Tag Archives: urban mapping

HopStop Explores The Local Potential of Transit Directions

Local consumers are presumably in buying mode when they are researching where to have dinner, attend an event, or go to the movies. How about when they are researching directions to get there?

In fact, mass transit directions in themselves represent a host of opportunities for local services and advertising (along with parking garage info). Companies engaged in collecting, sorting and leveraging mass transit directions include HopStop, Google Transit and Urban Mapping. Most large public transit agencies have also developed an infrastructure for mass transit and walking directions.

HopStop was the first service out of the gate. The five-year-old, 12-person company is now providing transit and walking directions in 16 metros throughout the U.S. and Europe, and plans rapid expansion in Q3 and Q4.

During HopStop’s early days, its directions weren’t always reliable (note: amassing and normalizing mass transit data is no easy task). These days, however, its directions tend to be very good. A team of us here at BIA/Kelsey recently relied on HopStop-powered directions to get around New York & New Jersey, with excellent results.

Besides mass transit and walking directions, HopStop is also providing information about alternative transportation options, such as car sharing and limo/sedan reservation capability (via partnerships with ConnectByHertz and LimoRes). It also estimates cab fares, which is an especially useful feature.

CEO Joe Meyer, a former eBay and Quigo executive who came on-board last April, says the quality of the service and its scalable routing engine are close to where they need to be. He notes that it has been quite an effort to collect data from hundreds of transit authorities — including, for instance, 30 transit agencies in the New York area alone. The service also enhances and improves the data via a user feedback system, with user improvements coming in via Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS/chat.

Roughly half of HopStop’s traffic comes directly to its site. Other users come in via local media affiliates, who either work directly with the site or use its open API. Not surprisingly, the highest traffic day part comes during regular business hours, with half of the transit queries pertaining to points-of-interest such as local events, restaurants, museums, tourist attractions.

Other searches pertain to business-centric locations such as office buildings and conference centers. Meyer says they are all highly suited for contextual and geo-targeted advertising.

What’s really been evolving rapidly is HopStop’s utility as a mobile service. Over the past two years, HopStop has launched an iPhone app, a WAP site, and advanced test messaging capabilities (Desk-to-to-SMS, and SMS-to-SMS). The company has recently recruited Scott Margolis, the former Director of Mobile for FoxNews.com and FoxBusiness.com, to head-up it’s mobile initiatives.

While desktop directions still account for the majority of usage, smart phone usage is growing at a much faster rate. HopStop now has plans to develop mobile apps for Android, Nokia/Symbian and Blackberry.

In terms of ad revenues, the site provides free listings to local merchants, using a home-grown database as well as one populated by CitySearch. Most of HopStop’s revenue, however, comes from national advertisers, including Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, CitiBank, CapitalOne, Duane Reade, CVS, Monster, CareerBuilder, Delta, JetBlue and The New York Times.

These advertisers typically utilize a mixture of display and text ads, which HopStop’s geo ad-server targets down to a street address level. “It is all about hyperlocal” for such advertisers, says Meyer.

Although HopStop asserts rapid growth, Meyer is upfront about the challenge posed by Google Transit (which is tightly integrated into Google Maps). In his mind, Google Transit is an overly rigid solution. For instance, it only accepts data from transit agencies that conform to its specifications. Conversely, HopStop takes more of an open approach, he says. It accepts scheduling and routing data in every format, giving users many more routing options, as well as more accurate directions.

“It’s a double-edged sword having Google as your primary competitor” says Meyer. He adds that Google’s entrance into local transit navigation validates the need for direction searches, and their commercial viability.

Parking Data Ventures Teams with 6 Parking Cos

The next big vertical is…parking? Parking Data Ventures has been created to tackle all things parking. The five person, Baltimore-based service has created a database of 10,000 parking locations. It has partnered with six of the largest parking lot companies in the U.S. and Canada, and has info for 15+ other leading parking companies. It competes with Urban Mapping Inc., which has created its own parking garage network.

Parking Data Venture’s database is broken down into numerous useful categories, including address, entry points, hours of operation, accepted forms of payment, height restrictions, pricing schedules and amenities provided (i.e. my airport garage offers a car wash, coffee and free copies of USA Today).

Formerly known as Mobile Parking, the service is available on the Web and is also enabled for location-based services such as mobile and GPS apps. It is also looking to expand with promotional services, including coupons and loyalty programs, reservations and even real time payment.

One kind of transactional service it performs today is prepaid event parking. For instance, it has handled pre-paid parking for the Baltimore Ravens for the past three seasons. Consumers order online, pre-pay, and print their parking passes at home. The company has also been working with regional transit authorities, search engines and others.

Founder Jason Boseck, a former finance trader, tells us that the parking business is basically divided into “event,” “airport” and “transient/city” parking. The potential of the business “goes beyond location,” he says. “Utilitarian content is increasingly worth more than distribution.” Indeed, in a way, parking might be seen as a vertical that ties in with other verticals, such as transit, traffic and events.

One fundamental key to online parking success is to source the content correctly. Many existing data providers don’t think about it and will list a parking garage’s leasing office as the address and entry point, says Boseck.

Boseck launched the company in 2002, but ultimately decided he was too much on the bleeding edge. The assumption was that onboard navigation was going to be hot four years ago, he says. “But it is just now coming online.”

The parking lot owners are also just getting interested in online as well. “They are (generally) real estate owners and operators,” he says. “They are now realizing the opportunity that exists via local mobile search.”

New CEO at HopStop Pushes for Fast Growth

HopStop, which provides public transit routing and schedules, plus walking directions, has brought in new leadership and expects to pursue rapid growth to 200 cities. It is currently in seven markets (or eight, if you count Long Island as a separate market).

New CEO Joe Meyer, a former Quigo and eBay executive, was brought in by HopStop’s investors, which include top leaders from Quigo, a contextual search engine sold to AOL in late 2007 for $340 Million. The former Quigo execs and others came in during a funding round one year ago.The previous CEO, founder Chinedu Echeruo, is starting an African hedge fund.

Meyer notes that the service has grown year-over-year since its launch in 2005, and is “dangerously close” to profitability via several revenue streams, including contextual text ads, and direct and indirect sales of display ads. People using mass transit are good targets for “going out” services, such as personals or event ads, he says.

The service is also making increasing revenues by licensing its API. For instance, Duane Reade drug stores uses its API in the Northeast.

For a user, HopStop has been a mixed bag. Its execution has been spotty as well, as transit routing information hasn’t always been reconciled. The site has seemed unmaintained for months at a time. There have been startup issues, generally, in working with transit authorities, some of which were initially resistant to a third party site.

But Meyer says the site is over any hiccups it may have had, and currently providing excellent quality service; it has a clean new redesign; and that the brand recognition for local users in New York and other places is strong enough that people have even begun to say they’ll “HopStop” it when they are seeking transit directions (i.e. to “Google” it or “Mapquest” it).

Meyer says the service also competes well with Google Transit, which has more cities but less depth, says Meyer. And it is very focused on B2C, while other services, such as Urban Mapping, are more oriented on B2B, he says.

“It is a very utilitarian service that gets users from ‘point a’ to ‘point b’ via walking and mass transit directions, he says. “We’re very unique in what we do. We’re aggregating together a seamless user experience.”

While HopStop does well as a destination site, Meyer says it also is very complementary to local media partners. Companies such as CitySearch, Yelp, OpenTable, Yellowpages.com and Fandango would be natural partners, along with newspaper sites such as The New York Daily News and The New York Times. The site currently works with The New York Post, The Village Voice, Intuit’s Boorah and others. “We’re national in scope and local in nature,” he says.

Looking forward, Meyer has set a course for a very aggressive growth plan. The site is currently in New York (and Long Island), Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, London and Paris. In August, it launches in Philadelphia; In September, it launches in Los Angeles; and in October, it launches in Atlanta. “We’ll have over 200 cities” when the build out is finished, he says.

The key to launching in a new city is not whether they are primarily mass transit-oriented, Meyer adds. It is whether a lot of people use mass transit. Car-obsessed Los Angeles is actually a “Top 5” mass transit city, he points out. Atlanta is in the top 10. The site also provides intra-city information for Amtrak and various bus lines. “We put people in the seat of mass transit,” he says.

Mobile also plays a major role in HopStop’s development. “We are continually improving and enhancing the user experience,” says Meyer. “We’re the perfect mobile app.” Platforms include iPhones, a WAP site and SMS. Also in development is a Blackberry app.

Urban Mapping Seeks ‘Incremental Page Views’ to Neighborhood Maps

As noted in the above post, Urban Mapping continues to build out its neighborhoods and compete to license its neighborhood mapping API. It has 80,000 neighborhood maps developed. But it is also focusing on providing additional value with several features that add incremental page views, says CEO and founder Ian White.

Relatively new endeavors for the company include a “mass transit routing engine” (like HopStop) and now, a new service providing complete information about parking garages, such as the number of parking spaces, prices, street entrances, valet availability, indoor/outdoor status, etc.

“It is very challenging to do – there are 60 attributes for each parking lot,” says White. But it allows us to get the incremental page views. To date, Urban Mapping has put in the shoe leather to get information about 5,000 parking lots in ten metros. “There are no real short cuts” to getting the information.

While the uses of parking information may be relatively limited, White says it is also extremely targeted. It is easy to discern from parking garage lookups exactly what users are doing (i.e. whether they’re seeing the Knicks or the ballet, or going to a restaurant). “That makes it ripe to send out offers,” he says.

Most importantly, the service also helps to simplify things. Finding a garage next to a major event is a major source of consumer aggrevation. “One of the equations in local search is how to make it a lot simpler” says White. The company is currently working with a partner that might allow people to reserve garage spots. Other services will be added soon.

Maponics Adds Zip Code Data to Neighborhood Info

Maponics, a provider of polygonal neighborhood boundary data based on both GIS and sociological data, is launching a suite of services that match the data with zip codes.

The Norwich,VT-based company, which has around 30 staffers, says it is now tracking 66,000 neighborhoods in the U.S. and Canada. Customers for Maponics data include Google, Trulia, InfoUSA, YellowBook USA, DexKnows and others.

The service has also begun tracking neighborhood data in the European Union, a new effort where it has 4,000 neighborhoods tracked in 40 cites. VP of Sales and Marketing Mark Friend (the former Go2 and Vicinity Exec) says the EU number should be up to 10,000 by year end.

Friend adds that the neighborhood data business is developing quickly. Indeed, a lot has changed a lot since the company began in 2001 as a mapping service bureau for marketers. Even recently, the company’s primary customers were largely marketers. Pizza companies like Dominos and Papa Johns, for instance, use the info to target customers and determine store performance.

One direction that is clear is that neighborhood boundary data (don’t call them “maps”) lends itself to product verticals. “We spend a lot of time classifying a neighborhood based on its type of use,” he says. “Is it a condo complex? Is it a resort?” In real estate, a neighborhood boundary might involve thousands of dollars of valuation.

All of Maponics neighborhoods have contextually relevant schema around them,” adds Friend. “It is high quality polygonal data.”

At this point, Maponics primary competitor is Urban Mapping Inc., which provides data on 80,000 neighborhoods. Urban Mapping CEO Ian White says the company will be announcing a slate of new customers soon, and is focusing on a variety of projects to grab incremental page views. There have also been some home-grown efforts, including The LA Times’ mapping project.

Relocating? New Service Finds Similar Neighborhoods

Neighborhood-level intelligence isn’t always easy to find, for residents, travelers or resettlers. We have neighborhood boundaries, courtesy of the sociologists and mapmakers at Urban Mapping. But other information can be scant.

Now we have another view from the real estate brain-trust of Niki Scevak’s Homethinking, which rolls out a service today that lets users compare neighborhoods in cities. An art gallery lover in Soho, for instance, might find the 7th street corridor in Washington D.C. to be their place. Gramercy Park is considered a match for Nob Hill in San Francisco.

The overall similarity between each pair of neighborhoods is ranked on a 0-100 basis based on “people,” “activities,” “arts/culture” and “vibe.” Every search is nicely illustrated with landmark photos, and can be accompanied by local ads – hence the smart real estate connection.

Scevak, a former analyst with Jupiter Communications, says “the matches are initially calculated using demographic data collected from the US census and other public sources. The reviews of consumers and real estate agents then refine the scores further over time.”

At this point, the service, like any data-driven service, is pretty much by the book, and it can be controversial — sort of Zillow’s Z-estimates and its initial overpricing and underpricing of homes. The artsy, Latin-infused neighborhood of Echo Park in downtown LA, for instance, is not the equivalent of the depressing, ghetto-y neighborhood of Stadium Armory in DC.

But the concept is a great one, and the service already gets the basics right. I wish I had a perfected version of this service six years ago, so that I would have known that beachy, informal and beatniky “Leucadia” was a better match for me than resort-like “La Costa” next door (although perhaps I have grown into resort-living by now).