Monday, June 02, 2008

Technorati founder launches online travel guide business - Offbeat Guides

David Sifry is well known in the blogging world. His regular updates on the State of the Blogosphere/Stage of the Live Web were seen as definitive statements on the rise and rise of blogging. As founder and (now former) CEO of Technorati he built the blogging engine and the means for bloggers to tell who was linking to whom. Unfortunately about a year ago Sifry left day to day involvement in Technorati and Google's blog search has become the new standard for searching blogs. I have switched to using Google blog search as the results have far less spam than Technorati.

Sifry has now entered the world of online travel through an announcement yesterday (here on TechnCrunch and here on his own blog) of the launch of Offbeat Guides. Online guide books that can be bought (that's right paid for not free) in printed versions ($25) or downloaded PDF ($10). There is a video on TechCrunch where Sifry explains further.

This on demand purchasing of guide books is not new. Lonely Planet have been doing Pick & Mix a while now - allowing consumers to build a book from various chapters and down load it. Tom Hall of Lonely Planet told me recently that they have as many as 100 guides available by chapter and up to February more than 150,000 downloads.

Sifry has launched more business that I ever will but I am not convinced that this will succeed. In the new media world of TripAdvisor, blogging networks like Travelpod (owned by TripAdvisor and therefore Expedia), social networks like WAYN and now the review meta-search of UpTake consumers can find all the free information they need (maybe even too much information). In the old world, companies like Lonely Planet and Insight Guides continue to dominate the shelves of book stores and airport news agencies. There is is already enough/too much free and paid information out there for consumers to allow room for a new company to build a business asking people to pay for travel content.


Anonymous said...

As you Tim have many times said there is already enough if not too much content available on the web. The big question is how you find what you need and what content you choose to trust. There's space for free content and paid guides for sure and Offbeatguides might well make it in the guide business. It doesn't seem to do too much about the information overload though, which I believe is one of the biggest issues in online travel at the moment.

The information overload is a part of a bigger problem in online travel which is the lack of "human" service, i.e. the service you get when you buy travel offline in an agency. That way you can usually get an offer tailored to your needs without doing tons of research yourself. You probably get to choose from a few interesting vacations without needing to go through all the content there is or trying to find the cheapest flight to wherever.

Instead you should be able to ask online travel services questions like "I've got two weeks of vacation and 2000 USD to spend, I live in London and love hiking and history. Show me my best options." and expect a to see the best options for that specific need, your profile, budget and location instead of being taken to a flight booking engine or a UGC site offering you tons of content without understanding what you want.

Those services are of course still in the future but trying to solve that problem is pretty interesting.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Juha, and if you read Sifry´s own post the niche is quite apparent and well-explained. Too often we in the travel industry (me as product mgr for an OTA) get caught up in the debate du jour, mostly related to transactional issues. But there remains a huge gap of opportunity whether it be online or offline (but ideally a mixture of both as Sifry has accurately read) in the pre-, during and post-travel experience. Another larger question is how much time does one want to spend researching in front of a screen when they do that all day at work? Why bother with tech hassles and glitches (more the rule than the exception when travelling to interesting locales - thus the "offbeat") when you can lounge outside in the sun scribbling notes in your personal guide?

Anonymous said...

Information overload is too often a Gen X response to the internet's growing capabilities. To assess it properly you need to have a superb understanding of what consumers/travellers want from the net, and the different segments within the market. Working out the balance between the right number of sources and information and whether a consumer ultimately finds what they want is a matter of digging far deeper into the media habits of the 10-35s.

I also agree that editorship will still always have a role on the net and well edited, well presented and well marketed formats will have a place for a long time to come.

Tim Hughes said...

You might be interested in my pos about the challenge in balancing editorial vs UGC here
. Un-moderated user commentary on travel is difficult to digest and almost impossible to "trust" because the user has not point of interest. The editorial content suffers from being out of date as it is impossible for an editorial based business to keep publishing and updating on a mass scale.

Anonymous said...

I have expressed the same feelings as you Tim. Today I walked around in one of the top bookshops here in town and noticed the Wallpaper* Luxury City Guides. Being a dedicated mill for Wallpaper* Guides only, it was easy to see, it was almost untouched. This bookshop's travel department is one of the biggest in town with a huge turnover. They are open almost 24/7. This, i believe reconfirmed my idea that the internet geeks shouldn't go into paper travel guides where the traditional publishers are publishing new guides already by the plenty.

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