Choosing a self-guided tour platform? Read this first

Welcome to VoiceMap, and to this, the first page of our documentation for tour producers. It provides an introduction to the platform, but it’s also supposed to convince you of three things:

  1. Self-guided audio tours are worth doing well
  2. It’s much easier to do them well if you have the right tools and a bit of help
  3. If you accept points one and two, you’re in the right place

We’ll break all of those down in a moment, one at a time, but before we do that, it’s probably helpful to describe exactly what VoiceMap is, in case you’re just getting started.

What is VoiceMap? #

To most people, VoiceMap is an app for both indoor and outdoor self-guided audio tours. Outdoor tours have an interface that emphasises navigation and they play automatically using GPS. This works equally well for walks, cycles, drives, train rides and even boat trips. Indoor tours have an interface that emphasises curation.

We say “an app”, but strictly speaking you can do VoiceMap’s self-guided tours using our iOS app for iPhones and iPads, our Android app, and our web app, which works in browsers like Google Chrome and Safari. Automatic GPS playback only works in our iOS and Android mobile apps, which you can also use to do tours offline, without mobile data.     

In addition to its apps, VoiceMap is a publishing platform. The term “platform” gets thrown around a lot these days, sometimes incorrectly, but VoiceMap is both a technology platform and a platform business. It’s a technology platform because it brings together a set of technologies that make it easy to produce, distribute and consume audio tours. It’s a platform business because it has a marketplace that joins up supply on one end with demand for these tours on the other.

In the middle is the part of our platform that is most important to tour publishers like you: Mapmaker, which takes the guesswork out of producing audio tours. It comes with hands-on support from our team, who have experience across thousands of tours. It’s also the product of eight years of iteration and improvement. Mapmaker does things like estimate talk times – and word counts – that match travel times from one location to the next. It has text to speech audio so you can test your tours easily and often, long before you’re ready to record. Then, when you are ready, we’ll help you produce beautiful mp3s with whatever equipment you have available, including your smartphone.

Why are self-guided tours worth doing well?  #

About 10% of VoiceMap’s tours are free. The rest cost between $2 and $20. That isn’t expensive, but self-guided tours are peculiar products because even when their price tag says free they come with a number of subtle costs. 

There’s the transport that got you to the starting point, most obviously, and there might be entrance fees along the way, but the real cost is often time – and, as a result, the opportunity you aren’t taking to do something else. While this feels especially true when you’re travelling overseas and you only have three days in Paris or two nights in Tokyo, leisure time is valuable wherever you might be, and it’s the high cost of disappointment that we account for when we work with you to produce a rewarding tour. 

Listeners are disappointed when they get lost because the directions from A to B weren’t clear and they’re disappointed when audio quality makes it difficult to hear the tour on a busy street. They’re disappointed when there’s too much talking while they stand around without much to see, and they’re disappointed when there’s too much silence along the way because the length of the audio doesn’t match the length of a walk. 

It’s easy to disappoint them, basically, and they get especially frustrated when they feel like a tour is wasting their time. We know. They tell us. But they also tell us when a tour worked so well it felt like magic and our inexpensive self-guided tour ended up being the best experience they had in Rome or Istanbul or Rio. 

Why do you need the right tools and a bit of help to produce a rewarding self-guided tour? #

Our team has done self-guided tours all over the world. We’ve observed other people doing them too, staying a step behind listeners to watch them navigate an unfamiliar route. We get constructive criticism from producers all the time, when they test their tours, but most of all, we get feedback from listeners, who’ve posted more than 10,000 ratings and reviews so far.

Over the years, we’ve learnt how to get the basics right consistently, to avoid disappointment. We’ve worked out what surprises and delights listeners too. You’ll find our shortlist of the ingredients here.

You’re welcome to disagree with us on any particular item on that list. We know they don’t apply equally to every tour. But we’ve designed our tools and our process to give you the benefit of our overall experience, and the experience of everybody who has given us feedback over the years. 

This is why Mapmaker estimates a talk time and word count that matches the travel time between locations. It cuts out the trial and error of doing the same thing manually. We use text to speech audio for the same reason: to save you from recording the tour’s voiceover again and again, when you make improvements after each and every test. But it’s ultimately the collaboration with our team that we hope you’ll find most valuable, and with Mapmaker, both you and your VoiceMap editor can see tracked changes and leave location-level comments with automatic email notifications.

You’re in the right place #

Producers are occasionally reluctant to get an editor involved in their tour. But if you accept that self-guided audio tours are worth doing well, we hope you’ll also accept that we’ve thought really carefully – for years – about what this actually means. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, of course, and the goal of VoiceMap’s tools and processes are to help you avoid those mistakes so you can publish the best tours possible as quickly as possible.

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