For many people, especially Americans, the road trip is a favorite pastime.
And so is the road trip tribute.
Whether we make the trip solo, or do it in the company of a spouse, the kids, friends, and way too much stuff, most of us can't resist the urge to share every last detail of the adventure with others.
Sometimes the sharing involves trapping a few folks in your living room for a 40-minute slide show. But there are other, more timely and potentially less excruciating ways of tuning others in to your mileage-intensive excursions.
This is the Web 2.0 era, and it is no longer necessary to wait until you get home to share your trip details with your friends. In fact, you can do so at just about every step along the way, so that no one risks missing any of the finer points of your journey in real time.
What's making that possible is a new roster of technologies that allows anyone to get online, or at least transmit information, from almost anywhere. (See associated story on getting connected from the road.)
Whether it's because of Wi-Fi--the wireless broadband technology that makes building home networks a snap and is being deployed citywide by many big towns (and even a few small ones)--or cellular networks that offer nationwide coverage, there are fewer and fewer places from which it's impossible to transmit the gory details of your travels. And even if you do find yourself deep in Yosemite National Park or some other technology-forsaken wilderness, the instant you leave you'll no doubt find a connection to a wired or wireless network that will put you back in communication.
So with that in mind, all you really need to do is focus on the ways you can distribute your travel-related news, insights, and trivia.
The very quickest method these days for letting the world know about each and every last gas station and rest-stop bathroom you just drove by is Twitter.
"Sign up for a Twitter account and give live reports of where you are on the road, what you're doing, and what you're eating," declares Souris Hong-Porretta, vice president of interactive media for Burbank, Calif.-based Entertainment Media Ventures. "It's short and easy, and your friends will feel as though they're on the trip with you."
CNET News.com senior writer Elinor Mills, meanwhile, warns that Twitter's ease of use sometimes yields unfortunate by-products, including brain-numbing minutia, random thoughts, and babble. However, Caroline McCarthy defended Twitter's "microblogging" service as a welcomed new social network. The bottom line is that Twitter lets you send short messages from your mobile phone or from a Web-connected computer, and anybody can receive those messages, either on their own phones or on Twitter's Web site. Find more how-to details in our newbie's guide to Twitter.
Capturing the visuals and the soundtrack
If video is more your thing, Flip Video, a product from San Francisco-based Pure Digital Technologies, offers very inexpensive video cameras with easy-to-use USB 2.0 connections and built-in software so you can shoot up to 60 minutes of video and then quickly send it to friends and family via e-mail.
Or perhaps what you want is to let your community know what music you listened to while you were exploring new turf. Elizabeth Goodman, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information, suggested making a road trip soundtrack and then sharing it via iTunes.
Similarly, she said, you could use Audioscrobbler, a database hosted by U.K.-based Last.fm that creates a profile--and makes listening recommendations--based on the user's listening habits.
What would really get your friends involved, Goodman added, would be to let them help you plan your tour route through a "hot-or-not destination voting" mechanism installed on a blog or LiveJournal site.
That way, "all your friends vote on your itinerary every night," she said, "and you find out where you'll be going when you wake up."
And as you travel, says Molly Steenson, a writer and recent graduate of Yale School of Architecture, you not only can show where you are on a digital map, you can critique each location--including restaurants, shops, vista points, and other attractions--using online services such as Socialight and Plazes. Both services allow travelers to use PCs or mobile phone connections to "geotag" locations so others can track the travelers' whereabouts. The geotags also can serve as guides for future trips. Many who share their itineraries this way, says Steenson, do so with a competitive spirit and "race to tag locations that nobody (else) has geotagged."
Another way to provide your cohorts with interesting map views of your journey is to create your own Google Maps My Maps mashup. The My Maps service, which Google rolled out in April, allows users to overlay any kind of data they want on a Google Map. So if you really feel the need to identify every spot on the map that you stopped to eat a Quarter Pounder, this service will come in handy.
If you can swing an invitation to join Dopplr's private beta, Los Angeles-based writer and entrepreneur Mark Meadows suggests using the service to let your closest friends and trusted colleagues know where you are heading, and also seeing if anyone you know lives near your prospective destinations. The Dopplr service, operated by a company in Helsinki, Finland, is accessible via PC or mobile phone.
Cheap talk and type
Meadows also said that when he's traveling, he relies on eBay's Internet calling service, Skype, as a low-cost way to keep in voice contact with friends and family around the world. Calls between Skype users are free; the service also offers unlimited calls to any phone in the U.S. and Canada for $29.95 a year.
Naturally, many road trippers are already using Yahoo's photo-sharing site, Flickr, but the service is always worth a mention. Flickr allows you to quickly post your photos on the Web--privately or publicly--using a PC or mobile phone. The service also can alert your friends when new photos are posted. Read our newbie's guide to Flickr on Webware.
And then, there's blogging; it's old-fashioned, but in many ways it serves the needs of both the traveler wanting to share his or her experiences and the reader wanting bite-size chunks of those experiences.
"When I was interviewing bloggers years ago, one of the things that I found was superinteresting," said social-networking researcher Danah Boyd, "is that tools like blogging allowed the traveler to write whatever they thought was interesting when they thought it was interesting, and then only if their family and friends were interested would (they) go check it out."
The point, Boyd said, is that with blogging, friends and family have a choice about whether to read about your exploits, and they won't be blasted by e-mails sent to distribution lists.
"Friends (got) upset (by e-mail blasts) because they didn't want to be told fun things while miserable at work," Boyd said, and "the traveler didn't want to write too much and was always concerned about the reader. By switching to (blogging), both sides were much happier."