Offbeat Guides may look like a typical travel guide, but it's the only version that provides up to date information to future voyageurs by allowing you to create a live version immediately.
The process is easy, maybe too much so. To create a travel guide of my local city of Toronto, Canada all I had to do was tell them my name, the city I was planning to travel to, where I'm coming from and when I'm staying. From there, in a matter of minutes, the system automatically generated a 110 page guide outlining everything from events, attractions, history, weather, exchange rates and more.
In order to customize it Offbeat Guides allows you to delete or add chapters of your choosing; for example, if I only wanted to get a brief summary of Toronto's history, I could remove the sub-sections regarding the Pre-European Period. The custom chapters that can be added are less impressive than I was lead to believe; they simply provide you with the opportunity to type your own text, or add the information that you have taken the time to research to your guide.
The live information is handy, but for the vast majority of the travel guide pages; it makes no difference whether information is pulled live from the internet or comes from a book purchased from a shelf six months after publication. But I do have to say, that no matter which way you look at it, the technology that pulls the live information together is pretty cool.
Before purchasing the PDF and hardcopy version from Offbeat Guides, they let you preview what appears to be the complete document so you can effectively customize it. With all the information in front of me, granted I can't carry with me when I travel, I am less motivated to pay the $24.95 USD plus shipping when I know exactly what holiday events are happening in Toronto over the next couple of weeks.
Offbeat Guides is an innovative concept, don't get me wrong, and its prices are comparable to typical travel guides that are available at the local big box bookstore. I think the problem is that my standards are set too high; when I hear the word "customization" I think the world will be at my fingertips, and anything less is disappointing. Where's the opportunity to design my own cover? Or have an audio CD or MP3 download included with my guide's hardcopy? Why can't I choose my own font style and colour? I want it all, but how can I help myself with businesses like You Bar out there?
With Dave Sifry, founder of Linuxcare and Technorati heading Offbeat Guides, I have no doubt at all that it will grow into a successful venture. The concept is a good one, but with some adjustments to give people the level of customization they've come to expect, it will make them special and trendsetting in the travel industry. So far they're on the right track, it just doesn't feel like enough.
Or maybe I'm just being too hard on them...what do you think?