Tag Archives: Mapping

It’s All Local: Why Apple Has to Get Maps Right

As the New York Times noted this morning, Apple’s initial iOS6 foray into mobile maps has been greeted with a thumbs down by iPhone 5 reviewers, who prefer the polished Google Maps experience that was the prior default.

But maps –and by extension, local — are strategically important to Apple’s future. You can bet Apple will push hard to get them right. This is no Ping-like exercise, where Apple launches something and then discontinues it.

Apple first signaled its interests in maps in October 2009 with its purchase of PlaceBase – an API company that let developers map locations and services with pushpins.

Where can Apple go with maps – and for that matter, Google, Amazon, Microsoft/Nokia, Yahoo and AOL? Our take on maps is that they’re part of a tandem with data, and the integration of maps, geo fencing techniques, proximity search, and data such as public transit info and listings creates rich opportunities for targeted advertising (“Mapvertising”) and services.

Maps, of course, have come along way from simple store locators, which were the first online application. Just as store locators today are widely integrated with listing data, coupons and other information, you can expect to see the same trajectory in other segments. Deal mapping, for instance, has already had an impact with such companies as The DealMap (now owned by Google), 8Coupons and Bargain Babe LA making it easy to see where the deals are.

Other map concepts have been out there as well, including public transit maps (HopStop), garage maps, jogging maps (Trails.com) and wedding maps (weddingmapper.com.) With the rise of mobile, the key is that they not only provide citywide vertical info for a number of localities (i.e. Zillow maps), but also provide national seamlessness.

It has been noted that maps are the top part of the data pyramid and that if you can map it, everything else is easy. That’s probably true. It’s also true that some of the map centric activity has been premature or out of context. Some of the map-centric directories, ad networks and map-centric SEO efforts have been a little ahead of their time, and also, not always easy enough to use.

MapQuest’s efforts to monetize as a directory showed promise but wasn’t an instant hit. More recently, ABC News got rid of its interesting-but-unessential iPad app, which featured a spinning globe of news stories.

Despite some false starts, Apple has figured out that it has to be in the middle of maps to compete in the next generation of mobile services. We’re excited about Apple’s validation of the power of mapping in local online media and commerce, and expecting to see great progress in short order.

MSNBC.com Buys EveryBlock

MSNBC.com, the Seattle-based entity co-owned by Microsoft and NBC, has acquired Everyblock, Adrian Holovaty’s hyperlocal site. The price was apparently for “several million dollars,” per reports.

The six person site, an outgrowth of Holovaty’s Chicagocrime.org site, is a leading edge example of “mapping journalism.” It maps street-by-street and neighborhood data and content for wide-ranging categories, although it has a special focus on government data, such as parking tickets. It currently collects data and content for 15 markets, including Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

While the site takes a unique approach, it is poised to compete with other hyperlocal sites such as Outside.in, Topix.net, Placeblogger and Patch.com (acquired by AOL this summer for $10 million).

Everyblock has been funded by The Knight Foundation with $1.1 million, but the two year funding ran out early this summer. It does not appear to have pursued a serious revenue model.

According to a blog post written by Holovaty, MSNBC.com has agreed to keep the staff intact and in his hometown of Chicago. Holovaty also blogs that he hasn’t been able to do even “five percent” of what he eventually wants to do with the site, so he looks forward to the teamwork and resources that MSNBC.com may provide.

MSNBC.com (which is a separate entity from the MSNBC cable TV net) currently has a local news section on its site, including videos from NBC affiliates and headlines from local media entities. It is apparently not otherwise involved with NBC’s increasingly ambitious local portal sites, which are outgrowths of its TV stations.

The opportunity to merge with Microsoft’s Bing maps appears to be a large one here. Holovaty is well known as the first newspaper executive with dual degrees in journalism and computer science, and he has plied his talents with innovative projects for The Washington Post and The Lawrence World Journal.

LAT49 Raises $1.5 Million

Lat49, which sells ads on online maps for over 120 websites, including Topix.net, Trails.com and others, announced that it has raised $1.5 million in Series A financing. Participation was lead by PenderFund Capital Management, with further participation from existing investors including Discovery Capital.

The site, launched in early 2007, focuses on location specific segments. These include Real Estate, Travel, Sports & Recreation and Local information.

“Lat49 provides a major step forward for monetizing the LBS [Location-Based Services] industry,” says David Barr, Chief Investment Officer at Pender. “Having experienced the trends in location aware and Software as a Service offerings first-hand, Lat49 has nailed the ability to leverage location for the delivery of highly relevant advertising to Internet users.”

First Days with My Garmin Nuvi 760

After years of resisting the urge to buy a GPS – I generally know where I am going — GPS prices have come down so much that I broke down and paid $190 on Amazon for a Garmin Nuvi 760 that cost $399 last year.

I know it’s a short term piece of equipment. Next year’s SmartPhone acquisition will probably replace it. But for now, the Nuvi 760’s big 4.3 screen, solid casing, fairly loud volume, turn-by-turn directions and blue tooth capability for in-phone calling seemed like winning features. It seems like a huge improvement over the 3.5” screens (although they are REALLY cheap). And I pinch myself thinking I’ve got the same capabilities as the $2000 built-in GPS in many new cars.

But those are all almost besides the point. Mostly, of course, I’m intrigued by Garmin’s local information features (points of interest, favorite, local maps, shopping, etc.). I like that you can designate “drive” or “walk” as well. I do a lot of walking in big cities.

So, technically speaking, how did the trip to Santa Barbara Wine Country go last week? It was decidedly mixed, mostly due to the high learning curve for this device (which comes with almost no directions).

On the plus side, it was great to have the automatic distance count before turns, and the turn by turn directions to the obscure but recommended Chamomile Bakery in Carpenteria. It figured out where I wanted to go after typing just a few letters. After lunch, it accurately put me onto 154, the mountain route, to The Ballard Inn, rather than the longer ocean drive that some maps would put me on.

But the GPS drive time to Ballard was off by more than an hour. And I definitely missed being on a real Internet-connected service. At this point of Web 2.0, I’m used to getting reviews and recommendations. There was also no place in the car to easily put the thing.

In California, it is illegal to use the suction cup on the windshield. I’ll have to buy a beanbag mount for the dash.

The next day was more of a challenge. First up, I needed some gas. And it it gave me a nice selection of gas stations, complete with distances. But the list of Vineyards was lacking a major location – the one I had a coupon for.

And then, disaster struck. The battery died and I didn’t have the plug with me. This thing is very colorful and only has a few hours of unassisted battery life. But you don’t want to turn it off because it takes several minutes to “locate satellites.” And I had no way of knowing how to get to lunch or back to the Inn because I didn’t print out any directions, as I usually do. There I was, asking for directions at a local bakery.

The next day, on my trip back south, I learned to plug the Nuvi into the charger. And once again, I found it reassuring to drive on the 405 knowing exactly how far major turns are.

But then I got hungry and looked for food 20 miles ahead of my location. It couldn’t do that. It kept on looking for restaurants where I was. I thought I’d work around the system by typing in the “Costa Mesa Mall” as a shortcut to the food. But I had the wrong name. It is actually called “South Coast Plaza.” Google knows this, but the Nuvi does not.

And a search for stores that I know to be at the mall came up blank as well. Luckily, I took my eyes of the Garmin long enough to eye a Macy’s off the freeway at Westminster…. and we got to a food court in time. I didn’t get home on time, however. The Nuvi optimistically had me getting home an hour and half before I opened the door.

Do I love this device? Not yet, although it is very impressive. And while the categories are great, there doesn’t seem to be a way to call up a custom map to compare proximity for the category listings. We’re getting spoiled on the Internet. Maybe I’ll eventually learn how to do this.

Do I want to return it? Not really. But it makes me look forward to the next, much improved generation. And it’s going to have a phone, camera and Internet connection.

Wedding Mapper Provides Customized Maps, Targeted Ads

Selling advertising on customized Google Maps is becoming increasingly common, with agencies such as LAT49 showing the way. Ads have been sold on maps for hiking, jogging trails, local transit and other categories.

Now Wedding Mapper is taking the same concept to weddings, where it allows couples to map out a wedding trail of airports, receptions, hotels and rehearsal dinners. The free maps can be emailed, downloaded to mobile phones, printed out or posted on websites.

Wedding Mapper, which grew out of Community Walk.com, a non-specific map builder, was launched in January 2007. It has already produced 100,000 maps, and is likely to climb further as it gets a bigger piece of the wedding market, which sees 2.2 million couples married every year, per The Wedding Report.

Founder Jared Cosulich tells us that the maps are configured on a hyper-local basis for 10,000 communities in the U.S. and abroad, and advertisers can target any of those communities, with the average spend roughly $20. About a thousand advertisers have tried the service out. He adds that the micro-targeting figures to be especially compelling for exurban and rural communities that are normally left out of wedding-related media (but I might question that: small town folk tend to know who vendors that they want to use).

Cosulich notes that one of the most compelling things about the service is that maps have quite a long tail. Here’s why: The five person, San Francisco-based crew have created a User Generated directory of 140,000 wedding vendors that can be used to pre-populate map locations.

The directory is given extra context by adding user reviews from businesses that have been mapped. More than 50,000 reviews have been entered so far.

I built a couple of maps for fun, one for my current town (Carlsbad, CA) and one for my college town (Bronxville, NY). I found that they’re easy-to-launch, wisely password protected, and the categories are intuitive and well thought out.

But the map experience is far from perfect. While the maps will surely get your guests around town, the User Generated directory is far from comprehensive. Users that rely on it would find reception locations, churches and bars and airports many towns and miles (and scrolls) away from optimum locations.

Trust me, when you’re getting married at The Crossings in Carlsbad, you probably don’t want to stay in Dana Point, 30 miles up I-5. There are dozens of hotels and resorts in between. But I bet that will get better when the site relaunches this Sunday.

Los Angeles Times Debuts ‘Mapping LA’

The Los Angeles Times today debuted “Mapping LA,” an online effort to map 87 distinctive neighborhoods in the sprawling Southland. For the paper, the designation of neighborhoods goes beyond civic duties. Not only does it intend to base news stories around them, but hyperlocal marketing, advertising and blogging efforts as well.

The initial cut of Mapping L.A.’s neighborhoods was based on census tracts, but has been adjusted for the “geographical, historic and socioeconomic associations that define communities,” per release. One of the mapping site’s features is that it can be edited by readers on a WIKI basis – something that many Angelenos will probably do as they assess the real estate impact of having their house listed in “Franklin Hills” or “Los Feliz”; and “Beverly Hills” or “Century City.”

“Dorothy Parker famously said Los Angeles was ’72 suburbs in search of a city,’ so it’s not surprising that residents take their neighborhood names so seriously,” notes reporter Bob Pool in a news story in today’s Times. “Those designations are part tradition and history but also part economic and political,”

MapQuest Goes into Web 2.0 Overdrive

AOL’s MapQuest has strived to remake itself for several years. But it has really been going into overdrive since June, with new management, and the launch of MapQuest Local, a map-based directory and city guide service. More recently, it has unleashed specially-tailored versions for smartphones.

What’s surprising about MapQuest is that it remains the industry leader, even though it has been overshadowed by more cutting-edge mapping services from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. It has 46-48 million unique visitors a month. Yet it’s in the odd position of “catching up” to its rivals before its technology and distribution lag causes permanent damage.

“Since the end of June, we’ve been following an entirely new road map, says Senior VP and GM Christian Dwyer. He notes that the arrival of smartphones and GPS has added entirely new elements to the business. It isn’t just about printing out maps anymore. And it isn’t just about releasing the API either. You need to go “live” with saved information now, he says. That changes things.

The September launch of a beta of MapQuest Local, which incorporates data from lots of AOL vertical properties (autos, jobs, city “best of” content, etc., is pivotal to the company’s efforts. The service has had three million unique visitors since its introduction.

The strategy’s second leg is the launch of My MapQuest, a personalized version that starts every search from a saved home (or business) address. My MapQuest has been available since the end of November.

“We want to help users on the front end of discovery rather than strictly be a place on the Web for directions,” says Dwyer. “We want to (provide information on) where, how and what is nearby.” The company will also “extend MapQuest to the mobile experience.”

A horde of additional changes take place in early 2009, with the incorporation into My MapQuest’s home page of lots of personalized, localized content. Content offerings will include spatial maps, traffic, weather, a business directory, gas price info and even an AOL Careers job search widget centered on addresses that are searched. All of it will be offered via RSS feeds.

“It is about much more than the business listings piece,” says VP of Product Development Mark Law, a mapping veteran recruited from Yahoo. “We are going to be a one stop shop for all local content” – something that is being syndicated to sites such as Yelp and Flickr.

Law sees the introduction of the RSS feeds and the ability to save content as key to making MapQuest a resource that goes beyond the commute, or the overnight trip. “It is going to really drive hyperlocal,” he says. The launch of a MapQuest Twitter feature also moves along this path, as users will be able to constantly update conversations (“the crash on the 805 is really gruesome”).