New Web site offers guidebook-like advice



Saying most travel guidebooks are out of date before they hit the bookstore shelves, TripAdvisor. com of Needham, Mass., last week launched a guidebook-like service that will be written and edited anonymously by the Web site's users.

TripAdvisor Inside is an attempt to do for travel writing what Wikipedia has done for encyclopedias: harness the power of the Internet and its users to generate useful information.

One key difference is that TripAdvisor is trying to commercialize the Wiki approach, blending the content generated by its users with ads and revenue-generating text links.

"It's live. It's fresh. It's whatever the community wants to agree on," said Steve Kaufer, the chief executive of TripAdvisor. "We think it will be a really powerful experience."

Michael Spring, vice president and publisher at Frommer's, said his company also has been investigating a Wiki approach to travel as a complement to its popular guidebooks.

"People are curious what their neighbors think," Spring said. "I certainly wouldn't base my trip on the assumption that other people share my sensibilities. If I had to choose, I think I would go with the experts, but I don't think it's an either-or situation."

TripAdvisor, a subsidiary of the online travel agency Expedia, already runs traveler reviews of hotels, attractions and restaurants. The new travel guide service will focus more on logistics and practical information, such as weather, history, architecture, cultural attractions, night life, when to go, what to see and where to eat. There's even a section on guidebook suggestions.

The service launched last week with some fairly basic submissions by travelers selected by TripAdvisor. The focus of the service initially is travel to the United Kingdom and California, but Kaufer said the emphasis will broaden during the next few weeks to include suggestions from anyone on virtually any travel destination in the world.

Kaufer said TripAdvisor has 18 million visitors a month, so if just a small fraction of them submit travel advice, "we'll be rocking in content in no time."

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