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

Maponics to Release Database of School Attendance Zone Boundaries

May 17th, 2010 by MDob

I had a conversation last week with Mark Friend, whose acquaintance I made quite some time ago when he was working for Vicinity Corporation (acquired by Microsoft). Later Mark and I were both employed at go2 Systems, an early entrant into the mobile LBS market. Mark was an executive in sales and I was the CTO and EVP of engineering for the company. I had lost track of Mark until he called me recently, telling me he was onboard at Maponics.

Maponics, with a staff of approximately 30 (up from 12 two-years ago) and sales divulged at “less than $10 million” is known as a provider of polygon data identifying neighborhoods. The neighborhood data created by Maponics are used by Google (search filtering – not mapping), Trulia, ReMax, Redfin, eNeighborhoods. infoUSA, Citysearch, Yellowbook, DexKnows, NAVTEQ, Twitter and others.

The neighborhood data is comprised of non-overlapping boundaries complimented by neighborhood “use type” (e.g. retirement community, commercial, industrial, subdivision, etc). While the neighborhood boundary business is an interesting one, Mark had called to introduce me to a new product that shows what an inventive, small business can do to open new markets.

Maponics’s new product is a spatial database containing school attendance zone boundaries. These are the areas around public schools that define the households that attend them. In addition to locally sourced public school attendance zone (SAZ) boundaries for covered metro areas, the product dataset includes nationwide coverage of school district boundaries, as well as private and public school locations and profiles. (Private school attendance zones are widespread, not nested within formal school district boundaries and discontinuous due to the elective nature of their attendance. Consequently, Maponics will provide the location of private schools, but not a representation of their attendance zones.

The first product release of the data will include granular school attendance zone-level coverage for over 20 percent of the K-12 U.S. student population and 100 percent at the school district level. Maponics is poised for significant expansion of its attendance zone coverage over the next several months, with at least 20 percent increases in student population coverage per quarter.

Maponics believes that its School Attendance Zone Boundaries dataset will become a “must have” in the real estate market, since the dataset allows parents thinking about relocating to determine which schools serve the areas surrounding houses they are considering for purchase. In addition, these data should be of interest to direct marketers who could use the database to target households by school attendance zone boundaries.

While the U.S. Census Bureau provides a School District Review Program that includes mapping, it is restricted to the “school district” and does not provide the granularity of the school-oriented attendance zone boundary data provided by Maponics. For this reason the company to believe that the SAZ data might be of use to government analysts and policy makers. In addition, Maponics speculates that there may be some play for these data in social networking applications. It is possible that the SAZ may represent a spatial representation of a “neighborhood” that is familiar to kids attending a specific school, while more commonly used definitions of neighborhood may not be on their mental map.

The procedures that Maponics uses to identify the school zones are laborious and involve significant manual work that, at present, may be the only way to capture SAZ information. The company uses “rooftop” geocoding to determine the location of the schools and works with contacts at individual school districts to determine the “attendance” boundaries of the schools included in the districts.

Mark told me that the source data are typified by a substantial change rate. My translation is that the tasks of capturing and maintaining the data are an ongoing and expensive obligation for the company and probably the reason behind the staged release of the product.

The initial release will cover 20% of the U.S. school aged population with additional 20% increments being added each quarter until the database is completed in early 2011. Mark noted that the company believes that the coverage of the databases will plateau between 90 and 95% due to the improbability of capturing all SAZ data everywhere or gaining the cooperation of all school districts. I queried Mark about the potential use of UGC for this effort and he indicated that it was something they were exploring, but had not yet concluded that it would be more effective than their current place-based data collection.

It is my thought that initially, not all school districts may want to cooperate with Maponics and this situation may provoke difficulties in reaching the saturation coverage required to make the product useful. However, if the introductory database is welcomed by the market (especially by policy makers and those in real estate), then school districts may proactively want their schools represented in the Maponics database.

I am sure that many of you reading about Maponics’ efforts in this area, must be scratching your head and thinking, “That’s a tough and expensive way to make money.” I agree. The one truism I have learned in my years of working with geographic data is that few customers understand or appreciate the value of spatial data or the cost to create a spatial database that is comprehensive, current and accurate. Fewer still understand the cost to maintain these data over time. Whether the future is good to Maponics will depend on whether or not the markets find value in leveraging the School Attendance Zone database into their applications.

My forecast is that the SAZ data from Maponics will be viewed as an attractive product by realtors and professionals involved in local marketing. Marrying the SAZ data with demographic information by census tract could help to create a compelling product (as well as one that would be fun to model).

I was somewhat concerned that the company was releasing a partial database as its initial entry into the market, even though it is their stated goal to complete the database within the next year. Perhaps their practical approach will win out. After all, who else is producing this data at this level of granularity?” Alternatively, should that question be, “Who else will be intent on producing this type of data once they see the Maponics press release?”

The SAZ database is being developed in a strategic partnership with GreatSchools http://www.greatschools.org/ : whose Great Schools ID will be included in the product. The companies will be making a further announcement regarding the full extent of the relationship within the next month.

Some portions of the material above were garnered during my discussion with Mark Friend, while other information was taken from the Maponics press release on the topic, which you can find here.

Four blogs in the last four days, phew. I need a rest. So do you. Take the rest of the week off. Tell your boss I suggested it.

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Posted in Data Sources, Geotargeting, map compilation, Maponics, Mapping, Mike Dobson, place based advertising

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