There are a growing number of tour app “frameworks” which, in theory at least, should make it easy for you to create your own mobile tour and have it available in the app stores with a fraction of the time and cost it would take to build a tour app from scratch. I’ve used three such frameworks:

But there are scores of others. I’ll describe the pros and cons of the above three in future posts, but let me talk about frameworks in general first.

Tour frameworks are to tour content what a DVD player is to a video. In the same way that you could build your own DVD player to play the video you produced (and in the early days, people did!), now it makes far more sense to focus your creative energies on what you do best (creating great content) and letting Samsung, Sony and other manufacturers do what they do best (build a great DVD player). Together you can give your audience a fabulous experience.

Tour framework developers do exactly the same thing: they build a machine (software framework) into which you load your tour content, and together give your audience both a player and a tour. And just like with DVD players, which have different features from manufacturer to manufacturer, tour frameworks do too. The Pocketguide framework is very different from the Toursphere framework, and they each yield a different experience for your user.

But for you, the tour developer, the initial process of creating and organizing tour content is about the same: you write and record copy, you take pictures, you geo-tag sites, and so forth. The differences really pop out when you start uploading all that content into the framework, which is normally done by using a web based portal made available to you by the framework developer…for a price. Then you must use their system to convert your content into a tour app.

I found Tour Buddy and Toursphere to be very cooperative letting me try out their systems before paying. Both system were about as easy to program as, well, your favorite DVD player. In other words, not impossibly hard but not that easy either. If you are hoping for something as easy to use as say, Turbotax from Quicken or Basecamp from 37Signals (in my opinion, the standard bearers for easy to use and trouble free web based software), then you will be disappointed.

Once you are into the bowels of these frameworks you learn they were really not designed for neophytes like me, but rather for their skilled staff who charge thousands of dollars to build the tour for you…using the very same framework. Letting the unwashed DIY masses into their systems is more of an afterthought than a principle objective.

I eventually figured out most of their little quirks and idiosyncrasies, enough to produce some decent tours, but it took a while, and if you’re not paying for support, the companies can get a bit cranky about providing it. I get that. So lesson one: If you choose to DIY, make sure you understand how much training and support the framework developer is willing to offer, and make the trade-off. It might make more sense to just have them build the tour for you, especially if you only plan on launching one or two tours.

Finally, make note of the varying pricing models each company offers. Some, like Pocketguide, charge nothing to build the tour for you and then make their money by taking a share of each tour sold. That sounds good until you find out their contract gives them full ownership of your content. Ah…the fine print! Ignore it at your peril. That’s how Paul McCartney ended up not owning any of his own songs and has to pay dear Michael Jackson’s company every time the former Beatle sings “Blackbird.”

But in summary, I like frameworks very much and would not even consider building a tour without one. But which one? That’s for another post, but I’ll give you a head’s up: Not PocketGuide.