Lonely Planet has created a separate technology startup in San Francisco to develop next-generation social mobile travel guides together with competitors.
The new company is called Fourforty Inc, whose first product will be a free app called Wenzani (Zulu for “Where are you going?”), launching in the next few months.
A CEO for Fourforty Inc is in place. The name came from the project’s South African originator on the Lonely Planet team. Lonely Planet’s owner BBC Worldwide, which bought most of the firm in 2007 and acquired a remaining 25 percent this summer, is not itself an equity holder.
That Melbourne-based Lonely Planet is choosing to set up Fourfourty separately from the mothership is increasingly indicative of its approach to product development – and of a mindset that suggests innovation is best done outside of legacy media businesses…
To minimise the effect of international conversion to and from Australia’s high dollar, Goldberg recently relocated Lonely Planet’s web team out of Australia to sit alongside BBC Worldwide in London, has its mobile team in Oakland, California, but retains its print publishing business Down Under. It is also developing international travel guides for all media for Indian audiences in Delhi rather than in either Melbourne, London or California.
Lonely Planet already has over 220 mobile app editions of its city guides across four platforms, many with built-in augmented reality features and many of them free. When it made many of these apps free during last summer’s Icelandic volcano eruption, they clocked four million downloads in four days – a spike Goldberg says produced a halo which benefitted other apps in the portfolio.
Fourforty will add to rather than replace those mobile apps, Goldberg said.