I love a list as much as the next guy but give me a detailed map and I can be engrossed for hours. That’s why start-up CityMaps is so exciting to me. The New York-based company has built an incredibly detailed online map of New York City, down to the block level showing every restaurant, parking lot, business and hotel. Now, it’s starting to go big time with the introduction of an iOS app, an update to its website and an expansion to San Francisco and Austin.
The updated website features a cleaner design with tips and images pulled in from Foursquare, local daily deals from Groupon, Living Social and others, timely tweets from businesses and Facebook integration for sharing, all available through a highly interactive map. It looks more like a living map with blinking dollar signs for deals and Twitter icons for tweets from businesses. Users can filter by vertical including restaurants, bars, hotels, entertainment and shopping and there’s an OpenTable tool for making a reservation for nearby restaurants. Users can jump around to any neighborhood they want to, with the data updated with each move.
Everything is clickable and there’s a lot of data available on each place. So clicking on a movie theater will reveal showtimes or a looking at a parking garage shows the rates. Users can also conduct searches a la Google Maps if they have something specific in mind.
Elliot Cohen, the co-founder and CEO came up with the idea a few years ago while working at a real estate company. He also had a background in urban planning and saw a need for a visual map that does more than just navigation. He wanted to provide a birds-eye view of the world, a sort of Wikipedia for maps.
“The trend is for everything to go local, social and mobile and we wanted to create something that brought it all together,” said Cohen. “We see this as a virtual representation of the city.”
The move to mobile is key and makes the service extremely useful for users on the go. It gives people a way to really understand what’s around them and just beyond the corner. Google Maps, Yelp, Foursquare and other services also provide some of this capability but not with the same level of specificity and visual rendering. Being able to see live tweets from a restaurant allows a users to know what’s going on at a place without having to visit or follow a specific establishment on Twitter. That could be an important way for businesses to bring in customers via deals or to update people on what’s happening, similar to what an old blackboard outside a shop used to do.
Aaron Rudenstine, the president and co-founder of CityMaps said surveys of consumers found that half of people prefer to see things visually, rather than as items listed on a map. The goal is to continue in that vein and keep surfacing more data accessible through a map. For instance, CityMaps is looking at taking tweets from food cards and trucks and plotting them on the map. It’s also looking at incorporating Google Street Views into the service.
Cohen declines to say how the company builds up its data block by block. Generally it’s a combination of algorithms with some level of human scrubbing involved. The plan is to get 25 to 30 cities online by the end of this year. He said there are a number of ways to make money including using very local, targeted ad placement for business owners or a possible white label solution for companies that want to license the technology. There might be other opportunities for brands to use CityMaps for marketing campaigns.
The company has raised $3.5 million to date from angels including $2.5 million closed in January. It’s got 15 employees working out of two renovated apartments on the upper east side.
I like what CityMaps is doing and think that I’m not the only one who likes to experience the world through very visual maps. I think CityMaps could eventually be very attractive as an acquisition target for a lot of companies looking to bolster their local search, discovery and commerce efforts. Not everyone needs to see the world in this way. Search engines and local services can serve a lot of people now through their current tools. But I think there’s a lot of value in plotting everything on an interactive map that is live, social and mobile.