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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How 'offbeat' are Offbeat Guides?

Like the notion of offbeat travel the idea of Offbeat Guides has intrigued me. I received an invitation to test their Beta last year, but I've been on the road and haven't had time 'til now. As I've been curious about the product for a while, I'd imagined a whimsical website with quirky guides to the world's kookiest places. So I was disappointed to see a conservative design of grey and white with splashes of red. I'd envisaged something vibrant, psychedelic even - and not just because they're based in San Francisco. Started by a team that includes former Melbourne Lonely Planet staffer Marina Kosmatos as their 'Content Curator', Offbeat Guides claims to be "the first travel guides that you create online using the most current travel information available on the internet for over 30,000 travel destinations." But what makes these guides so different - and so unique, quirky and original I'm wondering - in comparison to all the other travel guides out there? They claim: "These personalized travel guides give you all of the information that traditional travel guides include, plus more. For the first time, you can personalize your guide based on your travel dates, destination, and personal travel interests." But a number of publishers and websites have been offering custom travel guides for some time now including traditional guidebook publishers DK (check out their 'Create your own travel guide') and Lonely Planet (see their Pick n Mix). As for personalised trip planning, there's Triporati (which I reviewed) and Trip Wolf, which allows travellers to customize and download their own free PDF travel guide. So I can't see anything new or original here. Yet this seems to be what Offbeat thinks sets them apart. Elsewhere on their blog someone writes: "Personalized publishing is a tremendous opportunity in the publishing business - and that printed books have a lot of value, especially if you can personalize them to each individual reader. I’m a big fan of customized product companies like Moo, Cafepress, Lulu, Spreadshirt, Threadless, and JPG Magazine. I think there’s a new sector forming around creating tangible representations of digital creations - and I like it". Like it they may (so do I), but this still leaves me wondering what makes the guides 'offbeat'... let me test them out and I'll report back to you...


Unknown said...

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Dave

Yeah... I've had a play and I'm formulating my thoughts now... first reaction disappointing unfortunately.

Have you had a look yourself? I'm keen to see what other readers think.

So far, I feel like I'm missing something...

I'll report back later.

Unknown said...

First off, I should note that I'm the founder and CEO, so that we're clear on bias! ;-)

It's still pretty early in the beta phase, with the focus on delivering a very simple, easy-to-use, easy-to-personalize, and easy-to-buy guide with more current information than traditional guides, including events, festivals, museum openings, etc that are happening on the dates of your trip.

We're definitely looking for constructive feedback on the guides, especially for the larger destinations, on how to include more personalized and offbeat attractions and information, and that's an area that we'll be continuing to build out as we grow.

I'm sorry that you've been disappointed so far, it may be that we're not quite the guide you were hoping for yet, I do hope that you keep coming back and give us another try for another trip you're planning.

We're also looking for authors to help us improve as well... :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Lara,

I think there's plenty of room for another custom travel site. Some of the ones you mention are still fairly vanilla.

Let's start backwards and figure out what you think is missing - What do you think is working?


Prêt à Voyager said...

Thanks for the great links to some options I didn't even know were out there. As for off-beat, I only clicked on the link, but was immediately bored by the design/look of the website which left me not wanting to know more.


Pam said...

Ya know... thinking about this as an eye of the beholder problem gives pause. What you really want - or, rather, what *I* really want is advice or tips from a traveler who's style is similar to mine. I guess that's the ultimate in personalized travel. Maybe that's the cool thing about travel blogs - you get a sense of the person and their priorities and because you have that, you totally trust their recommendations. That's the ultimate in custom guides, no?

Rambling, thinking out loud, so the next step? Shutting up.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Dave

I've posted my findings and conclusion so no doubt you'll read those seeing you discovered this post... you say you have more "current" information than traditional guides, however, if you're mainly using Wikipedia you can't say that with any confidence.
The Dubai content for instance is terribly outdated, as well as being false, misleading and incorrect. I would never head to Wikipedia if I wanted "current" information.

Wikipedia is also inconsistent in quality in that while you might have a PhD writing a history section you don't always have travel writers writing the travel content. And while the history buffs might be more dedicated to editing those history chapters to ensure they're correct, unfortunately I think the travel writers are way too busy trying to make a living as most of the travel content on Wikipedia and Wikitravel is dreadful. It's not written by experts. Just because somebody lives in a place doesn't make them an expert. Nor does it mean they can write.

You say "We're definitely looking for constructive feedback on the guides, especially for the larger destinations, on how to include more personalized and offbeat attractions and information, and that's an area that we'll be continuing to build out as we grow." Well, I hate to say it, Dave, but that's called Product Development and Market Research and if you guys didn't have that all worked out before launching the beta, then you probably should have hired a consultant.

Thanks for the invitation to return, but as a travel writer myself, I don't go to Wikipedia to plan my trips.

And as for hiring authors, that's definitely something I'd encourage you to do, Dave. But with 30,000 destinations, you're going to have to hire around 3,000 authors, so let's hope you have a healthy budget!

Thanks for stopping by Cool Travel Guide!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Rob

"Let's start backwards and figure out what you think is missing - What do you think is working?"

Rob, do you work for Offbeat Guides to?

You might want to contact me offline, in addition to writing, I do consulting.

If not, then perhaps just clarify what you're asking me.


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Anne

Yes, I was too, but I was resisted the urge, as I was determined to give it a go. Now I'm wishing I'm hadn't. I find it all very depressing... Perhaps I just take my job too seriously?

Hi Pam

That is such a good point, Pam: "What *I* really want is advice or tips from a traveler who's style is similar to mine." That's why I find Trip Advisor such a nightmare and avoid it like the plague, because you really don't know who you can trust, who has similar tastes and preferences to you.

Which is exactly why I agree with you about travel blogs... you explore some blogs, if you find something and someone you like, someone who loves travel as much as you and loves similar places and similar experiences, then you keep going back, you drop in occasionally, and you get to know them and their tastes and preferences, and then you know you can trust their judgements and recommendations too. Totally agree with you!

Thanks for dropping by!

February 19, 2009 8:28 AM