Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree 4


It’s no secret that one of the best places to look for travel advice is Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree (TT) Forum, currently in its fourth incarnation.

New changes to the forum come on the heels of the sale of LP by founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler to the BBC. So, the formerly independent travel juggernaut is now a corporate travel juggernaut. This is hardly a surprise as the popularity of LP’s books are such that most establishments recommended have increased price and are populated with like-minded travelers, LP in hand. Their stock is up and the appeal of cashing in too great.

Without a doubt, though, the freshest place for the latest dirt is TT. While print publications are at best months old by publication, forum advice is often administered by persons at the destination and delivered piping hot in only hours.

With the subsequent sale of the company, the forum was upgraded from version 3 to 4 and built upon a new scripting language, JavaServer Pages (JSP).

And, oh, how the complaining began. Users, seemingly blindsided with this upgrade, extolled the injustice of this “upgrade.”

For the most part they were correct too. The new layout devotes more space to advertising that greatly reduces usable screen real estate. New ways of sorting posts seem to skirt intuition. Previously mundane tasks, such as linking to a website, was now a complicated process that even I gave up on. Without further disavowing the site, instead I returned in several weeks time to allow for sufficient fixes.

Like most users, I was not happy about the changes though I did realize that like in most anything, change brings protest. People don’t like their familiar to change and with time this actually might be a good thing.

On the other hand, in most web development projects the first thing I ask myself is, “Is it broke?” As the flowchart would dictate, if no then don’t fix it. Our new BBC Overlords are fixing something that isn’t broke.

Forward several months and things are in better perspective. Feedback from users is largely being utilized, initial kinks have been smoothed, and I can now link a website without using my degree in Computer Science. Just like your mom’s new hair color, you are used to it, and, hey, its actually not that bad.

The new sorting options actually are useful. The new tagging system is in keeping with all the latest web trends. The new admins are listening and utilizing feedback.

Most importantly, though, the quality of information shared is still top notch. That is why I will continue to use Thorn Tree.


#1 kevin on 01.25.08 at 3:50 PM

interesting stuff. to be honest, i have never liked lonely planet. i find when i travel, which is not that often, but when i do. i usually take two different guides. it seems what one lacks in, the other one tries to make up for.

two of the most recent lonely planets i purchased, japan and taiwan, were both big dissapointments. the pictures they chose were awful. and the japan edition spent too much time focusing on temples and shrines and not enough are other interesting aspects of japan and its culture. it seems that the writers who wrote for them had pretty much the same interests. i havent seen the most recent japan edition, but it would be nice if they could gather a more diverse group of writers.

#2 tbell on 01.26.08 at 11:20 AM

I would say my thoughts on the actual guidebooks are less encouraging than about LP’s Thorn Tree Forum. This due to their popularity (everyone directed to the same place) and sometimes quality.

For example, the prefecture where I live, Oita, is the most popular destination for the Japanese on vacation. This is due to the largest massing of hot springs (onsen) in the world outside of Yellowstone National Park in the USA. There are lots of onsens and other interesting spots and I feel LP barely scrapes the basic in about 7 pages.

In an interview with Simon Sellar (How To Become a Lonely Planet Writer) he says, “When I did Northern Honshu in Japan, for example, Japan is a black hole for money so my budget was very limited. With the commissioning editor, I worked out which places were absolutely necessary to visit, which places were essentially backwaters that could be dropped, and which places could maybe be updated by phone or via the Internet.” I don’t think its acceptable for such a large company to underfund the reason why they are successful and hope to maintain leader status.

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