Social networking was undoubtedly the hot trend of the year, at least according to the people who plan travel industry conference agendas.

The travel industry is still grappling with how to monetize the huge and amorphous phenomenon.

"Two-thirds of online customers use social media," Cindy Estis Green, managing partner of the Estis Group, said.

Green told delegates to the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International's Travel Internet Marketing Strategy Conference in December that "customer engagement will be the dominant theme of marketing" for the future.

Andy Tress, Western Regional Manager for YouTube, drew an audible gasp from the audience when he said that eight hours of video are uploaded at YouTube every minute.

Tress told the HSMAI group about Matt Harding, a 30-year-old self-described "deadbeat from Connecticut" who quit his job and made a video of himself dancing badly in 39 countries.

Cadbury-Schweppes, which was launching a new brand called Stride Gum, took notice and asked him to repeat the trip and the video with Stride's sponsorship. Harding accepted. Stride was given the right to place its logo on a few of the frames, and Harding acknowledged the sponsorship in the credits.

At last count, the video has been viewed on YouTube more than 8.6 million times. Crain Communications declared Stride "the most successful new gum launch in the last five years."

The moral: Monetization of social networking is so far largely accidental, and the seeds of success are sown by the users, not the companies that want to harness the power.

Low-cost carriers began to throw out their rulebooks. Southwest Airlines, still viewed as a maverick more than 35 years after its founding, expanded its GDS participation, which had long been confined to a low level in Sabre. It also tinkered with its open seating policy, giving first boarding rights to higher-paying customers and frequent flyers, and suggested it would be open to corporate discounting.

JetBlue, meanwhile, rejoined the GDSs and began to distribute through third-party travel Web sites as well. In Europe, EasyJet tossed its direct-only distribution policy in favor of GDS participation.

In all three cases, the airlines cited the pursuit of the corporate travel market as the impetus for the changes. Is change good? The carriers say fares booked through GDSs are higher, providing a thicker cushion in an era of $100-per-barrel oil prices. But some observers believe that the formula devised by Southwest founder Lamar Muse, who died in February, has been messed with to its detriment.

Paperless at last? Electronic ticketing penetration reached 90% worldwide by the end of 2007 and is slated for extinction (almost) in May.

Meanwhile, carriers are experimenting with paperless boarding passes: two-dimensional barcodes delivered to the customer's cell phone.

Cell phone boarding passes have been in use in Japan and Canada for several months. In the U.S., Continental was the first to launch of test of the technology in December after it came up with security standards that met the approval of the Transportation Security Administration.

Building a new reservations systems requires a strong stomach. IBS Software Services' aiRES system, marketed by Travelport, took it on the chin when WestJet dropped out as the launch customer and Virgin Blue's chief executive labeled it "a system that may never see the light of day."

The system finally got some good news when Virgin America launched sales via aiRES in July.

Lufthansa Systems dropped out of the race to build a next-generation system as more airlines announced plans to migrate to the Amadeus Altea platform. Undaunted, SITA announced that it would develop an open-architecture reservations system. And the industry's eyes are on Air Canada, which is slated to begin phasing in ITA Software's new reservations system this year.

As a Navitaire executive commented recently with some understatement, "It's not easy."

The European Commission sent a package of revisions of the CRS Code of Conduct to the European Parliament that will partially deregulate the GDS market and increase the negotiating freedom of airlines and GDS vendors.

The revisions disappointed some players in the market because the "parent carrier" provisions will not apply to the three airlines -- Air France, Iberia and Lufthansa -- that hold minority stakes in Amadeus.

Other notable events: Amadeus moved all its GDS hotel operations to open systems. It plans to move all GDS operations off TPF by 2010. Galileo devised a new work environment for travel agencies that provides access to Air Canada's fare families and upsell/downsell options.

Both the Amadeus and Galileo developments encourage travel agents to abandon the "green screen" and move to a graphical user interface in order to take full advantage of the changes.

The OpenTravel Alliance, which long held that it provided "specifications" rather than enforceable "standards" for intra-industry messaging, threw in the towel and declared that "we are the standard."

The alliance took note of the fact that trading partners will always have different "flavors" of messaging, so the message sets will continue to evolve.