Sifry Rides Again

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Dave Sifry is an interesting chap, not least because he is a serial entrepreneur who seems to have his finger on the pulse of computing (even if his companies never quite realise their full potential.) After Linuxcare, an early open source company based on the innovative idea of offering third-party support to free software, his next big idea was a Technorati, a search engine for blogs.

As Technorati begins to flag a little, Sifry's moved on again, this time to what he's dubbed Offbeat Guides, a service doubtless built on the usual bedrock of open source backend software that he knows so well:

We create personalized, on-demand travel guides using the most up to date information around, covering over 30,000 travel destinations. We're striving to get you more detailed information on more places than anyone else in the world, and make the most topical, accurate, and comprehensive information available.

Offbeat Guides are all about personalizing what you, the traveler, want in a guide based on your travel dates and your destination. From the information you tell us, we can create a guide that includes events in the city you are visiting when you're there, the most current exchange rates, key phrases in the city's language, and even a weather forecast based on your travel dates!

Travelers need the most reliable and accurate information immediately when planning a a trip, or when traveling. Standard guidebooks are often 12 to 18 months out of date as soon as they hit the stores. Offbeat Guides incorporates personalized, fresh content that is all about what you want in a travel guide, without having to do hours of research, cutting and pasting, and printing. No more big black clips and manilla folders to carry all of the information about your itinerary - You have the option of having your guide easily accessible to you as an online pdf that you print yourself, or have it delivered to you as a printed and bound guide.

This idea therefore takes for granted the existence of a large and growing commons of online knowledge: freely-available textual and visual material that can be combined in different ways to create personalised content. It will be interesting to see how the conflicting licences and differing needs for attribution (public domain, GFDL, CC-SA, CC-NC etc.) are sorted out and flagged up.

Also of note is the fact that content is available not just as a PDF file, but also as a hardcopy version: truly personal printing. This takes the idea of small print runs to its limit, and extends the idea of on-demand printing, as pioneered by outfits like Lulu.com, and turns it into on-demand bespoke publishing. If successful, the idea could clearly be applied to many other fields. It will be nicely ironic if the rise of digital content leads to a renaissance of limited edition books....