Reader felbero09 says: "Was just wondering where are the social networks for learning new languages? I am user of www.busuu.com, and it helps me a lot to improve my Spanish! For sure this is going to be a big trend in 2009!" Okay! Thank you! I agree!
The idea of using Web 2.0 tools to make learning new languages less boring and more social is far from new. Many other sites, like the well-known Livemocha and RosettaStone have employed social networking features. A large number of smaller e-learning sites, like Lang-8.com, have popped up in the last few years, as well. So Busuu isn't doing anything new, and it has a lot of competition. Perhaps the highlight of Busuu is its proprietary video chat application, which you can use to talk to "native speakers" in other countries.
Verdict: I like this site. It's well-designed and easy to use. But the e-learning market isn't so big that it can support the many sites that already exist. I did a Google search for "I want to learn Spanish" and Busuu finally showed up on page eleven of the search results, after ten pages full of competing sites. Is Busuu's approach sufficiently different (and eye-catching) that it can emerge from the crowd in 2009? Answer: I'm not seeing it.
I included Tripit as one of my picks as a site that will matter in 2009, which may have prompted a note from a reader suggesting NileGuide. Like Tripit, NileGuide is a trip planner: it provides tools for booking flights (a widget that searches for flights at sites like Orbitz, Priceline, and Kayak), and for building a customized itinerary to use on your trip. Like PlanetEye and Lonely Planet, NileGuide claims to go a bit further, using recommendations by clued-in "local experts" to suggest cool things for you to do on your trip.
To test it, I punched in San Francisco, where I live, and where NileGuide is located. I found many of the recommendations to be standard tourist fare (Palace of Fine Arts, Fisherman's Wharf), along with some pretty expensive ($70) Segway tours of places like San Francisco's famously crooked Lombard Street and (again) Fisherman's Wharf. I got better results when searching for local eateries; NileGuide's local experts had unearthed some of SF's better and lesser-known attractions, like Bernal Heights' Blowfish Sushi and Potrero Hill's Slo Club. When you find something you want to do, you select it; NileGuide then adds the item to your personalized trip plan. You do the same thing with your travel and lodging arrangements.
After you've made all of your selections, you can view everything on a customized itinerary--in list, calendar, or map mode. You can print out a hard copy of it, too, or view it online.
Verdict: Though I had mixed feelings about the food and things-to-do recommendations at NileGuide, I was impressed with the utility of the itinerary builder, and the breadth of information it handles. If the operators of this site promote it well, Nile Guide could emerge as a strong competitor to sites like Tripit, PlanetEye, and Lonely Planet.
So that's about it. This was a fun story to write; I truly enjoyed taking a close look at some of the sites PC World readers are discovering. Keep 'em coming!