Paul Hallett, a resident of Beijing for 11 years, is chief executive of Schmap. He said the company combined its own vector mapping technology with map data from TeleAtlas, city information from WCities and tourist photos from Flickr to create a unique, free travel site.

The result is interactivity galore. You can generate dynamic maps with helpful links, play tours or create your own and see other people's photos and reviews of sights and attractions. The travel guides are searchable, customizable and updatable.

Despite the Beijing connection, only U.S. and European cities are available for now from Schmap. But Australian and New Zealand locations will be added this month, Hallett said, and Southeast Asian destinations will come online this year.

More than 30 new travel guides are posted each month, with a goal of having 200 by November, which is also the month by which Hallett hopes to have a Macintosh version.
Schmap has been online for only four months, but for the past two, downloads of its Schmap player have doubled from the previous month. Hallett would not disclose numbers of hits, but he said the early reception "absolutely bowled us over."

The online travel guide business is already pretty crowded. But Hallett says Schmap's guides compare favorably with those from Trip Adviser, Lonely Planet and Frommer, for example, largely because of Schmap's interactivity.

The intention is to keep the site and service free, relying instead on income from sales from its travel store (set to open next week), licensing revenue from commercial customers and advertising.

Schmap's next big step up the creativity ladder is to make what is now essentially a closed, proprietary system exportable to a number of other formats, something Hallett forecasts will happen by the end of the year with Schmap 2.0.

Get the full story at the the International Herald Tribune