Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Navigation, Pedestrians, Landmarks and Local Search (Conclusion)

August 4th, 2009 by MDob

In my last blog about a hypothetical application I call the “Google Localizer” I mentioned that the concept seemed to have extensions into local search, particularly in the form of a business finder. Let’s start there.

Google’s Street View should be providing Google with significant amounts of meta-information on the buildings that they photograph. Of greatest interest, to me, is the data in Street View that can be used to provide information on the location of shops and the nature of the commerce that these shops conduct. For example while creating a section for my travel website ThereArePlaces (now more than a hobby) on shopping in Rome.

I used Google Street View to help me inventory the location of important stores in Rome by street name. In the popular shopping area between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo, I “drove” Street View down the streets, interrogating the images on the right and left, while recording (selectively) specific shops. In several locations I found trendy designer boutiques, with which I was previously unfamiliar. In many scenes, I could see in the shop’s window and browse the selection of merchandise available. As a result of this effort, I had the shop name, approximate addresses and other information that could be used as a key to a further Internet search for more details.

Just think what Google must be able to process about the images that it takes with Street View. In some sense, it has a current inventory of buildings from which it can extract information leading to the identification of current businesses, perhaps even something about the type of product or service, as well its location, lanes in the street, street signs, parking signs, drivability, pedestrian only status, road furniture (see, I can speak GDF), GPS coordinates, cell tower strength and Wi-Fi strength. Automated processing and selective fusing of the Street View ensemble of data would seem to lead to several opportunities currently unavailable to other providers of business listings and possibly opportunities unavailable to other providers of navigation map databases.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I have fallen off the beam on this one, I do not believe that Street View will be a replacement for the standard techniques of creating business listings, but it could be an other arrow in the quiver of company that seems intent on building definitive business listing databases to support AdWords, its voracious, big-time revenue generating, advertising engine. In addition, it could be a good way to find those businesses whose owners for some mysterious reason do not update their business profiles online.

Oh, does that also mean that Street View might be just the tool to develop business listings in developing countries? Hmmm, a new market driven by mobile commerce, due to the lack of a wired infrastructure? Put another way, if you were looking for an innovative way to make Google AdWords relevant in developing countries, Street View might be a good way to start. If you remember my blogs about Google Map Maker and its use in developing countries, you might want to think about Google using these maps to plan the paths that Street View would follow. I guess in some ways, it is the inverse of the robot telling the probe what to photograph to allow the robot to determine its path through the maze.

I am sure all of you can think of other uses for Street View in local search, but the utility of this information might be conditioned on the currentness of the Street View photography. While Street View is a relatively recent phenomenon, its data will age just as any other spatial data. Shops will go in and out of business, but when they go out of business the signs usually stay up and an and image based approach to inventorying businesses has a number of limitations (just ask Amazon after its A9 Block View fiasco).

On the other hand, Google’s Localizer collects numerous other position indicators (GPS, cell tower strength, Wi-Fi base location, etc) that enhance the benefits of the system. Precisely because it collects these other localization components, which are likely to be less perishable than the photographic component, Google might be able to use other photo sources on the Web to update the business meta-data it gleans from Street View. Maybe it could even use the photos taken by people who are using its location service to help them find a path to their destination to help Google update its location database.

So, enough about foot-driven navigation – even though I did not mention how Street View is a likely environment for place-based advertsing (see, I can exercise restraint – sometimes). Next time I will turn to some new interests and hope you will be along for the ride.

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Posted in Google, Local Search, local search advertising, pedestrian navigation, Personal Navigation, place based advertising

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