interest, it streamlines the process to ensure everyone has the same stuff in front of them.
It even periodically pings the site, and Tinkerbell’s lantern will glow in your system tray if you have new info.
The benefits for Disney? Great demographic data: how large are the families planning the vacations? The market research must be fascinating: after years of getting one phone call to book a room and maybe some follow-up calls to schedule specific details, now they get to watch a vacation grow organically as decisions are made by a group. They can start to see how different ideas are floated to the group, then decided on. It helps them see which sections of their site are most useful, and how they get browsed.
One thing they should add: a button that connects you to a chat window with a Disney representative. The woman I spoke with on the phone yesterday was wonderful, but there’s no reason our conversation couldn’t have happened online. The benefit to me? I’m already in the Disney application; a chat conversation could be archived for future reference (“What was that restaurant they recommended?”) and optionally shared with others in the group.
All in all, a very interesting extension of the social software concept tied to a particular goal. It reinforces something we feel strongly about at Socialtext: if you have a specific goal in mind, you (and others in the group) are far more likely to be successful using the software. In this case we are a motivated circle of users, looking forward to what should be a fun vacation.