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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Offbeat Guides part 2: my conclusions

Outdated, incorrect, misleading, poorly-written and poor choice of points of interest, the Dubai 'guide' that Offbeat Guides delivered was disappointing. It was about as current, authentic and original as the museum display pictured. My conclusions based on my findings:
1) Not an 'offbeat' bone in the guide's body: the title suggests the content's focus would be quirky and alternative in its selections. It wasn't. All
2) Little that's customised or personalised: site promised I'd "build my own personalized travel guide". Apart from being able to input content I'd written, I couldn't pull info from other (more reliable) sources or a community, unlike other guides.
Strange, because Offbeat Guides blog says they're fans of customized product companies (Lulu, Cafepress, Spreadshirt etc) which allow publishing or production of original creative content and/or community-created designs. Structure is customisable; can choose which sections you don't want.
3) Content is not original: content that appeared in the Dubai guide is already available at thousands of sites on web. Easy to check: I googled a few phrases & paras. As content appears in so many different places (legitimately, syndicated, plagiarised & as spam) it's difficult to identify original authors. This is a huge problem: how can content be trusted?
What's most astounding is they expect you to pay for anonymous content. Offbeat Guides appears to be little more than a packager and retailer of readily-available (and sometimes suspect) travel information.
4) Information was out-of-date, false & inaccurate (as you saw in my findings): this was my biggest problem with the guide I tested, not only because their Twitter Bio proclaims "Most up-to-date travel guides. Ever!" but for content to have value it should to be true, accurate and up-to-date - especially if you're selling it!

The guides seem to be purely a money-making exercise. There's none of the attention to detail, originality, passion and commitment to producing quality travel content that we've seen in products such as Love travel guides. If anything, this is a strong case for traditional guidebook production (print or online), i.e. guides written by authors who can write well, are destination experts, have visited all the places, and checked all the information. If the guides were free, then I wouldn't care, but that they have the nerve to charge unsuspecting travellers is what irks me. I'd love to know what you think.


Mark H said...

I've never heard of these guys and thought I'd give it a go by setting up a guide for Sydney (my home town for the last 16 years) and my conclusions are the same as Lara's. There are numbers of inaccuracies, it is unevenly written in parts and they even manage to mix US English ("center") and UK English ("harbour") depending on the paragraph and section. Much appears to be written several years ago. The only personalisation seems to be events (for the time you are travelling) at the exchange rate for the country you are coming from. Some parts of the city are extensively covered while others typically of interest are almost completely ignored.

I won't be buying or subscribing.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Mark - I'm glad you came to the same conclusions for Sydney (which was my hometown until I moved to the UAE in 1998 - born and bred there), as I was thinking perhaps I shouldn't have based my opinion only on Dubai. However, with any guide series you expect the same kind of quality and standards across the board, don't you?

Thanks for calling in!

Kim Wildman said...

Hi Lara, I thought you'd be interested in a recent post I wrote about OurExplorer's recent claim that their website had "slain" Lonely Planet and that teh death of the guidebook was nigh:


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Kim

Well, you know me too well! Of course I'm interested. I saw that press release from OurExplorer but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I'll check out your post now! Thanks for letting me know!