travel booksTripTrace, an online travel planning service, went live today after a stint as a private, invitation-only test run. The service has had a rocky time of things until now, running into controversy even before it launched.

TripTrace was formerly called PlaceBook and had to change its name when Facebook’s lawyers confronted PublicEarth, Inc., the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company behind the service.

Rather than fight the social networking giant that is keen on targeting services with similar names, like Teachbook and Lamebook, CEO Michael Rubin decided to forgo the original name. Legal hassles aside, TripTrace is now ready to challenge the plethora of travel planning services already out there.

As is the case with many trip planning services — like TripIt, TripAdvisor, or newcomer Plnnr — the idea is to help vacationers figure out what flights to book, where to stay and what sights to see. However offensive to Facebook, the previous name was truly fitting for the service, as TripTrace has two “books” of places representing trips a user has taken in the past or intends to take in the future: Atlas Book represents where a user has been, while the Travel Book is about future trips, offering tips on interesting sights and other things to do at a destination. Travel Book will also provide a “costimate” based on the destination and a few pieces of information about the user (how many people are traveling, what’s the budget, etc.) that serves as a kind of ballpark figure as to how much the trip is going to cost.

TripTrace also has a neat feature called the TripClipper. It is a bookmarklet that integrates into the bookmark toolbar of a browser and allows a user to save web pages—maybe a restaurant review or a travel piece on a city—to TripTrace by just clicking the button. These bookmarks are later represented on TripTrace as notes the user has made. TripTrace also pulls in a lot of data from other services, like photos from Flickr, or location data from Foursquare and Facebook to build users’ location histories.

The service seems to be intent on providing a rich, visual experience that is simple to use. And so far, it seems to be on the right path. When I asked Rubin what makes TripTrace stand out from the rest of the travel planning services, he said that, surprisingly, it all has to do with being useful to users when they aren’t going on a trip.

“As with a lot of personalized services, a website needs to know a lot about you to be deeply useful. TripTrace is collecting all kinds of data from services like Foursquare and Facebook Places while slowly getting personalized, and when the time comes to make a trip, it will be more useful”, Rubin explained.

Rubin said the company is primarily going to be about lead generation and creating partnerships with the travel industry, as it obviously wants to be a one-stop site for planning a trip from beginning to end, from booking flights to reserving tables at restaurants. For now, though, TripTrace is in the process of building a set of tools for travel planning and attracting users. “We believe that the travel space is ripe for something new and deeply useful, and if that can be delivered, monetization will be straightforward”, Rubin said.

Oh, and what about, the domain name the company had bought and developed before Facebook stepped in?

“As of this week, we have decided to sell the domain, as hard as it is to part with”, Rubin wrote in an email.

Time to let bygones be bygones and see what will become of TripTrace—after all, what’s in a name?

[Photo credit: LenDog64]