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

TomTom Counters – But We Focus on User Generated Content

November 7th, 2007 by MDob

Well, the counter-bidding war has started. TomTom has decided to “spit” in Garmin’s eye with €2.9 billion ($4.2. billion), €30 a share bid for TeleAtlas. The bidding price is getting to “nosebleed” levels to acquire a company that has a poor record of profitability.

I am sure that TeleAtlas stockholders feel as if they have died and gone to heaven. Of course the financial market-makers continue to dream and today they bid the TeleAtlas stock price beyond €32, presuming that Garmin would stick to its guns and bid the price higher. I don’t think Garmin needs this deal quite that badly, but we may now be out of the real sanity.

Some analysts think the price will go higher, possibly past €40 per share. I don’t know of that makes sense for anyone who is economically rational. It seems to me that before you get to that price you need to stop and seriously think about building it yourself or to buy data from…Navteq…perhaps while you build it yourself.

Although the financial bidding continues to interest me, I have been spending a lot of time noodling on User Generated content and map updating – as I promised.

Before acquisition frenzy hit I had written a pair on introductory columns on User Generated Content that you can find here and here. If you want to skip reading those for now, the following paragraph is a good lead-in for resuming our conversation.

Let’s think about UGC and map updating from broad, strategic point of view and then progress down to the detail level in future blogs. The first question is “Can User Generated Content increase the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the data in navigation databases?”
The answer is “yes”. But as you know, my “yes” is usually pregnant with a host of implications. In this case, I think you should know my mindset before we proceed to far along the UGC trail. To me, UGC is a much bigger opportunity than most imagine.

While other may argue that there are any number of efficient ways to update map databases, there are simply more casual users than there are or ever will be professional map data researchers. We should expect that local users will find errors in the databases before researchers and might be a fertile source of information of “directional” use in updating and increasing the accuracy of navigation databases.

Next, because the users have local interests and local knowledge, it is likely that they will know of or discover local information that has been missed by or is simply unavailable to the professional (like that great new bistro that open on Forbes this week – or the overpass that dropped during this morning’s earthquake).

We should not think about User Generated Content only as something that could be used to correct data already present in navigation database, but as a method of expanding both the coverage and comprehensiveness of navigation databases. Users of navigation systems have interests far wider than map researchers. As an example, consider their knowledge in terms of points of interest, new business, or closed businesses – that is in finding the types of information that has always been hard to collect due both to the life cycle and uniquely local nature of these types of data. I suppose, now that I have stopped to think about it, that the maps and POI data shown by Navteq and TeleAtlas show their view of the world taken from a daytime snapshot. Those vans and drivers don’t work at night and the data they have may not reflect how your city really works after dark!

Perhaps most important (as well as something that current UGC systems for map updating miss), is James Surowiecki’s concept of the “Wisdom of Crowds”. I’m being liberal with his conclusions here but I think he would be comfortable with this thought: common local knowledge is often superior to the knowledge of specialists. An example would be the use of “local routes”. Most of us scratch our heads at the routes generated by navigation systems. Yes, they work, but all of us have said “…that’s not the way I’d get there”. It is local knowledge about traffic patterns, traffic light timings and route “efficiency” that create these types of differences in the paths that we drive and those that algorithms create based on the data available to them.

So, as an extension to UGC, why not harness this capability by asking the people who actually drive between places to share their knowledge by allowing route tracing (for those who are not put-off by the confidentiality issues that might surround collecting these data)? Or consider the potential benefit of UGC systems for navigational day-parting. I live in Orange County, CA and my routes to a specific location vary by the time of day I am traveling, based on my knowledge of roads, traffic, and what when people seem to go to work and return home.

Finally, since I have very specifically used the term User Generated Content in this discussion, you should not miss my intent. UGC is part of online social networking. Map updating based on UGC should/will include aspects of social networking. If some company does this right, they will differentiate the market in their favor. Yes, instead of having people simply correct errors or suggest new stuff to map, how about letting them rate POIs, routes, scenic roads, etc, to improve the map and make the user part of a community that has allegiance to the data supplier?

Well, it all sounds good so far. Of course using human’s as data sensors comes with a set of significant limitations. Next time let’s drill-down and find out what problems UCG might solve in a reliable manner.

(If you want to get a “leg-up” on this topic and work for a company that is moving in this direction, you should have them buy a copy of my paper published by MindCommerce titled “Local Search Meets Social Search”. In it I cover the importance of social networking to local search – and in the end, that is what navigation systems are evolving towards. For those of you who do not have the moola, I will cover some of the concepts in future blogs.)

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Posted in Garmin, MindCommerce, Navteq, Personal Navigation, TeleAtlas, TomTom, User Generated Content

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