Archive for the ‘Mapping’ Category

Placecast Becomes Location Police

March 31, 2010

There’s lots of messy and inconsistent location data out there (see, e.g., the graphic below). Now 1020 Placecast is seeking to clean it up. Today the company announced a free tool, “Match API,” which it is calling a “Rosetta Stone” for location data:

Placecast . . . today announced that they are opening up their Match API for free to the location-based ecosystem. Using this free tool enables location content providers and location-based application developers to refer to a location in any number of ways, and validate that those references resolve to one true location on the planet. Placecast’s Match API is aimed at resolving the time consuming and complex problem of correcting location data that creates little inherent value, so that LBS companies can focus on improving their services and attracting marketing spend.

Location-based companies such as WCities, Socialight, Urban Mapping, and Buzzd have expressed interest in the capability and have begun testing the open web services API. Like a Rosetta Stone for location data, these services can use Placecast’s Match API to translate between different reference systems and correctly identify a location, regardless of the ID system.

The value of this is self-evident. But in the context of other location-related developments (e.g., the launch of SimpleGEO) it shows how LBS and local more broadly are really picking up steam online and in mobile.

Placecast is one of five panelists in my session at Where 2.0 tomorrow: Monetizing Location and LBS: How Do We Get There from Here? It should be a great discussion featuring:

Don Weigel (deCarta), Blair Swedeen (1020 Placecast), Bardia Dejban(Citysearch.com), Surojit Chatterjee (Google), Dan Gilmartin (WHERE)

Location Is Everywhere: SimpleGeo Launches

March 31, 2010

With the formal launch today of SimpleGeo, and another similar announcement coming from Placecast, it’s clear (as I previously said) that location and related data will be appended to most user-generated content — and most digital content generally speaking.

In conjunction with the Where 2.0 conference today, SimpleGeo has formally launched and announced formal products, as well as numerous partners:

Built with developers in mind, SimpleGeo eliminates the excessive time and money spent to build and scale location infrastructure.  For the first time, easy-to-use technology and tools will allow customers to have location-based services operational in minutes.  SimpleGeo provides client libraries and SDKs that enable app developers to get up and running quickly on the platform.  The SimpleGeo iPhone SDK makes it easy to build an augmented reality interface in dramatically less time.

At launch, the company already has more than 4,000 developers utilizing the SimpleGeo platform for new and existing applications, including major innovators such as Bump Technologies and ngmoco. More than 1,000 additional developers are awaiting the product’s formal launch. The company is introducing two major products today:

  • The scalable, cloud-based SimpleGeo Storage Engine is a pay-as-you-go system that allows users to store location data and perform geospatial and temporal queries efficiently.
  • The SimpleGeo Marketplace allows developers to discover a wealth of geodata from numerous sources, all normalized and available in one location.  The SimpleGeo Marketplace creates a new economy for geodata providers, putting them directly in touch with developers that want to use their data. Currently there are billions of points of geodata in the market that customers can access, and it continues to grow.  Data is accessed through a per-use or monthly subscription, or a limited free version.

Twitter previously acquired MixerLabs and Facebook is widely expected to launch a location platform or capability at its F8 developer event coming up later in April. Google has been providing location data to third parties and Yahoo, which was one of the first out of the gate with location for third parties (FireEagle), has regrettably let its service languish. Then there’s Skyhook, now Placecast, UrbanMapping and Maponics — all providing varying types of location data.

Location will be seamlessly integrated into most content in one way or another going forward and it will be deeply embedded in the fabric of mobile.

SuperMedia Renews Local.com Deal, And . . .

March 31, 2010

This renewal of the distribution relationship between SuperMedia and Local.com would be a very ordinary occurrence, normally. However against the backdrop of the closing down of the Google AdWords Reseller program it takes on larger significance. First the press release:

Under the new agreement, SuperMedia’s performance and subscription advertisers will receive preferred placement on www.local.com. The expanded agreement also includes distribution of enhanced ads and content from Superpages.com advertisers, including ratings and reviews, links to local business profile pages and videos. The expanded agreement is expected to increase the monetization of Local.com search traffic by providing an increased number of Superpages.com’s advertiser listings in response to search requests on Local.com and its distribution network. Revenue is generated when consumers connect with advertisers by clicking on their listing or calling their businesses.

Deals like this become more important for local publishers as they step up efforts to diversify traffic sources. That effort has been going on for some time of course and places those networks such as CityGrid, V-Enable (in mobile) and Where (in mobile) in a position to benefit. The perhaps temporary ending of the Google program also creates uncertainty in the local ecosystem, which had been under strain but generally stable for the past couple of years.

Google remains a critical traffic source, however once certified resellers don’t have the same privileged access and tools — at least for the time being.

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with yet another of the involved parties who gave me more interesting opinion and perspective. It was almost entirely off the record so I can’t reproduce the discussion here. However I can say that this individual speculated that a new version of the reseller program, when or if it re-emerges, will likely require much greater “transparency” among the resellers and will probably not allow them to simply bundle Google in with other sources of traffic. Again, this is pure speculation, capital P.

Previously another person opined that this change reflected the “maturation” of the local ecosystem and market and put an upbeat spin on the development. Others, however, are not quite as sanguine.

I’ve now heard from more than one source that the AdWords reseller program largely operated “under the radar” at Google, which I find surprising, given that Sheryl Sandberg (now Facebook COO) was one of the speakers at the initial Google Local Markets Symposium, which focused on the program. Nonetheless, apparently very high level Google execs recently “discovered” that resellers were marking up clicks (sometimes 100% or more) and were upset by that. Whether that had anything to do with the decision to interrupt or terminate the program is unclear — but probably.

Companies like Yodle, as a representative example, are getting roughly 50% of their traffic, depending on the advertiser category, from Google but moving increasingly to build a wide range of sources as part of a “network.” Automated display ad creation platforms (PaperG), video (Jivox, Mixpo, TurnHere, etc.) and mobile become increasingly important in this diversification effort — traditional media too.

There may be benefits and unintended consequences here. Local publishers will be pushed into developing new properties and focusing on their brands. That might make some of them stronger over the long term. Google, for its part, could find itself with more spam on its hands as some local publishers and sales channels try an push SEO more aggressively. (Let’s be clear: I’m not equating SEO and spam, but some SEO efforts do turn out to be spam-like; think press-releases.)

We’ll see. Like the advent of the reseller program and strategy behind it, a few years ago, this moment represents a new phase in the evolution of the local market, which is increasingly diverse, dynamic — and challenging — for all involved.

Google’s Hotel Pricing Experiment

March 23, 2010

Google announced yesterday that it was trying something (not visible to all), including prices on Maps for hotels:

Today we started experimenting with a new feature, visible to a small portion of users, to help make that process even easier by showing specific prices for selected hotel listings.

With this feature, when you search for hotels on Google Maps you’ll be able to enter the dates you plan to stay and see real prices on selected listings. You can click on the price to see a list of advertisers who have provided pricing information for that hotel, indicated by the “Sponsored” text, and click through to reserve a room on the advertiser’s site. By showing you this relevant hotel rate information directly in the Google Maps results panel we hope to make this aspect of your trip planning more speedy and efficient – so you can get where you’re going and enjoy your travel destination!

Here’s the provided example for “Hotels, New York”:

While there have been rumors of “Google Travel” for literally years, I’m wondering what broader idea might be under investigation here. Yet pricing data have long been available in SERPs for products, so there’s nothing especially novel about price information in general:

However pricing data about hotels does make Google Maps much more useful as a travel planning tool, potentially minimizing the need to check several sites to get the information.

Bike on Through to the Other Side

March 10, 2010

Last night Google announced the inclusion of bike directions to car, public transit and walking directions options on Google Maps. According to Google Maps’ Shannon Guymon this was one of the most requested missing features on Google Maps.

The new bike directions also provide a new view on maps (see below), one that is more “bike friendly” and emphasizes some features while de-emphasizing others (e.g., freeways, busy roads).

The directions and underlying data to support bike directions come from Google’s Street View effort as well as selected third parties that have already mapped biked trials (i.e., Rails to Trails Conservancy). Here’s an example of the difference between driving and bike directions from AT&T Park (baseball stadium) in San Francisco to the Golden Gate Park:

Picture 96

Picture 97

Picture 98

The rest of this post is on SEL.

___

See related: Street View Best Streets Awards in the UK and Edit Places Using Street View images.

Hitwise: MapQuest Still a Strong Query Term

March 5, 2010

The monthly travel report from Hitwise shows that MapQuest has settled in at number two, probably never to return to number one. However it remains a top brand and query, as the second chart indicates below:

This discrepancy between MapQuest’s number two position and the fact that its brand is still very heavily searched for is used by Foundem (one of complainants against Google) to make a case for “search neutrality” (oxymoron) with the FCC.

Yelp Replaces Yahoo! Local

March 3, 2010

At a recent meeting at Yahoo, in which the company sought to correct the impression that it was “done” in search, I asked about the status of Yahoo! Maps and Yahoo! Local.

Yahoo! was originally the innovator in these areas but eventually ceded them to Google and Microsoft amid internal turmoil and budget decisions. During that meeting Yahoo! said it recognized the importance of these areas and would be reinvesting (especially given their importance in mobile).

At SMX West yesterday I moderated the “Ask the Local Search Engines” panel. That panel was supposed to feature Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft. But Yahoo! pulled its speaker citing scheduling conflicts. I was totally amazed that the company didn’t provide a substitute speaker. At the very last minute I got Yelp to come in.

The session was great — the Q&A was 45 minutes — and Yelp’s presence gave the conversation some interesting new energy and direction,  about reviews and the challenges on the SMB side as well as the publisher side of managing the process. It also struck me that the unexpected change was symbolic of Yelp’s rise and Yahoo!’s unfortunate decline in the local space.

Yelp is now more important than Yahoo! Local to businesses and consumers.

I hope that Yahoo! does reinvest and makes Yahoo! Local more prominent again, however I’m not holding my breath.

Ballmer’s Favorite Bing Feature Is Maps

March 3, 2010

I was among the throng at the SMX Steve Ballmer keynote interview yesterday. I tweeted quite a bit about the surprisingly candid discussion:

Bing Maps has become a compelling product (more advanced than Google Maps in some respects) and so that completely makes sense.

My prior image of Steve Ballmer was the chair-throwing stereotype, but he was funny and likable in his interview. He was also relatively forthcoming and specific about the anti-trust battle with Google.

The market wants and needs healthy search competition. Search is the central gateway to content on the PC, and to a lesser degree in mobile. I use Google for the most part and don’t believe that Google has ascended to its perch via unscrupulous methods or unfair competition. However, power corrupts . . . So we need competition to keep the market in balance.

Google May Have Patented Geotargeting

March 2, 2010

Google has been awarded a patent entitled “Determining and/or using location information in an ad system” that has very broad implications for PC and mobile advertising.

While we all now take geo-targeting today for granted, back when this Google patent application was filed in April, 2004 it wasn’t as common. Dare I say it: Google may have just patented geo-targeting.

The rest of this post is at SEL.

Google Adds Location to Search Options

February 26, 2010

Google is adding a “nearby” feature to the “search options” panel. The Google Blog explains:

Check it out by doing a search, clicking on “show options” and selecting “Nearby.”

You can choose to see results nearby either your default location or a custom location, and you can narrow down to results at the city, region or state level . . .

Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s more discussion at SEL:

MapQ Adds ‘360 Cities’, Place Pages on Earth

February 25, 2010

MapQuest has added more 360 Cities: an additional 13 cities and 11 suburbs. Imagery is provided by Immersive Media (Google’s launch partner for Street View).

In addition, Google has added Place Pages (lite) to 3D Building on Google Earth:

Placecast Makes ‘Starbucks Coupon’ Fantasy Real

February 25, 2010

Anyone connected with mobile has heard the “you’re walking by a Starbucks” and you receive a coupon story a bazillion times. This has been an LBS mobile marketing fantasy (and in many ways misguided) for literally years. But today Placecast formally introduced a capability that makes this fantasy real and improves upon it.

The company has announced “ShopAlerts” for retailers.

This is SMS-marketing that consumers opt-in to receive. There are many such solutions in the market already. However the novel and “Starbucks coupon”-like element is that consumers who’ve opted-in will only get these messages when they’re within a certain distance from a retail outlet. This methodology is called “geo fencing.”

Here’s the Placecast video explaining:

I also have a more extensive discussion on Internet2Go.

Visual Mapper EveryScape Gains $6M Series C

February 19, 2010

Everyone is pretty familiar with the advanced mapping features battle between Google and Bing. Less well known are “tier two” players such as EveryScape and MapJack. MapQuest has also added street-level imagery (provided by Immersive Media).

Yesterday morning EveryScape announced a series C round of $6 million:

EveryScape, Inc., creator of “The Real World Online,” has secured $6 million Series C financing in a strategic round led by SK Telecom Americas, a division of SK Telecom,  South Korean leading mobile operator with over 50% market share. Existing investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Dace Ventures also participated.  This new financing will fuel EveryScape’s Asian market strategy, as well as propel the company’s steady growth in the U.S.

EveryScape isn’t really a destination, although it has flirted with that ambition from time to time, it’s a platform. The company has made money historically by selling interior imagery and “tours” (e.g., hotels). The exterior photography of course is “free.” Here’s an example of one of EveryScape’s interior “WebScapes”:

In Europe this type of interior photography is further along; European Directories for example said it has been rolled out to varying degrees in its eight country footprint. Google is just starting to experiment with this as well, although businesses themselves could upload images for several years. And Bing’s “Map Apps” allow third party imagery (e.g., interior images) to be layered on top of a map.

I’m going to speak to EveryScape CEO Jim Schoonmaker about “where things are” but this comment caught my eye in the release:

“EveryScape couples an unmatched technology platform that turns 2D images into 3D experiences, with a sales strategy that has landed “feet on the street” in virtually every major city in the U.S. We see vast opportunities to transport this successful strategy abroad while continuing momentum domestically,” said Richard Chin, president of SK Telecom Americas.

Certainly there’s a strategic opportunity for a technology and a platform such as EveryScape to assist companies and local sales channels that don’t have the assets or technology to develop these advanced mapping capabilities. And yes there’s a global opportunity — and a mobile opportunity, hence the SK Telecom investment. But EveryScape will have extreme difficulty with the strategy that quote implies: selling local businesses interior photography of their stores. I’ve said that from the beginning.

Yes, hotels and restaurants (and franchies) will buy this. But they’re more likely to buy it as part of a larger package and/or if they know it’s going to show up in places that consumers go online (Google, Yelp, Citysearch, Superpages), which comes back to my skepticism regarding EveryScape as a consumer destination.

There’s also a very interesting augmented reality (and maybe local-mobile social gaming) opportunity for EveryScape.

‘Store View’ Already Exists in Europe

February 12, 2010

There was much excitement about the idea that Google might be taking images of store interiors (informally called “Store View” at SEL) to add to its map-based imagery. EveryScape has been doing this for some time in the US, although not with the same resources and approach that Google could and might take.

I was told, however, by Brad Petersen at Matchcraft that this offering is already pretty well established in a couple of places in Europe. He sent me a link to Amsterdam-based directory publisher De Telefoongids, which already offers an inside the store view:

The orange door icons indicate you can go inside the store (zoom in, pan, etc):

Pretty interesting. It suggests that we’ll eventually see this type of photography become “mainstream” throughout Europe and in the US. However, as Brad reminded me, the stores in Europe tend to be more concentrated in shopping areas than in the US where there is more geographic distribution.

This is not “real time inventory” but it still can be very useful to see the types of things in a store. (Inventory or brands carried information could always be made available on these pages as a link or layer.)

I was in a local “high end” kitchen and housewares store buying a gift for my wife’s birthday and I was thinking about how the store would market itself. Traditional online marketing methods are unlikely to be successful in my view. In reality the store relies most on foot traffic. It’s not going to be top-of-mind (especially because it’s costlier) for most shoppers, who would probably go to a Macy’s or a Target based on brand equity and marketing muscle. It’s the classic David and Goliath scenario.

I thought that what might really help this particular store would be to get their inventory or brands into some database so they’d come up when people were searching locally for specialty items. But images like those above would be even more helpful because people would be able to see the types of items and unique products they carry.

You say: “But they can put those images on their website or upload them to Google’s LBC.” Yes, perhaps that’s true, but this sort of presentation above — enabling people to “window shop” on a map — is much more compelling.

MSFT Adds More Advanced Features to Bing Maps

February 12, 2010

Microsoft demo’d some very cool advanced Bing Maps features at the Ted conference. Though it’s under my byline Danny Sullivan (who is there) describes what they are:

  • Flickr “app” in Bing Maps StreetSide (answer to Street View)
  • Bing sky imagery when you “look up”
  • “Floating” video in Bing Maps (most impressive, see the SEL piece)

Here’s a demo of the Flickr integration:

These things are “way cool” but will regular folks use them?

Can’t Really Avoid the Buzz

February 10, 2010

Every comment made comes to me in the form of an email notification and every time I go into email I see the Buzz icon. It’s very difficult to “avoid.”

This “in your face” dimension will generate a lot of activity quickly. Will it sustain over time? In thinking about it on the PC vs. mobile I think what we have are essentially two products built with the same infrastructure:

  • Google Wave Lite on the PC
  • Latitude/LBS/Yelp/FourSquare potentially on mobile

The use cases for the two are going to be very different. And the mobile reviews feature (content creation/collection) for upload into Place Pages is yet another scenario.

Google Street View Going Inside Stores?

February 4, 2010

Barry at SEL posts about a tip received from the owner of a NY shop called Oh Nuts. In essence the store said that Google came inside and took lots of pictures that will go up online and complement the exterior Street View images (“Store View”). All this was done with permission of course and probably didn’t cost the store anything.

According to Barry’s post:

I received a tip from a New York retailer named Oh Nuts, that Google came to their store to take pictures for a new Google Maps product named “Google Store Views.” I was told that they took pictures of the inside of the store, every 6 feet, in all directions. They also took pictures of products.

This may be a test or it may be the beginning of a broader effort and significant expansion of the Street View offering by Google (which would almost certainly extend into mobile). Everyscape does something similar but it charges businesses for interior views. Here is one of Everyscape’s interiors of the Sir Francis Drake hotel in SF:

Here is a picture capturing the Google photographer capturing the store interior. Barry has an additional shot on the SEL post:

What do you think? Consumers are going to be interested in interiors in many cases. But do you think that businesses will be interested in this sort of promotion on Google?

Nokia Maps & the Power of ‘Free’

February 3, 2010

Nokia announced a couple of weeks ago that it was making Ovi Maps with GPS navigation free, matching Google Navigation. The company reported yesterday that it’s seen almost a million and a half downloads and that they’re coming at a rate of one every second:

Today Nokia announced that since the launch of the new version of Maps (see our recent post here) with free walk and drive navigation there have been a staggering 1.4+ million downloads with over 20% coming from China. The one million mark was reached already at the end of last week and we’re averaging a download a second, 24 hours a day, said Anssi Vanjoki, Executive Vice President of Nokia.

Nokia is determined to lead the market in mobile maps, navigation and location-based services. This first step is a key part of rolling out location and map-based services, quickly activating a massive user base.

If “Nokia is determined to lead the market in mobile maps . . . ” free is a good way to jumpstart that leadership.

The company also said that the top five countries where it saw the activity were: China, Italy, UK, Germany and Spain. China is a particularly important market where Nokia is strong and Android is just starting to enter, notwithstanding Google’s recent threat to withdraw from the market.

Here’s Opera data for China from December:

Nokia Ovi Maps with navigation now becomes a kind of loss-leader or retention tool for mobile users, who might otherwise jump ship to the iPhone or Android, where Google has implemented a terrific navigation app (Android 2.0 and above).

AmericanTowns Announces Profit Milestone

February 2, 2010

AmericanTowns has gone from an uncertain strategy a few years ago to profitability according to a release out this morning. The release lists milestones the site has achieved (verbatim):

  • AmericanTowns.com traffic has continued to double every 6 months, reaching over 3 million unique visitors in January. (Source: Google Analytics; excludes partner sites with our content.)
  • Ranked in the top 700 US websites by Quantcast, AmericanTowns.com has the highest daily traffic of any network of hyper-local community websites.
  • Revenues again grew even faster than traffic growth in the quarter, dominated by local advertisers seeking local customers, at over 75% of advertising revenues.
  • The Company is now profitable, including all costs of its 15,000 community sites, content distribution to partner sites, and all corporate overhead.
  • AmericanTowns.com now includes thousands of locally-relevant blogs and receives over 60,000 announcements and event postings directly from community leaders to the site each month. Each day AmericanTowns.com features over 100,000 news stories and over 500,000 locally-related tweets.

The success of the site is happening largely under the radar of most local industry observers. Local events is one of the site’s core strengths.

Yelp to Gain $50 Million Round?

January 19, 2010

TechCrunch is reporting that Yelp will soon announce a new funding round of roughly $50 million. I had heard something like this during the Google-Yelp acquisition talks: that an “alternative” to the acquisition would be Yelp raising a “Zynga-like” funding round.

Let’s assume it’s an accurate report. What might that fund?

It might fund some employee buyouts/payouts, as the TC report suggests. But that’s not especially interesting, except to the employees getting the money.

It could fund further European or potentially Asian expansion. It could also fund an increase in the sales force, now standing at roughly 200 reps. It might fund a small acquisition or two.

There’s also the possibility that some money might be used for advertising to consumers or outreach to SMBs in some way other than sales.

If you were the Yelp board/management how would you spend the money, especially now that Google is coming after you with improved mobile offerings, maps everywhere and Place Pages?

Related: Inc. magazine provides a sprawling profile of Yelp. There are some revenue estimates and a few anecdotes that are interesting but there’s not much here that you don’t already know.


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