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PlanetEye to blend travel photos, trip planning

Service has great potential, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the current site.

Update: After this story went live, PlanetEye spokespeople contacted me to say that the version of the site reviewed here is not the site they'll be pushing out to the public. That site, scheduled to go live on July 10, will have the new, smarter Travel Pack feature that was pitched to me in a meeting. As I say at the end of the review, I recommend you hold off on trying the site until that new version is online.

With the cost of travel and fuel continuing to rise, I don't understand why anyone would launch or even pitch a travel site right now, unless it was designed to help people make the most of in-town bus vacations (note to self...). But that opinion hasn't slowed the steady stream of pitches I've been hearing for vacation-planning sites. The latest: PlanetEye, a service relying on some technology spun out of Microsoft.

PlanetEye is a great site for viewing travel photos of the location you're thinking of going to. It is also supposed to help you find the cool things to do once you've got a location for your trip narrowed down. Then you can save your finds into a "Travel Pack" that you can easily retrieve when it's ready to embark on your voyage. You can also share your plans with the other people on your trip, so they can contribute to building your hit-list of things to do as well.

PlanetEye is good for scouting photos of a vacation destination, but less good at finding restaurants and attractions.

The site uses Microsoft Maps, and does a nice job of displaying trip photos from other users. But I found it frustrating to use the map to look up attractions and restaurants. Each item (or collection of closely grouped items) on the map is represented by a dot, but there's no way to know what the dots stand for without clicking on them, and even when you do, the information you want displays in a navigation bar, not on the map as you'd expect. It's hard to correlate the navigation bar text with the map. This design sucks the fun out of exploring a destination, and, to me, defeats a primary purpose of the site.

If you want a more typical travel guide experience, though, PlanetEye does offer that. There are City Guides for popular destinations, with the usual lists of most popular tourist attractions. Many major cities also have Local Expert pages, which feature more personal guides. Items you find in either of these guides can be added to your Travel Packs.

Coming up soon will be integration with more data sources, such as OpenTable, StubHub, WaySpa, and Wine Spectator. And the Travel Packs may get smarter, and start to suggest items to you based on what you have already added to them and what you say about yourself in your profile. I'd wait until these new features are added, in mid-July, to rely on this product for planning trips.

Related stories:
TravelMuse tells you where to go (on vacation)
Offbeat Guides: Build your own travel books
TripIt aggregates your travel info

See also: Dopplr, TripAdvisor, Tripbase, TravelMuse.

The site has useful, but typical, city guides.