With the holidays right around the corner, I imagine ordering online will be increasing and the deadlines inch closer for when those packages have to arrive. This time of year makes online package tracking more important than ever. Is a gift going to make it in time or do you need to run out and grab a card to explain the delay?
On Friday I ordered a package from Amazon and used the free Amazon Prime through Amazon Student to have it delivered overnight. While I waited for the delivery, I checked the package tracking offered through FedEx. It keeps you apprised of the package’s location and estimated delivery date. This got me thinking about the days a few years ago where I would furiously be clicking the ‘Refresh’ button waiting for the latest update (apparently I had a lot more free time back then). It also caused me to start speculating about what has changed since online package tracking was introduced. Fortunately, a few things have changed in the package tracking world. I found two sites that allow you to anticipate your delivery in an improved manner.
One of the most apparent improvements for package tracking comes from some integration with Google. Most likely, if you do a Google Search for your delivery’s tracking number you’ll get a link at the top that says “Track FedEx/UPS/USPS package 1234 5678 9012”. If you click that link, it’ll take you to the appropriate carrier’s site with the tracking number pulled up. Google has also integrated this feature into its e-mail service, Gmail. If you receive an e-mail, say a receipt, that has a tracking number on it Gmail will put a link at the top-right of your e-mail offering to let you track the package. That link will similarly take you to the carrier’s site with your package’s info already pulled up.
All in all, the Google integration adds convenience but nothing revolutionary. While I was tracking this recent delivery, I was entertained (and anxious) to see the package start off at a location fairly close (a 109 mile drive) and go for an almost 1000 mile journey.
The package, going by the tracking information, originated in Indianapolis, Indiana and went through four nearby states on its 975 mile journey to me.
Instead of punching all of those destinations into Google Maps, I could have it done automatically by visiting PackageMapping.com. PackageMapping uses direct “as the crow flies” mapping of your package’s journey. It works with UPS, USPS, FedEx, DHL, Canada Post, DHL Global Mail, and a few others selectable from the drop-down page on the site.
The nice thing about PackageMapping.com is that it loads the normal tracking information you would have received from the official site but it also maps it, so the information becomes a visual experience. For the numbers folks, you’ll also see some stats at the bottom of the map that includes the distance traveled by the package, how long it has taken, and crunching those to data points, its average speed. It can also pass along the e-mail notifications that the original sender provides or create an RSS feed to keep you up to date.
TrackThis is another site using the package tracking API’s to enhance functionality and its main goal is to get the latest status to you through many different means. TrackThis, billing itself as “modern package tracking”, allows you to track packages from the most popular carriers and then some. After signing in via Twitter, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, AOL, OpenID, or other multi-use accounts, you can enter a tracking code, give it a nickname, and choose to be notified by Email, text message, RSS feed, Twitter Direct Message, Facebook notification, or web page. The web page is the most simple means of using the service, though it focuses primarily on just displaying the most recent event in your package’s history. The other methods of contact will keep you up to date away from your computer and without having to re-enter the tracking code each time you want an update.
Instead of manually refreshing a web page every 30 seconds to get the latest on your package, you can have a service like TrackThis do it for you and keep you posted on the package’s latest activity. You can also use the site PackageMapping.com in conjunction with TrackThis in order to visualize the data. These changes may not seem like they are that incredible but they are things not currently offered through the carriers’ tracking systems and it helps expand the usefulness of package tracking, especially welcome around this time of year.