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My experience with the Pocketguide Mobile Tour Framework, or “Why did the duck cross the road?”

The first tour framework I tried was Pocketguide from Budapest, Hungary. Since I had never used a framework before and had nothing to which to compare it, I thought PG was the bee’s knees. I even wanted to work for them. I really did. I was especially intrigued with how PG tours give the user turn-by-turn directions for how to get from one point of interest to the next.

“Turn left,” the Pocketguide voice said.

“Go up the stairs.”

“Cross over the road, and watch for traffic.”

Amazing. How could anything be better? Even a birdbrain like me can follow those directions.

Well, even the best honeymoons must come to an end, and then the real relationship starts. My honeymoon with PG ended while I was building a tour for the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, DC, and the park service kept moving these concrete barriers around depending on the security risk du jour. Then the tour route would change and “Turn left” might cause the tourist to walk into a barrier or worse, cross into traffic. Every time the route changed I would have to ask PG to change the route cues, and they quickly got tired of doing that. I would have gladly made the changes myself if they had given me access to their framework, but PG is the only one of the three frameworks I used (the other two being Tour Buddy and Toursphere) that doesn’t allow that access. Instead, PG staffers require you to send the changes to them via email (Skype calls verboten!) and then enter them into the PG framework themselves. In other words, updating a tour is basically a slow, arduous and painful process, not to mention a petri dish for for error and frustration.

In the end, PG and I gave up on each other. They became impatient and couldn’t fathom why route changes were happening so often. You see, things don’t move around that much in European cities like Budapest, where the roads were built by the Romans and have stayed the same for oh, a couple of thousand years. And I didn’t want my tourists turning left into the duck pond. Since I had no direct access to the PG backend, I was 100% dependant on cranky Hungarians to maintain the quality of my tour. Eventually I went looking for, and found, other frameworks that allow me to update my own content as often as I want, giving me more control of the quality of my user’s experience.

There are many cool features of the Pocketguide framework, like the Facebook fly-through and the ability for tourists to annotate their experience with audio and pictures. But keep in mind that gobs of features come at the cost of simplicity, and I’m a fan of simple and easy. Another good thing about PG, one I have seen emulated with other frameworks, is what I call the “library” model, where the tourist buy the tour app once and then can “check out” new and different tours…all within the one app. That way, the tourist’s mobile phone isn’t cluttered up with dozens of tours for different cities; they are, rather, all found within the one app, like finding many different books inside of one library. That is a very clean, elegant model with a variety of advantages, including that:

  • The user only has to learn one interface
  • Cross-marketing opportunities under a single brand (in this case, Pocketguide)
  • Higher search engine optimization metrics, when your tour for “Hot Breath, Montana” (with one download per month) is lumped in with Paris, France. Good for you.

I’ll post on the other frameworks later, but if you choose to try Pocketguide, read their contract carefully (they want to own your content. Don’t let them.), ask for all the route cues in advance of mapping your tour (they have some nifty ones), and make sure the two of you agree on the finished quality of your tour. If you don’t agree, your tourist could end up with egg on their face.

Duck egg, that is.

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