It’s no secret that everyone wants a piece of the location pie, from check-in game king Foursquare and the recently launched Facebook Places to Yelp and Google’s Place Pages. But Grant Ritchie, founder of location-database startup Locationary, says the dirty little secret of virtually all location-based services is that much of their information is incorrect, based on outdated or inaccurate data — and none of the services talk to each other. Locationary is trying to crowdsource a clean and verified database that links all of the major services, and it’s using game mechanics to do so.
Most of the location data that services like Google and Yelp and CitySearch use, Ritchie says, come from several services — Axiom, Localeze and InfoUSA being the three main ones — that originally compiled the information using hundreds of different regional Yellow Pages directories (Gowalla is one of the few that relies only on information from users). In addition to the errors that have been introduced over the years, the Locationary founder says one of the big problems with such databases is what happens when a business closes. If a business simply moves, the proprietor has an obvious incentive to update his info with Google or Yelp, but if the business just shuts down, there’s often no one to update the information.
Locationary creates an incentive for users to update listings with correct information in two ways: They can earn “shares” in a location, which gives them a potential share in any revenue that listing might pay to the company, and they also get credits (called “tickets”), which make them eligible to win prizes. Since the prize pool is limited, Ritchie says, “it creates an incentive within the community for users who provide good data to let us know about those who don’t.” The company also rewards users for going on “missions,” such as checking the details about a location, taking photos, etc.
On top of information accuracy, part of the problem with location services is that Google and Yelp and Foursquare all use their own unique ID for locations, some based on latitude and longitude, others based on an internal structure or numbering system. In addition to updating inaccurate information, Locationary also pays users to connect each location to all the different services, so that a single entry is connected to Yelp, CitySearch, Google, Foursquare and so on. “It’s easy to keep your information synchronized,” the CEO says. “We’re trying to glue the whole system together.”
The idea is that these services — which presumably want clean location data — could simply ping Locationary for updated and corrected info, for which the company will charge them a fee, and that businesses would value the ability to connect themselves to multiple location databases with a single entry. Ritchie says he is in talks with most of the major location services, but doesn’t have any deals yet. The company has an index of 22 million places in over 100 countries and sees between 100,000 and 250,000 updates to the database every day, he says. Locationary has been seed-funded by a group led by Extreme Venture Partners, a venture firm based in Toronto.
Locationary isn’t the only one trying to help clean up the location info out there: Placecast, which also does location-based marketing, said recently that it estimates up to 40 percent of the location data companies use is incorrect. The company offers something it calls the Match API, which services can use to detect duplicates and errors in their location databases. But it isn’t trying to create its own central database of location, or automate links between existing info from all the major service providers, the way Locationary is. Embedded below is a short video interview I did with Ritchie recently in Toronto:
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