Travel search takes off as airlines go into tailspin

As air traffic is dragged down by high fuel costs and airline executives reach for sickness bags, travel-search traffic is picking up online — and that has meant business taking off for New England companies whose Internet search technologies support travel-related websites.

With cash-strapped consumers busy looking for deals, the boost in online travel-search has meant stronger revenue and acquisition activity by local companies. For example, earlier this week, Boston-based Smarter Travel Media LLC, which operates Smartertravel.com and BookingBuddy.com, acquired for an undisclosed amount New York-based Airfarewatchdog.com LLC.

How high are the travel sites soaring? Online travel search engine Kayak Inc., with operations in Concord and Norwalk, Conn., expects to generate revenue of $140 million this year compared with $47 million in 2007, co-founder and CTO Paul English said.

In 2005, the year in which Kayak launched its meta search website that aggregates the results of other sites, the company posted $3 million in revenue, he said.

Web revenue: That was easy!

Among all of New England’s Internet expertise, a local retailer has quietly created a $5 billion web-based business selling decidedly nontechnology products: office supplies.

Staples Inc. in Framingham has built an e-commerce business second only to Amazon.com Inc. among U.S. retail websites — a business that now represents about one-third of Staples’ total revenue. And it has done so by focusing less on the latest web innovations and more on how to make buying online as simple as possible for busy office managers.

Its strategy is working. The company, scheduled to release its 2007 financial numbers next month, generated $5.2 billion in third-quarter revenue — $1.7 billion of which came from its web-based and catalog-based sales. Its website processes 40,000 orders a day, with a typical transaction price of just under $200.

‘Caregiver’ sites launch as boomers seek help with elders

Websites focused on caregivers — from nannies to those taking care of elderly parents — burst on the scene in the late 1990s, then fizzled out quickly among the many dot-coms with faulty business plans.

But in the past six months, three Boston-area companies have launched websites focused on that same online audience, and this time they’re faced with a new challenge: attracting users who don’t identify themselves as “caregivers.”

About 34 million adults in the U.S., or 16 percent of the population, provide care to people 50 or older. The average caregiver age is 47. And about 8.9 million caregivers look after someone at least 50 years old with dementia, according to the San Francisco-based Family Caregivers Alliance.

Two firms to sell rental tech to pay the bills

Local entrepreneurs are designing web-based tools aimed at making property leasing easier and safer than ever.

Cambridge-based FlipKey Inc., for instance, is set to launch in late January or February its online system that collects data about rental vacation properties and enables users to rate them. And Newton-based Investment Instruments Corp. is launching in January a new online tool for tenants to pay rents and report problems to landlords while the system tracks tenants’ records for future references.

The two local software companies are entering a crowded market, but the payoff for more efficient online leasing networks is a big one.

Super Bowl to soccer moms

The founder of a Maynard dot-com whose Super Bowl commercials came to symbolize the excesses that led to the tech economy’s crash earlier this decade is taking a crack at his own professional 2.0.

Mike Ford, a co-founder of Computer.com Inc., has launched a website for suburban families to create their own social networks and schedule anything from block parties to play dates.

Ford gained notoriety in 2000 when he spent $3 million of the company’s $5.8 million in venture capital on three 30-second Super Bowl commercials — only to watch the business hit the skids the following year.

Designs of the times

It was nearly 40 years ago when New England staked its claim as a hub for the computer-aided design industry.

The ripple effect since has led to a new crop of firms that now develop niche software tools in specialty CAD markets to design everything from the latest European motorcycles to selling refrigerators.

It all started in 1969, when industry pioneer Computervision Inc. was founded in Bedford. Three years later, Prime Computer Corp. was started in Natick, and the two companies merged in 1988, eventually adopting the Computervision name.

When Needham-based Parametric Technology Corp. acquired Computervision for $490 million, it formed what remains today as one of the CAD industry giants alongside others like SolidWorks Corp. in Concord.

Iron Mountain scans for new biz

Boston’s Iron Mountain Inc. is bridging its conventional storage business and its digital-storage operations with a new unit that converts paper documents to digitized images.

Although Iron Mountain data centers have been producing digital images for customers for more than a decade, the new division was formed to centralize the business and to produce uniform packaged products.

Known as the document-conversion services unit, already the business is converting 20 million documents a month, company officials said.

for customers for more than a decade, the new division was formed to centralize the business and to produce uniform packaged products. Known as the document-conversion services unit, already the business is converting 20 million documents a month, company officials said.

This screen’s green

Three years ago, the former lead engineer of the Roomba vacuum cleaner shifted his engineering focus from vacuums to video and began developing a virtual television studio set that some observers believe could change the video-production industry.

Last month, Eliot Mack and his company, Cinital LLC, publicly showed the latest version of that studio technology — which creates a high-definition, 3-D set at about one-fifth the cost of existing systems.

Known as Previzion, the technology behind the product could level the playing field for smaller studios, according to those in the TV production industry.

Xobni launches with plans to peer into e-mail usage

Two Cambridge entrepreneurs launched their first software product this week to provide users with reports on their e-mailing habits — a crowded market with a large growth trajectory, particularly among enterprise IT departments looking to reduce wasted time.

Xobni Corp., taken from the words “in box” spelled backward and pronounced “zob-nee,” is offering its program free for personal users and plans to launch a business version within two months, said co-founders Adam Smith, 21, and Matt Brezina, 25.

The idea behind the software is to save businesses — Xobni’s eventual target market — money by identifying inefficient e-mailing practices. They consider the software an e-mail productivity tool.

Tech execs, on to the next

Business, technology and family matters converged for serial entrepreneurs David Friend and Jeff Flowers last year.

That’s when the two decided on their latest collaboration, a Web-based company that automatically backs up personal computer files. But it was pair of digital disasters that prompted the move.

In 2004, Flowers’ wife lost two years’ worth of family photos when her laptop was stolen. Then Friend’s daughter lost a college research paper and all of her iTunes MP3 files when her personal computer crashed.

So they founded Boston-based Carbonite Inc. — a move into the vast consumer space the two businessmen relish.