The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is a series of best-selling books that grew out of a 1978 British radio series. It revolves around researchers and travelers armed with mobile electronic devices who roam the galaxy, beaming in on-the-spot reviews of places visited and tips on everything from mixing a galactic cocktail to fighting space monsters, which are instantly available to anyone. British author Douglas Adams says the guide was simply a narrative device back then. But now that advances in mobile Internet phones are making an interactive hitchhiker's guide to Earth a real possibility, Adams is cashing in big time.
The hugely popular Hitchhiker novels have sold 15 million copies since 1981, and Adams has turned them into a British TV series, a set of record albums and CDs, a computer game, a Disney movie due out in 2002 and an Internet company called h2g2, which is building an online collaborative guide to "life, the universe and everything" through the participation of volunteer researchers in 90 countries. Like the fictional guide, the site offers unconventional tourism advice and entries on a huge range of subjects, from Homer Simpson to Homer's Iliad. The mobile guide www.h2g2.com/onthemove) which gives people a way to tap in while traveling, can be accessed through 22 mobile operators on four continents, including AT&T Wireless and Sprint's PCS networks in the U.S. Says Adams, who divides his time between a home in Santa Barbara, Calif., and h2g2's London headquarters: "Going wireless is a huge step toward where we want to go with this." And where is that? A quantum leap forward in the customization of personal services offered over the wireless Net.
h2g2 aims to make the most of what Internet analysts call the mobile Internet's killer application: combining "personalization"--services geared to a specific user--with "localization"--those linked to a certain place. h2g2's mobile division plans to introduce services that are tailored to where a caller happens to be at a particular point in time. New positioning technology means that mobile operators will soon be able to pinpoint a person's location to within 12 yds., helping h2g2 give more precise answers to a request like "Please recommend what to see and do in London."
It could work like this: you wake up one weekend morning, turn on your mobile phone and ask h2g2 for advice on what to do today. The service locates you geographically and, based on what it knows about your personal likes and dislikes, suggests a list of possible activities in your area. If you choose an art gallery, h2g2 can guide you there and even tell you about paintings as you view them. You can then stroll to a cafe and input your review of the art show and your comments on the cafe's service. While sipping coffee, you chat with other h2g2 members, who point you to a nearby beer festival. You don't worry too much about your phone bill because use of h2g2 earns cost-saving loyalty points.