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

Comments on Mapping and Local at the ILM Wrap-up Session

December 5th, 2007 by MDob

During one of the breaks in the action at ILM I found myself musing about the pervasive role of geography in Local Media. When you attend a conference and the majority of the keynote speakers mention maps, zip codes, neighborhood mapping and other spatial endeavors you know that geography has turned a corner.

However, geography is one of the major underpinnings of local search and a more thorough understanding of the role of geography was not in evidence at the conference. For example, until the final session, there was little discussion of the potential impact of the proposed acquisitions of TeleAtlas and Navteq, companies that provide the data for all local search related mapping applications. And it was raised then, only because Matt Booth and Peter Krasilovsky graciously asked me to join the speakers for a final session aimed at wrapping up the conference. I was asked to join the session because Matt and Peter understood the potential importance of the acquisitions and thought that I would have a focused point of view on the issues.

When given my opportunity I discussed the implications of the acquisitions and shared with the audience my opinion that they were a “big deal”, since these companies do not have competitors today and it is implausible that anyone could catch them in less the three to five years. Event that time-frame presumes that someone with deep pockets would be willing to engage the challenge.

I shared that Navteq will spend approximately $336 million this year updating their navigation database and suggested that anyone who thought they could create a competing database using UGC did not understand the scope of the challenge. I think I stunned some members of the audience when I told them that the smallest portions of both Navteq and TeleAtlas revenues come from a category called Other – the category that includes revenues from Internet mapping (online local search is included here) and Location Based Services over cellular networks.

Over the course of the next few minutes I had the opportunity to speak about a variety of topics, thanks to interesting questions from the moderators and the audience. Among the observations that I made were these –

Although the conference speakers mentioned User Generated Content, I thought that they had missed understanding the pervasive influence that online social networking would have on local search and local media in the future. As you know, I believe that the tools, constructs and strategies of online social networking will create a sea-level change in local search applications and I mentioned several ways I thought this will happen. (By the way, this week I wrote a short note on Open Social and how it links to local search. Hopefully I will get a chance to share my ideas with you in a future blog).

I also commented on how curious it was the most of the speakers realized the impact of geography on local, but seemed not to appreciate that spatial analysis should be part of the tool set that they use to analyze data and wring more dollars out of their applications.
For instance, the success of video ads on cable is due to their ability to micro-target geographic advertising areas over their cable network, something that cannot be done over standard broadcast TV or print publishing. However, it did not seem that anyone was using spatial metrics to rate and rank preferred micro-markets by product or service type.

As another example, I discussed the use of Folksonomies (user-generated categorization of search terms) by Amazon and others. I concluded that if the local search and IYP companies started using Folksonomies and, then, applied spatial-yield management techniques to analyze the trends, they would begin to understand to how to wring every last advertising dollar out of the local search market.

Finally, a comment was made about UGC and business listings. Everyone else seemed to think (and they may be right) that by developing business listing services for merchants that companies like Google and Intuit (yep, Intuit is interested in cultivating the small business market in areas other than taxes and accounting) was going to solve the problem of inaccurate business listings. Gosh, was there a better way to get me started? I am sure that there is a lot of expertise out there, but I was part of a team that built such a system in 2001 and am quite familiar with the depth of this challenge. I don’t expect the small business owner to react with a smile when she learns that she needs to register her business with the 100 companies who are attempting to establish themselves as the authorities for these business listings registries. Also, I doubt that anyone has thought deeply about how to keep these registries up-to-date. While the business owner may tell you when and where they are starting their business, they probably will not tell you when the ceased business. And how will those listings get corrected. Oh…UGC of course. And how will UGC be able to correct listings for businesses that do not have a…..storefront? Enough already!

Going to a conference like ILM is daunting. You find out that there are so many smart people out there who have the nerve and bravado to change the world. It was a pleasure to hear them speak, whether they were on stage or someone you encountered during a break. The Kelsey Group is to be congratulated for putting together a great conference.

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Posted in ILM: 07, Kelsey Conferences, local media, Local Search, Mapping, Navteq, Nokia, Personal Navigation, TeleAtlas

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