The Great Open Database of Place Pages in the Sky

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:

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