The Paris spreadsheet

by Michael Alderete on 1/2/2005

Mentioned in the lead paragraph of that NYTimes article is the spreadsheet which Rochelle put together prior to our trip to France in 2002. Since publication we’ve actually had people inquire about getting access to it, so I thought I’d put it online. If you’re impatient, you can find a download link toward the end of this story. But some background will help you make the most of it.

Rochelle created the spreadsheet in an attempt to duplicate the really amazing experience she had using Vindigo on her Palm handheld when visiting New York City in May 2002. She did a lot of pre-trip research, and entered addresses and venues of interest into Vindigo. Then, while in NYC, she was able to tell Vindigo where she was, and get a list of places within walking distance, along with step-by-step directions for getting there. It made her touring the city (while I was locked in business meetings) efficient and fun, while still allowing for serendipity to influence where she went.

However, there is no Vindigo for Paris, or for any city in France. So we set out to try to duplicate the most essential features, by tying every location of interest to the nearest Metro stop and its arrondissement. We thought that this would let us figure out where we were, and then find interesting places nearby. In the end, it was only partially successful for us.

We had the most fun when we used it at the beginning and middle of the day, during breakfast and lunch, to plan where we would spend the rest of the morning or afternoon. When we tried to use it to follow whim after whim, which Vindigo had done successfully, we ended up pretty frustrated.

The other thing that didn’t work out the way we envisioned was the Palm version of the spreadsheet. We managed to download the data into Rochelle’s Palm, and use a micro database called JFile to be able to search and sort it, etc. But without a lot of additional development, having just the table of data was simply too hard to use on a Palm screen, it’s just not wide enough. With a search engine, hand-crafted results and detail pages, cross references, etc., the electronic version could have been pretty good…but even if I had put 20 hours into it, it would still have been nowhere near as good as Vindigo.

In the end, the printout of the spreadsheet was a tremendously valuable tool for us, and we’d never have seen as many cool places without it. And even if Vindigo had covered Paris, we’d still have wanted to pore through all the guidebooks and websites that Rochelle found. We would never have depended on Vindigo’s content. But having Vindigo to organize our own content by precise location, instead of rough chunks, would have been pretty darn cool.

Anyway, the spreadsheet was put together prior to our trip to France in October 2002; some things are now surely out of date. We’ve made no attempt to clean up Rochelle’s unique annotations and categorizations (Rochelle is an information organization specialist), which will likely be meaningless to you. And you don’t get our copies of the guidebooks, where were marked up and bookmarked with color-coded flags, and cross-referenced in the spreadsheet; we used those constantly, too. But if you still think it might be useful to you, here’s the spreadsheet.

Last note: this only covers half our trip, the time we spent in Paris. We also spent a lot of time in the Champagne region. We didn’t make a spreadsheet for that part of the trip, which (except for our first hotel and one meal) was entirely unscripted. Instead some photos and some weblog entries may give you some useful information about that.

Enjoy France!

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