Online destination information has long been available in Web 1.0 format. These websites were rather limited in the past (fear of competing with print guidebooks, I think), though they seems to be getting more comprehensive.
More recently, online audio guidebooks have started to proliferate in the podosphere (podcasts and videocasts/vodcasts), replacing the never-really-that-popular cassette tape guides (examples include www.iAudio.com, PodGuides.net and www.Vidocity.com). While helpful tools for general background information on a destination and site-specific walking tours, audio and video guides will never be able to replace the diversity and quick lookup capabilities of printed guidebooks. (I will be writing a broader review of audio guides in a forthcoming blog.)
www.Schmap.com takes a different approach -- and one that is directly aimed at the printed guidebook. The Schmap Player installs on Windows PCs (not Macs, yet) and then works with downloaded destination information (Schmap Guides). Once is a downloaded, the Schmap Guide enables (from the website):
- Dynamic Browsing - The Schmap Player dynamically integrates maps, photos, reviews and online content, giving you complete freedom to explore.
- Trip Planning - When you're browsing, searching or playing a virtual tour, simply bookmark places of interest to tailor a trip itinerary.
- City Search - Search the city, a neighborhood, or within a radius of your hotel - find sights of interest, restaurants to match your taste...
- Custom Guide Printing - Take your bookmarked places or any other selection of guide content, then custom print a full-color guide, with maps, photos, reviews...
- Virtual Tours - Play, pause and fast-forward your way through one of our suggested tours, or your own custom selection of places of interest. (The photos used are from Flickr.com with creative commons copyrights.)
- Tools - Email a favorite place, explore with our cool map tools, click online for user reviews, web search, and driving directions...
Perhaps the most popular feature is the maps, which highlights attractions and services as the cursor passes over their locations. This is helpful for trip planning and preparation, though it also requires that you take your computer with you and possibly a printer if you want to print out a revised hardcopy itinerary and reference. If there were a way to save the information for viewing on a PDA, cell phone or mp3 player, that would be cool.
Only a few guides for the US and Europe are currently available, though forthcoming guides and their availability months are listed. Their dependence on local partners may result in considerable variability in quality and content, and may cause some guides to be delayed or not regularly updated. By late 2006, the site will have couple hundred city and destination guides, including Canada. They hope to cover the rest of the world with time and expanded participation from local partners located in the destinations who can update the Schmap Guides on a 3 to 6 month basis. All of this currently seem to be free and without advertising, though I wonder it that might changed someday. In the meantime, Schmap appears to be a valuable Web 2.0 Travel Tool worth checking out for your next trip.