The way it used to be, the Internet could help you find low airfares and book hotel rooms -- if you knew where you wanted to fly and stay.

But what if you were merely searching for somewhere to go? There, the Internet couldn't help much, because it overloaded you with raw information -- much of it marketing hype. You were better off asking friends for recommendations, or reading a travel magazine or guidebook.

Now, though, several of the leading Internet travel sites are aiming to change the way travelers plan their vacations. No longer mere search engines scanning for low prices, they're beefing up what they say is unbiased information on destinations, such as things to do and where to stay.

And much of the content comes not from professional travel writers, but from ordinary travelers who have only an Internet connection and the desire to share what they know. The trend is making waves at some of the traditional sources of trip information, such as travel guidebooks.

In April, TripAdvisor.com, a travel site with more than 4 million user-generated hotel reviews, launched a feature that allows travelers to write and edit what is essentially a real-time guidebook on about 23,000 destinations. Last week, search engine Kayak.com said it's taking the first step toward building an online travel community, where users can share ideas on trips, then easily check the costs.

"As good as the travel sites are, no one has done this social networking for travel," said Kayak spokeswoman Kellie Pelletier.

Get the full story at The Charlotte Observer