Back in August, we got word that a startup called PlaceBook was being bullied by Facebook into changing their name. Obviously, a lot of companies are trying to ride on the coattails of Facebook now given the social network’s massive success, but in the case of PlaceBook, their name really just perfectly describes their service — more on that in a second. Still, Facebook lawyered up and PlaceBook founder Michael Rubin had to make a decision: fight or survive. He chose the latter.
PlaceBook is now known as TripTrace. Still in private beta, it’s a service that allows you to note places around the world you’ve been to. And places you’d like to go to in the future. All of this is done in two books (dare I call them “Place Books”?): your Atlas (places you’ve been), and your Travel (places you want to go). There’s a heavy emphasis on maps in these books, and all of your places are marked by pins (red for where you’ve been, blue for where you’re going).
The key to TripTrace is that it makes the complicated notion of travel planning relatively simple. They do this both by making the process a more visual experience, and with a series of tools. One of those is a TripClipper bookmarklet. With it, you can easily take notes as you’re browsing around the web, to bookmark things you find that you might like to do on a trip. Maybe you’re reading an article on a good restaurant in Paris, for example. With the bookmarklet, you can highlight what you want to save and it will be stored in your TripTrace books.
You can also email in things to add to your books. And eventually, of course, the plan is to add mobile applications to the arsenal as well so you can tag and note things on the go.
When you go back to the site, you’ll see the data you’ve saved as well as a ton of other data that TripTrace pulls from around the web via APIs. You know the drill here: Flickr pictures, Foursquare places, all types of events — eventually, anything that is location tagged, Rubin says. All of this data provides a rich place experience within TripTrace itself and will hopefully help you make decisions on places you want to go next.
In the Travel book, you can use any of the things you’ve clipped to help you get a costimate for a trip to that particular city. While this obviously isn’t exact, something like this is very helpful when determining if a trip is even feasible in the first place. TripTrace pulls information on things like flights and hotels based on your current location and dates you want to travel.
It should be fairly obvious by now that the eventual business model for TripTrace will be lead generation. If the service can team up with the Kayaks of the world, they can probably make for a pretty nice customer experience, while getting paid. Partnerships in the travel space is what Rubin and his team will go after. And they have some other ideas for possible sources of revenue as well — perhaps actual place books?
But that’s down the road. First, they need to nail the user experience. “The Holy Grail isn’t just getting stuff on a map, it’s mixing personal and private with public and common data,” Rubin says. “If you put that in one place, it’s enormously powerful,” he continues. But again, he notes that it need to be in a format and experience that’s useful.
Rubin and his team have quite a bit knowledge about merging public data with more personalized data, as many of them are ex-Netflix guys. Rubin himself was a director of product management there and was instrumental in the development of the website.
TripTrace currently has data for about 20,000 cities, and they’re pulling in more data each day. The service is officially an offshoot from PublicEarth, a free wiki database for locations, which has raised some money in the past. But Rubin notes this is a whole new team working on TripTrace, and they hope to be ready for a public launch sometime in the next few weeks. Provided they don’t change their name back to PlaceBook and get sued out of existence by Facebook first, of course.