Travel Guides 2.0

ProtravelguideWhat's the worst part of most printed travel guides?  Lugging them around.  Plus, although they're written by travel experts, I generally find that I really only need portions of the book, not the whole thing.  After all, how many hotels can one person stay at during a one-week trip?!

What's really needed here is more flexibility and customization.  I'd like to pick the contents from a list of options and create my own custom guide.  That's possible now thanks to Professional TravelGuide's new service, eGuidebook.  You'll find information on more than 7,000 destinations and it's easy to pick and choose the content you want in your custom eGuidebook.  Build it by yourself or in collaboration with other friends or family members.  Once you're happy with the contents, turn your eGuidebook into a print product with the Pocket Guidebook service (click here for a demo).  Pocket Guidebooks are produced via print-on-demand with prices starting at $18.95 (including shipping in the U.S.)

I tend to think cellphones and other portable devices will eventually become the key travel content delivery platform, but between now and then, we can use services like eGuidebook and Pocket Guidebook to add more of a personal, fun touch to a family vacation or other getaway.

What Does the Technology Add?

We_tell_stories_2As a publisher focusing on the professional IT sector, I ask myself this question a lot: What does the technology add?  Is this new tool or release measurably different from the others?  Will it enable users to create products faster, less expensively, with more useful features...or all of the above?

I found myself asking the same question when I recently read about this project, The 21 Steps, by Charles Cumming, which is part of Penguin's We Tell Stories initiative.  In The 21 Steps, Cumming uses Google's satellite imagery to help tell the story.  Different?  Yes.  Functional use of the technology to enhance the reading experience?  I'm not so sure.

To be fair, I only got through the first three chapters before I lost interest.  Perhaps it's because I'm not into fiction, but I found the text and imagery integration lacking as well.  I didn't see the benefit to having the animated movements on the satellite images.  I also got pretty tired of clicking again and again, just to read the next sentence or two.  In short, if technology is added to the formula for something like this, I feel it should improve the overall experience; in this case, it seemed to weigh it down.

I'm also not the sort of person who thinks in terms of satellite views.  I'm more of a street level guy and I suspect I'm not alone.  After all, we see and experience things from a street-view view, not an overhead one, so it forces you to constantly adjust your perspective as you're reading through the screens.

Before anyone jumps down my throat on this, please realize that I absolutely love the fact that Penguin is experimenting with technology on this project.  If I published into the fiction area I'd be jealous that I didn't think of this approach.  The lessons that can be learned from the pioneers like Penguin will help benefit everyone in the long run.

For example, as I ran through those chapters of The 21 Steps, I started to think about other applications for a narrative-map mashup.  Think about travel guides for a moment.  A walking tour of a city with travel guide content spliced into satellite map displays would be cool.  Switching to street-level view instead of satellite probably makes it better.  Offering the capability to flip between both is better yet.

I'd also like to see more content goodies sprinkled throughout, and perhaps this is where community content could come into play.  Maybe the tour features great pictures from previous visitors or recommendations they have for future visitors.  Let them be ranked by the community itself so that only the top show up as push-pins on the screen.

The device has to be considered here as well.  If I'm doing the tourist thing it's unlikely that I'm carrying around something larger than a cell phone or Blackberry.  You can't design this for a computer when it's being used on a display that's much smaller.  This is where the Kindle might evolve into something highly useful.  Imagine a next-generation Kindle with a color display.  The Kindle's Whispernet technology would enable cellphone-like connectivity with a larger, but still portable display.

So again, I applaud Penguin's efforts here and although I'm not convinced this is anything more than technology for technology's sake, there's much to be learned from the experiment itself.

Greetings from Florence Italy

Palazzo_vecchioActually, I'm no longer in Italy...but my luggage opted for an extended stay.  Although I returned on Friday, my bags are still enjoying the lovely sights of Florence, or maybe London, or perhaps Charlotte, NC, each of the stops I had to make on the voyage home.  I can't blame the bags.  After all, how often do you get to see structures built hundreds of years ago and enjoy some of the best food and friendliest people on the planet?  That picture on the left shows the Palazzo Vecchio, the former home of Michelangelo's David, for example.

A few other random observations and thoughts from my visit:

The food was truly remarkable.  I don't think I've ever eaten so much over the course of a week.  Homemade pasta, tasty pizza, rich tiramisu, piles of biscotti and a seemingly endless flow of Chianti somehow caused my clothes to shrink throughout the week.

The structures and architecture have to be seen to be believed.  I've been to other parts of Europe but for some reason the sights in Florence stand out from all the others.  It's one of those cases where the best pictures are simply unable to capture all the beauty and elegance.

Michelangelo's David was breathtaking.  Speaking of which, that visit featured an interesting combination of technology and history.  Standing in line waiting to enter the museum with a colleague, I couldn't recall the specifics of the statue.  My Blackberry came in handy as I was quickly able to pull up the David page on Wikipedia and learn all the important facts before we walked in the door.

Your browser plays tricks on you...  Every time I tried to go to I wound up at  Ads on Technorati's pages also flipped over to Italian, although I didn't run into that problem with any other sites.  Speaking of technology, Google Maps works just as well on the side streets of Florence as it does in New York City, thank goodness.

Most buses are smaller than larger SUV's back here.  Like most of the rest of Europe, scooters, tiny cars and bicycles navigate very narrow roads.  It's a constant reminder of just how much of a wasteful, gas-guzzling existence we've built here in the U.S.A.

The BuzzMachine on Customer Content

Dc3I picked that very old picture of a DC3 in this post for a reason.  Jeff Jarvis of the BuzzMachine wrote an excellent post about the opportunity for "airlines to become publishers" and it made me realize how antiquated the airline industry tends to be.

Jarvis notes how the airlines are sitting on a mountain of customer knowledge and potential content, yet doing almost nothing to leverage it.  At first I questioned whether travelers would be motivated to provide ratings and other feedback on hotels, restaurants, etc.  I also wondered when they would do this, but then I remembered two of the most frustrating aspects of just about every trip I've made in the past few years: layovers and delays.  The next time you're in an airport, look around.  How many people are tapped into WiFi on their laptop?  How many others are using their cell phones?  These "airport moments" are the perfect chance to capture this valuable customer information.  Bribe them a bit with more frequent flyer miles, as Jarvis suggests, and you just might start a new content base.

To be fair, I doubt any of the airlines would feel the revenue opportunity is significant enough to move into the travel guide business, but what about adding value to their websites and becoming an enabler of the social networks they could represent?  Perhaps it's not so much an opportunity for the airlines to jump into this alone but rather a chance for someone to partner with them and show (a) how it can be done, (b) how easy it is to build upon and (c) the value it would offer their customers.

Jarvis closes by asking a great question: "What do my customers know and how do I help them share that?"  I'll bet there are plenty of other terrific examples in addition to the airline industry...

Have Google, Will Travel

Google_2According to this article, Google could soon become your primary resource when navigating the public transportation system in New York City.  That certainly sounds like a smart idea on Google's behalf as it not only leverages their various mapping technologies but also gives them another foot in the door for local advertising.

Although the article is all about using Google for subways, trains, etc., why would they stop there?  How long will it be before Google jumps into the travel guide business?  If they're going to show you how to get from Wall Street to Yankee Stadium tomorrow, there's no doubt that some day they'll look to help you do the same for your trip from New York to San Francisco...