Pushing Postcards From the Edge Into Oblivion
Nothing says "wish you were here" like the multimedia blitz known as travelogue Web sites: do-it-yourself electro-diaries that offer features, including maps and video clips, with specific appeal to travelers.
The sites provide you with a unique URL address where you can upload photos and write about your adventures -- while you're on the road or safely back at home. Relatives and friends can then go to the site and catch up on your latest adventure.
We took a look at three of the more popular sites and compared their ease of use, appearance and cost.
-- Anne McDonough
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: So it's a little peppy ("Snap it, Map it, Share it!" screams the header), but using the site to create a travelogue is as easy as picking a user name for it. That user name will also be part of the URL where your readers will head. The site, which launched this year, is free for noncommercial use; monthly fees range from $29.95 to $89.95 if you include promotional or commercial material.
PROCESS: We registered, supplying a user name, password and e-mail address. Then we named and logged our first diary entry. Total elapsed time: about two minutes. Each diary entry has a headline, a text box and an option to attach photos, voice clips or videos (hosted by Youtube.com). We used the cartography feature to add a map to the entry.
WHAT WE LIKE: There's an RSS feed option, meaning that readers can sign up for e-mail alerts to let them know when you update your site. You can also control who can see -- and comment on -- your blog. It's simple and uncluttered and definitely rivals writing home the old-fashioned way.
CAVEATS: There's no spell-check option. . . . Ads run along the right side of the page and are tied to key words in the diary. . . . If your computer doesn't have an embedded microphone, you'll need a headphone set to attach audio via the voice clip feature.
BOTTOM LINE: We'd use the site, especially for long trips.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Formed in 1997, Travelpod claims to be a "proud founder of travel blogs on the Web." It has plenty going for it, but we were turned off by the market research-esque registration process: Personal information such as sex, age, nationality and marital status is requested. The basic service is free; for $39.95 a year, posters can disable ad displays and add a password protection feature.
PROCESS: Once again, our login name was part of the URL. To write a travelogue, we selected a trip ID and a title and wrote a welcoming message. You can choose what sort of guest options you'd like (we opted to let guests leave comments), as well as a map style (classic or satellite) and a photo-by-way-of-mobile-phone option, good for posting on-the-fly snaps.
WHAT WE LIKE: The spell-checker is a top feature, as are the italics, bold and underline options. You can preview your page to catch any typos and create an e-mail list to send updates. It can take a while to go through the process of posting, but there's an "update express" option that's great for when the clock's ticking at an Internet cafe.
CAVEATS: Only those with enhanced membership can limit public access to their travelogues. . . . You'll either love or despise (put us in the latter group) the "Support My Travels" option, which you can use to elicit travel funds from friends and family members. . . . Pages are busy and prominently feature advertising.
BOTTOM LINE: This site is definitely a contender.
FIRST IMPRESSION: The image of an open road on the home page made us want to travel immediately. We opted for a free account; a premium account, which includes unlimited image uploads, 100MB of image storage, custom maps and a message board, is $12.95 a year. Again, member names serve as site addresses.
PROCESS: Although it was a free account, our billing address was required in order to sign up. Next, we could either write a travelogue or browse others written about the same destination. We clicked on the "publish" button at the top to enter text and upload photos; when we entered the destination city for our travelogue, a relevant map appeared. On subsequent logins, we followed a prompt to enter in three cities: where we'd been, where we were now, and where we were headed.
WHAT WE LIKE: You can e-mail a "TrekVite" to alert friends about updates. You can put together a list of "TrekTips," which can be saved to your Web site or posted anonymously on Trekshare.com, which was founded in 2000 and claims to have 25,000-plus members. For $4.95, you can purchase a zip file of your travelogues and photos, download it to your computer or burn it to a CD to give to friends.
CAVEATS: Member pages are a confounding mess of lists, maps, chat logs and links to ads. . . . Every sign-in leads to a prompt to update "Where I'm At," which is a pain. . . . Only premium members can save high-resolution images and upload movies.
BOTTOM LINE: This site won't be replacing our handwritten notes home anytime soon.