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Trey Ratcliff takes on travel guides with gorgeous new iPad app

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Trey Ratcliff is best known for his widely renowned photography work; his blog Stuck in Customs is massively popular (every day the site’s photos receive more than 150,000 views) and the HDR (high dynamic range) photo techniques he helped to popularize are now practically ubiquitous.

Ratcliff is now setting his sights on disrupting a closely related but very separate space: Travel guides. And he’s just unveiled a gorgeous new iPad(s AAPL) app called Stuck on Earth to do it.

Screenshot of Stuck on Earth (click to enlarge)

An app born out of necessity

“I spend my life traveling and finding places and taking photos, and I have cobbled together five or six different tools from the web and apps to research my trips, but I’ve still never found the best way to find places to go when building an itinerary,” the Austin, Texas-based Ratcliff told me in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “I built this app for myself. I’m an edge case, because I travel and take photos all the time, but I also developed it for the bulk of the bell curve.”

I’ve been playing with Stuck on Earth for several hours, and it really is gorgeous and very fun to use.  It overlays photos sourced from the Stuck in Customs blog and Flickr (s yhoo) group, and overlays them on a map of the world that you can zoom in on, giving you a high quality, visual way to get a glimpse of the places you might want to visit. The app lets you save favorite photos in lists you create such as “Places I’ve Seen” or “Trip to Spain in December.” It also includes curated lists such as “Top 50 Beaches on Earth” written by editors Ratcliff has sourced through his Stuck in Customs contacts.

Stuck on Earth Screenshot (click to enlarge)

Seeing the world from your iPad

On the surface, it reminds me a bit of Panoramio, the Spain-based, geolocation, photo-sharing site acquired by Google back in 2007. (s goog) But Stuck on Earth goes way past that in lots of ways, though its design, the quality of the photos, and the cool features surrounding the map and geo-tagging elements. Stuck on Earth has a very Indiana-Jones-mixed-with-Carmen-Sandiego feel: It talks to you in a Siri-like (s aapl) voice, and the design hearkens to old explorer and adventurer themes. Basically, it’s inspiring: The app makes you excited about seeing the world and discovering new things.

What’s especially impressive is that Ratcliff has made this app with a very tiny team: He did the design (his background is in computer science and mathematics), an Austin-based “rock star programmer” did the coding, and a graphic designer did contract work remotely from Serbia. “We don’t have to do design by committee, so it was basically just the three of us that cranked the thing out.”

Growth, and maybe funding, ahead

And since Ratcliff’s website is quite profitable, he was able to make the app without worrying about incorporating ways to make money from it right now. But going forward, he may be interested in taking on outside funding to really seize the opportunity to properly disrupt the travel space. “Our next step is to make a bigger team. There are a ton of features we want to add, and we’d like to bring the app to Android,” Ratcliff said. “We’re not actively looking for money and we’re doing just fine financially, but we wouldn’t mind talking to a few financial partners. This thing could have a big life of its own.” Here’s hoping that it does.

Here’s a video of Stuck on Earth at work:

10 Responses to “Trey Ratcliff takes on travel guides with gorgeous new iPad app”

    • Trey Ratcliff

      Hey there – Trey here. What do you mean “focused on the all to familiar places”? It has millions of locations around the world. Zoom into the 6th biggest town in Laos, and it shows you the best places to go see.

      • Sorry, but I have been there, so has my wife, her two sisters and brother at one point in their life, along with many of our friends and other relatives. It’s not your app, it’s that the world is small and pretty well visited. I would appreciate a travel app that solves not where to go, but the logistics of making the traveling experience less cumbersome.

      • Trey Ratcliff

        Well lb51 this is the strangest conversation I’ve ever been in… I think my opinion differs a bit — since most Americans don’t even have passports – I don’t agree that “the world is small and pretty well visited” — maybe you and your extended family has indeed gone to the my random example of the 6th biggest town in Laos and had the travel schedule of a Monarch swarm — but most people haven’t. Most people do dream of traveling, and they want to find the best places to go based on photography – so the app was built for the other 99%.

    • Trey Ratcliff

      Thanks Robert – I will share your video soon too – I did not want to share it before, because everyone would get so excited, but they couldn’t download it yet… so I’ve been saving the Scoble-ace-up-the-sleeve ! :)