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

Beneficiaries of UGC in Map and Location Updating

March 2nd, 2008 by MDob

Last time we were examining the potential beneficiaries of UCG. Now, let’s take a brief look at the categories of participants and how they might benefit from UGC. Also, while doing so, why not take a crack at prognosticating the winners and losers?

So, take a quick peek at the original chart (downloadable here)

If you have reviewed the chart, you will notice that the businesses pursuing UGC fall into a mix of companies whose databases have been impacted due to the massive exposure that Internet mapping and Local search have placed on these company’s products and services. I will speak to this topic in detail during my presentation at GPS-Wireless meeting next month, but here only want to point out that the success of Local Search and routing in attracting users has illuminated the shortcomings of the data sources that support these activities.

Data errors impact users in the form of unsuccessful searches or incorrect maps and routes. In turn, it is for this reason that the user may be the best source of edits and updates to correct the errors or other limitations in these diverse data sets. So, UGC is popular not just because it is trendy and Web 2.0, but because it can provide data that seems to have eluded the major suppliers. In addition, one of the strategies behind service suppliers collecting the same data provided by their suppliers is to allow them to correct their products faster than they can by relying on data updates from the service providers.

Our picks for the greatest successes in map and location related UGC are provided in this chart –

UGC Beneficiaries

A larger version in PDF is downloadable here.

The chart uses the same categories as the previous illustration. In the new chart, I indicate whether the company has a consumer facing brand and the types of information they collect. Finally, I have included a column titled Best of Breed that indicates my choices for the likely winners by category. I’d like to focus (briefly) on two of those categories today and the remainder next time.

Business Listings Data Providers and Secondary Collectors

We consider infoUSA, Amacai, Acxiom and other to be Providers and companies in the IYP and Local Search categories to be Secondary Collectors. Members of the Providers category scrape and collect data from variety of sources, but usually not from end-users of their data, although they do include business owner requests for changes upon verification.

The Secondary Collectors are opportunistic (collecting business listings data is not their main business), relying on their website visitors (end-users) to update listings that are thought to be incorrect in order to improve the accuracy of results and, in the process, improve geotargeting for their advertising systems. Google allows end-users to correct address locations and others are deploying similar functionality. Most, also allow both users and business owners to contribute contact information about businesses and their location.

The IYP group only loosely fits into our categorization since their sales networks generate some portion of their listing database, but usually only on a regional basis. Most of the IYP companies use data from the Providers to supplement their own listings. Also, some members of this group also supply their data to Local Search providers, usually under some form of revenue-sharing agreement. Although many IYP companies utilize some form of UGC, most of this is related to providing ratings, not location and contact information.

The majority of the players in Business Listings Data Providers and Collectors category, who have implementing UGC to improve business listings, are tied to computer updating and suffer from the limitations of this platform (lack of GPS to determine location and lack of spontaneity in updating (memory decay), etc).

While both the Providers and Collectors of business data prefer that business owners update their business listings (e.g. by claiming them online), they may also use customers as a surrogate, allowing them to contribute location information about businesses. Although the use of “customer” input can be risky in the faceless Internet, the companies using this information apparently believe that the applications of principles and structures of “social networking” combined with other heuristics can be used to harmonize the results. The UGC input of interest to these groups is focused on correcting business listing information, especially the correction of addresses and geocoding errors (e.g. Week Old Bouquets is at 16 Flower Ave, not 6 Flower Ave and the correct position of 16 Flower Avenue is this lat/lon).

We think the infoUSA has made the most progress in the Providers group, but none of the players in this class have really mounted a substantial UCG effort, due to the reality that their end-users often do not know they are using data from any of these companies. Today, companies in this category offer business owners the ability to change their data, but all data changes are verified by phone calls. Also, finding the form to change data is not prominently featured on any of the website for these companies. It is unlikely that the Providers group will ever be major beneficiaries or users of UGC. (While we are at it, some of these companies do update residential addresses, but these data are not used in Local Search – the area of our focus – for this reason we did not include this information our chart.)

Idearc (formerly Verizon) leads the IYP group in UGC, especially for ratings and recommendations, even going so far as to provide tag clouds to show current searches. However, they are doing little in the way of using UGC in User Assisted Map Updating (UAMU) and business listing augmentation.

Certainly Google is the poster child for the use of UGC for Online Local Search. While Yahoo and Microsoft have outplayed it with the adoption of social networking tools in their Local Search sites, Google has trumped them in collecting information on business listings from both end-users and business owners. Also, Google’s ascendant role in mapping has allowed them to collect map-related data corrections from their users in volumes simply not possible for the traffic constrained efforts of Yahoo and Microsoft in Local Search,

Map Data Providers

The UGC-related data collected by the mappers using UAMU will span the range of inputs that we discussed in our recent blogs and should be the most comprehensive collected by any of these groups. This is also the group that will adapt both active and passive UGC to create products, since their data will be in cars and phones, two of the primary devices for probe-related updating.

Lacking a customer facing brand, map data providers would be tied to computers and the Internet as an updating platform (see their sites). This is, in part, why the TomTom and Nokia deals for map makers make sense.

TomTom’s innovative “MapShare” technology seems to tilt the playing field in its favor, at least for a while. The real question is how successful Nokia can be in distributing a UAMU application across wireless networks that it supplies, but does not own. I think that TeleAtlas could benefit more from its relationship with PND maven TomTom than Navteq will benefit from its relationship with Nokia, due the potentially limited scope of error correction that users will undertake when phones are the input device. (If you sense that I am not telling you “everything” here, you are right – but this blog is already long enough!)

Some may wonder about my inclusion of Open Street Map in this category. I’ll admit it, I am not sure what to make of this effort. There is a building brand in the name “Open Street Map” and their cadre of volunteer users is equipped with GPS devices. On foot, riding bicycles and in-cars they are trying to accomplish what Navteq and TeleAtlas do with technologically sophisticated mobile platforms equipped with IMUs and Lidar. Maybe they will get somewhere – but today I am not sure where that will be.

We will talk about winners in the remaining categories (Online Mapping, Telecommunication, and PND’s) next time. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or disagree with my conclusions. After we wrap this up, I’d like to write about new entrants to the navigation map database market – are they pretenders or players?

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Posted in Google, Local Search, map updating, Mapping, Navteq, Nokia, Personal Navigation, TeleAtlas, TomTom, User Generated Content

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