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Summary:

Every web portal would love to be the dominant and trusted provider of information about local businesses. What are the chances of an open collaborative database for places? According to industry experts, such a database is a long way off.

Every web portal would love to be the dominant and trusted provider of information about local businesses. But what are chances of an open collaborative database for places?

All businesses have a physical location of some sort, but there’s no clear and open way to publish those locations on the web. Some service providers just barely have a web presence to begin with. Others, like popular coffee shops, are active recipients of check-ins on Gowalla, Foursquare, Loopt, MyTown and similar services on a daily basis, with no central aggregation of that valuable user data. Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft, Yelp and now Facebook offer retail stores decals that link their storefronts to their pages on each service. As an indication of where these web portals want to go, Google recently renamed its Local Business Center to Google Places. And the venerable Citysearch recently changed its strategy to become a sort of local business API, providing information and reviews to developers through an offering it calls CityGrid.

But an open location database is a ways off, was the consensus at a Web 2.0 panel yesterday. While Martin May from Brightkite championed the idea of a single open database for places, including not only landmarks but current business information, Google’s mobile geo product manager Steve Lee said it was unrealistic. Per VentureBeat’s writeup:

“Google licenses a lot of its data from third-party providers, and we can’t give that data out for free,” Lee said. “It’s really difficult to figure out a win-win situation for all of the companies involved. What may be great for one company’s strategy may not work at all for someone else.”

Problematically, web portals may not be willing to give up the control local businesses will surely want — determining what information they want to provide associated with their location, designing a layout to suit their personality, helping them pull out their data so it can be combined with that from other services and soliciting a lasting relationship with their geo-located customers.

At our recent GigaOM Pro Bunker Series session on location, Michael Liebhold of the Institute for the Future proposed that every place page be written in HTML 5, have an independent URI and freedom of layout.

At the same event, Geodelic CEO Rahul Sonnad predicted that within the next few years, every business will realize it needs to have a place page, just as how in the past decade or so, nearly every business came to realize the value of a web page.

Geodelic in fact provides such pages — a custom mobile experience that loads on a user’s phone when they are physically in a participating business’ actual location. So rather than being a recruiting mechanism by telling you a store is nearby, these geo-sites would give you information for finding inventory within the store you’re already in, connecting you to the business on Facebook, seeing relevant tweets and getting deals. Accessibility is going to be key for these micro-sites — you should be able to access them from any phone. Sonnad predicted that the expected transition from native mobile apps to HTML 5 web apps over the next couple years should kick off an era of geo-targeted sites.

Here’s a video interview we did with Sonnad to elaborate on these topics:

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Location: The Epicenter of Mobile Innovation

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By Liz Gannes

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  1. Grant Ritchie Saturday, May 8, 2010

    Liz, you’ve described Locationary. We’re building the “global DNS for local data” so local businesses get control of their information while search engines and mobile apps get a free way to access the world’s local data, while maximizing the availability of local ads to monetize their applications.

    Prior to Locationary, local businesses had no system to update their information across the Internet. Now, however, local businesses can keep their contact information, hours of operation, products & services, coupons, events, job postings and rich media updated for universal distribution to every website and mobile app.

    Other than the local businesses, this ecosystem has four main participants:

    1) Profile Managers: The PMs are participating websites where local businesses manage their profiles. These PMs could be Google Places, Facebook, or even a community newspaper or a community association. These companies host the profiles and do customer service, helping the local businesses manage their information and buy ads (coupons, click to call, sponsored listings, etc.).

    2) Ad Networks: The Ad Networks could be Google, or Apple iAd, etc.

    3) Data Users / Data Distributors: These companies use local data in their businesses or display local data to users. Examples include SimpleGeo, Foursquare, Cloud Made, Poynt, Google Maps, etc.

    4) Locationary: We keep the data clean and fresh across the system. We now have a global army of users in over 70 countries who keep the details on places in their local neighborhood up-to-date. Our objective is that within 24 hours of a business opening or closing, our database is updated by our users.

    By virtue of our global army, Locationary is the only part of this ecosystem that can collect real-time data on 100% of the places in the system and can know which places are open and valid, and which are not. We collect data from the PMs, clean it, structure it, and distribute it to everyone. We also offer an unique, universal ID number for every physical place so everyone can easily exchange local data and relevant ads.

    This system offers the following benefits:

    • Local businesses get control of their information and manage it through a PM they trust. No matter the size of the PM, the business’ data is distributed as widely as possible to reach every possible customer;

    • Many local businesses owners are not tech-savvy and need a higher level of customer service. PMs can help businesses in their neighborhoods and communities with this process while making money from selling ads and services to these local businesses; and

    • The ads and data are aggregated across all the PMs so Data Users and Data Distributors get the deepest source of ad revenue and the cleanest and freshest data. They maximize how much money they make from their apps, help their users find what they need, and don’t send their users to places that don’t exist.

  2. A project started in Dec. 2009 Called LOCATIONARY is addressing this issue and already has more that 20 million places in it’s data base, and growing daily. here is what the founder Grant has to say.

    Quote:
    Locationary is the new global place directory. We call it The World’s Place Database (TM). If Facebook is the new 21st century White Pages (where every person has a profile page), then Locationary is the new 21st century Yellow Pages where every place has a profile page. We’re going to offer businesses and others a Universal Profile(TM) where they update it here, and we distribute their information to every search engine, mobile device, and website.

    There are two aspects about Locationary that make this project revolutionary:

    • Firstly, our database will be distributed for free. We’ll provide our data in raw, database form and permit everyone to freely use the data even for commercial websites and mobile apps.

    • Secondly, Locationary uses an unique crowd-sourced system to seed the data. In an online gold-rush, our members are financially rewarded for being the first to add a place. Our members also receive valuable benefits for keeping the data current and accurate.

    Locationary was needed because information on local places is scattered across the Internet in different formats within proprietary databases or in paper directories. As a result, search engines and mobile devices cannot easily find information on local places. Businesses spend $31 billion globally to get their businesses listed, and then $20 billion more is spent by Internet companies and marketers to buy this data. There is currently no open system that everyone can use. We’re creating the new open standard for local data: local search websites, mobile application developers, and everyone else will be able to download and use the collected data.

    We will encourage businesses to add detailed information on their products and services, promotions / coupons, events, and job postings. Homeowners and landlords will be able to add their real estate and rental listings. Every place in the world will have a profile page that can be enhanced with as much data as the owner desires. Locationary is business friendly too; place owners who have claimed their listings will maintain full control over their content.

    A central, open system where businesses and others can update their information once for global distribution will result in an explosion of innovative websites and local search applications that will spring up to use the free data. People everywhere will benefit by being able to instantly locate and accurately compare everything in their cities and around the world. We offer a road map to a world where mobile devices know everything that’s going on around you. Become a member of the project that’s changing the world!

    The site is still in private beta but you may join through my
    auto invite link if you like, even if you just want to explore the site and give your opinion. Positive feedback is always welcome

    http://www.locationary.com/web/join.jsp?n=spider36439

    1. Thanks Grant and Mike. I’d love to get in touch.

      1. Hi Liz, I’ve left my email address. Don’t hesitate to be in touch!

  3. I think to be truly open, it has to be uncoupled from the pipe as well. So it can’t rely on Geodelic, but an underlying standard that Geodelic implements.

    After learning the lessons of Facebook, nobody will want to be locked in to one company anymore.

    1. Yes, great point. Perhaps Geodelic can serve the role of pretty and functional place page maker, which could be a good business, at least at the beginning.

  4. Is Geo-Local the Answer to the Local Advertising Quandary? « Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    [...] Everyone from Geodelic to Whrrl to Foursquare is targeting the local advertising market. Each has their own twist. Of course, giants Yelp, Apple and Google are lurking in the background, each hoping to get a piece of $3.8 billion mobile advertising market. (Read: The Great Open Database of Place Pages in The Sky) [...]

  5. Factual Wants to Be Your Place Database in the Cloud: Tech News « Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    [...] coverage in the UK, Japan, Italy, Indonesia and Australia. Many people, myself included, have talked about the need for a great place database in the sky, and that’s what Factual is actually [...]

  6. arlen / ritchie / . / com » Locationary is doing something valuabl Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    [...] of places was something TechCrunch identified in April 2010 and since then many others (like GigaOm) have  agreed. Although the concept of an open place database is not new, it seems to be gaining [...]

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