Hello.  We’ve moved our blog to http://labs.lastminute.com/blog.  Please go there to get the new feed and keep up with what we’re doing.  This one won’t update any more!  Thank you.

Posted by: lastminutelabs | 17 Aug 09

Be quick: meals from £1 for our fonefood users

Cactus Blue restaurant in Fulham Road

Cactus Blue restaurant in Fulham Road

For the first time ever at lastminute.com we’re doing one of our great WIGIG sales exclusively on our fonefood mobile restaurant site.  For those not in the know, WIGIG stands for When It’s Gone, It’s Gone.  This means we’ll have some great deals there, but when they’re sold out, that’s it!

It starts this Wednesday 19 August at 10am precisely.  We’ll have meals from only £1 at two restaurants in London: Cactus Blue in Kensington with South-West American fare and Navajo Joe in Covent Garden, with apparently one of the largest selections of tequila outside Mexico (although your pound doesn’t cover those –sorry!).  You’ll be able to book tables from 19 August through 1 September (until they’re all gone).

Be quick!

Posted by: lastminutelabs | 13 Aug 09

nru up for Best Location Based App award

Our nru app in the USA, that we’re running together with our partner Zagat for Android phones like the T-Mobile G1 and myTouch 3G, is up for the “Best Location Based App” award in the Android Network Awards.  If you’re a fan please send in your vote, and check out some of the other great apps on the list.

pronto-accentsAlrite! Or should that be alroight? A very exciting day today, as we get to reveal a top secret project we’ve been working on for a while.  When we created the pronto search we immediately realised that we could add all sorts of extra words and phrases in there, especially as the whole idea was to let people search in their own words and their own style.  And given the natural Geordie influence from Kim (who organises events such as our annual Hack Day), the humour injected by pronto’s initial architect Chris Gathercole, with a bit of inspiration from our friend and marketing genius Cathy Elves, we created a few fun accents for pronto.  Now you can search for things using your own words, whether you’re Manc or Brummie, Geordie or Glaswegian, Scouse or Bristolian.

For the next couple of weeks we’re also running a competition with Galaxy Manchester and Galaxy Birmingham radio, to find the Mancunian and Brummie voice of pronto.  The winner will get a weekend in a lovely 4* hotel, Crewe Hall in Cheshire or the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, and will have their accent as our official voice.

We’ve had a lot of help in creating these.  We’ve had people across the internet contributing their local phrasings – thanks to Zak from Prezzybox for some brummie advice and Amy Simpson on Mancunian – as well as all kinds of people from across lastminute.com, who as you’d expect come from all over the UK.

Now these are perfectly valid searches on lastminute.com:

“Alroight me babbie! Gizza floight ter Amsterdam fer 3 noights”

“Howay man! Aa’d leik te gan bi plane te Barcelona”

“I’d like a floight to Prague my love”

Despite the very thorough testing we’ve put this through (i.e., people endlessly educating us on the fine points of Manc vs.  Lancashire), we’re pretty sure you’ll have your own thoughts, so please let us know either what phrases we should add or where it doesn’t sound right.  Or if you’d like to add an accent we don’t have yet!  (We need quite a lot of good rhyming slang to make a cockney one).

Back in December last year at the Adobe MAX conference in Milan we announced that we’d be working with Adobe to use their new Wave technology to provide desktop alerts to our UK customers, and today we can announce that it is live and working (as a public beta test) so you can try it out!  Just go to our “don’t miss out on the good stuff” page and click on “Get Alerts with Adobe Wave” to give it a try.

A sample alert: news of a hotel sale just starting

A sample alert: news of a hotel sale just starting

What will you get?

Every time we send out last-second deal (probably a couple of times a week), it will pop up on your desktop for a few seconds, or you’ll be able to see the last few that have been sent when you double click to open your Wave application.  Just click on the deal to see the full details at lastminute.com.

Right now we’re launching with two channels.  Going Out will have deals on theatre tickets, restaurant meals, gigs, and all that kind of good stuff.  Staying Over will be hotels or holidays or trips away of different kinds.  In both cases we’re going to start with just the last second deals, especially if there’s a few cheap deals we’ve managed to find that we need to sell quickly, and there isn’t time for a big old-fashioned email to go out.  You should get the alert a second or two after we send it.

How does it work?

It should be quite straightforward to click and install the Wave application.  Then it’ll sit there listening for alerts, and when one arrives pop it up on your screen.  You can turn the alerts on or off easily, and decide where you want them to appear.  You can also subscribe and unsubscribe to a number of channels from different companies.

This is built with the Adobe AIR technology, so it will work across a range of Windows, Mac and Linux machines (see the full system requirements).  Adobe act as a middleman in the process, guaranteeing that we are who we say we are and the alerts are really coming from us, and allowing customers to subscribe and unsubscribe to alerts from a range of companies.

As this is a beta test product, please let us know your feedback – either leave a comment under this post or you can contact us direct at lastminutelabs at googlemail dot com.  We’re coordinating with Adobe so we’ll keep them informed of any problems our customers see.

Posted by: Marko Balabanovic | 20 Jul 09

nru now available for the iPhone 3GS

nru on the new iPhone

nru on the new iPhone, showing nearby restaurants

The wait is over: you can now download the nru app for your iPhone 3GS, on the App Store.  If you have an older iPhone, as long as it has been upgraded to the 3.0 software, it will still work, but without the compass you won’t really get the full effect as it won’t update as you move the phone around.

At the moment it is only in English, and we’ve made it available for Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom; we’ll let you know as we look into further countries. We’re interested to hear what you think, either via reviews on the App Store, or you can email us direct at lastminutelabs at googlemail dot com. It has a selection of restaurant deals from fonefood and various things to do like bars and cafes from Qype.

Posted by: Marko Balabanovic | 16 Jul 09

Meeting the Travelling Geeks

Last week I went to a roundtable discussion on innovating in larger organisations organised by econsultancy at the Swan, part of the Globe Theatre with a fantastic view over the Thames.  That was one of three discussions going on, and sprinkled around the room were the “Travelling Geeks,” a group of bloggers and journalists on a whistlestop tour of interesting technology events and companies around London and Cambridge.  I hadn’t anticipated what this would mean in practice – the room was full of people interviewing one another with iPhones, flips and even serious video equipment, blogging, twittering and generally revelling in their own media stream.

One great benefit of working on mobile apps this year is that we can show them off in any setting, so I got to demonstrate our nru app for the new iPhone 3GS to a few people, including Robert Scoble, and you can see his impromptu interview below.  nru isn’t quite on the App Store yet but we hope it won’t be long!

The main discussion was around how to encourage a culture of innovation in a larger company, and how to deal with the inevitable challenge of how to allow the entrepreneurial folks enough speed and autonomy within a larger organisation to achieve their goals.  Naming no names (under the Chatham House rule), but there was quite a bit made of the Google exodus in the last year, with many founding new startups.  A counterexample from around the table was the development of Air by Adobe, that was started by a few people within the company who thought it would be interesting and originally released as a beta via Adobe Labs.  We also had some nice examples of new inventions, including BakerTweet described by Iain Tait from Poke – a box installed in a bakery so they can easily send out a tweet when there are fresh cookies, croissants or doughnuts.

econsultancy also gathered our thoughts on UK vs. US innovation – you can see my part below.  Although there’s still a big difference between the San Francisco bay area and anywhere else in the world when it comes to technology innovation, the part of London where we’re based (Victoria) is very vibrant, with Google and Microsoft down the road, Channel 4 nearby, and even startups such as mydeco; and we’re near the creative hubs of Soho and Shoreditch, full of agencies large and small.  And, very occasionally, the sun shines.

Posted by: mdahlstrom | 16 Jul 09

DeviceAtlas Rails plugin now available

Our fonefood mobile web site for booking restaurant deals needs to know what kind of phone you’re using to view it, so it can resize and style things appropriately.  We’ve been successfully using the DeviceAtlas database from dotMobi to understand the capabilities of lots of different phone handsets.  Since our site was created with Ruby on Rails, we needed a nice way to plug the two together.

We therefore created a Rails plugin for our Device Atlas code.  This repository is now open to the public over at github.com. If you are interested in learning about making your Rails applications device aware you can read a tutorial we published over at mobiforge.com.

Posted by: Christophe Bruchansky | 9 Jul 09

The RCA Summer Show 2009: our favourites

SHOW 2009Part of the labs team went to visit the Royal College of Art graduates show last Thursday, an important event in London for anyone interested in contemporary art and design.

Kim, it was the first time you went to the RCA show, what did you think?

“I was amazed at the high quality and variety of design. There is also so much fantastic work that if you are planning to go I would recommend booking out a few hours in your diary. Amongst the things I liked the most was the ‘palate cleanser’, a little glass bubble filled with mint and other refreshing things which you could place a straw over to suck in the vapours which refreshed your taste buds. I also liked the statue of a white rabbit holding on to his broken, bleeding heart, although shamefully I do not remember the artist’s name. One of my favourite areas was that textile section, which displayed some beautiful clothes and shoes, amongst which I found shoes designed by Manolo Blahnik Award Winner 2009, Alexandru Adam.  As well as shoes I focused on handbags (such a cliché now that I think about it). The first bag to grab my attention was from the ‘Orishiki’ range by Naoki Kawamoto but the most practical bag design (for me) came from Claire Ferreira who designed a bag in which you could clip all of your belongings. This will mean next time I tip out my bag to find the key / wallet / phone at the bottom I might be able to find it without having to crawl around on the floor! Genius! I also really like the tables she has created by pouring a substance into a cylinder and waiting for it to pour out of the bottom and dry to form a table top. You can place these tables on top of each other to make a stool and desktop, or a shelving unit. However, next time I would recommend that Claire places her business cards on the top shelf rather than the bottom, someone with poor coordination skills might bend down to pick up a card and bash their head on the top shelf, casing much pain. Not that I know of anyone who would do such a thing, of course…”

Speaking about business cards, I was not even always sure of who made what. More generally, I think the show didn’t get the basics of promoting the graduates. For example, visitors were not allowed to take pictures, which is strange for an event aiming at promoting young artists and designers. Personally, I liked the agridemics project a lot because it demonstrates very successfully that architecture is actually a social proposition, and in this case a very original and green one. I also liked the idea of the www.fruitcity.co.uk website, where you can find fruits in London’s public gardens and make your own recipe.

Check out the RCA show 2009 pictures by we-make-money-not-art if you want to know more about the RCA Summer show 2009. You can also look at the description of some of projects from the design interactions class.

Posted by: Rux | 8 Jul 09

Skinning Pronto

A few months back we released a version of pronto, our innovative new half-guided and half-natural-language search, to our affiliate network via Commision Junction (see the earlier blog post). Well after a bit of feedback, we’ve gone back and re-skinned it for people whose websites don’t get along so well with our rather overpowering pink-on-black company style. You can now have the same functionality in a slightly smaller, but more importantly less overpoweringly coloured package.


If you’re interested in getting this box on your website, our affiliates page is the place to go.

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