One of the original upstarts in geographic search, deCarta has maneuvered around a mine-field of competitors. Recently, its MapSearch mobile application achieved over 10 million unique users in just four months in a partnership with Opera software. Editor in Chief Joe Francica contacted deCarta’s CEO, Kim Fennell for an update on the company’s prospects.
Joe Francica (JF): deCarta has changed its business model since the days of servicing Yahoo and Google with geographic search technology. Can you tell us about this transition and how you’ve been able to adjust the model to accommodate both the Internet and mobile LBS space?
Kim Fennell (KF): As an LBS platform provider that has powered so many LBS apps across so many markets, we’ve always had a variety of business models. We try to make money in the same model as our partners. So, if it’s a Turn-By-Turn Navigation app we support where monetization is through subscriptions, like FullPower’s MotionX GPS Drive app on the iPhone, we take a slice of that. If it’s monthly per asset fees such as in Enterprise Fleet/MRM, we work in that mode. But in the broader, mobile local search space, we think every mobile phone user, globally, now expects to get maps and local search on their handset – and for free. So, for our partners who want to launch their own branded LBS services while retaining customer and content control, we have a free, advertising supported model for that. We also host it and run it for them around the world – such as with Opera and Samsung.
JF: deCarta has always been a “white label” provider of geographic search. What new features have you had to build into the product to make it more relevant to today’s searches that include social nets and location-based advertising (Groupon, Foursquare, etc.)?
KF: We’ve recently added the ability to post your location directly to Facebook from within our MapSearch application. You can also post a POI information page along with a message to your Facebook Wall. For instance, if you’re going to be at happy hour tonight at 6:00 at a particular restaurant, you can post the restaurant location along with your message to your Wall. When users click on the link, they see the map location, address and phone number, and they can even get directions to that location. Depending on the venue, this might even be combined with a coupon to entice your friends to join you for a drink after work.
We are working on some additional capabilities that can aggregate and link your social graphs to the physical world. These will be rolled out in the next couple of quarters. This is a very exciting part of the market for us and one in which we believe you’ll see some tremendous innovation.
JF: To what can you attribute the growth with Opera? You’ve indicated that some of this is from emerging markets. Can you elaborate?
KF: Opera has been a great partner and has really helped us get this going within their huge user base. To some degree, our current customers reflect the distribution of Opera Mini users. Many of these are in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Russia, where the mobile phone is the primary means of accessing the Internet for many people. However, we are seeing a lot of traffic from North America and Western Europe as well. User engagement – measured in visits per user and page views per visit – is strong around the world.
JF: No one has figured out location-based advertising. There are lots of models and many attempts to integrate with social nets. Where will deCarta fit into this mix and can it be that “white label” provider to the new start-ups attempting to find the latest app for location-based ads?
KF: Location-based advertising is a matter of when, not if. Just look at how many startups are trying to get into this space. As a platform provider with deep geospatial roots, deCarta is well positioned to give these companies the tools they need to be successful at this. We’ve been working on some of the enabling technologies such as geo-fencing, proximity detection, and corridor search for the last 10 years. We also work closely with other major providers, like NAVTEQ, to deliver their location-targeted ad units to the Opera user base. deCarta sits in the middle of this whole environment and enables the other players.
JF: Barron’s recently described a “bubble” in the IPO market in social networking companies (LinkedIn, Groupon) similar to what we saw in 1999-2000. Is there room for a pure play geographic search player to make it today (Zillow)?
KF: Well, I won’t comment on any individual companies, but I do believe that as the financial benefits of the emerging LBS business ecosystem become more apparent, there will be more and more service providers, device manufacturers and “big brands” who want to own and monetize local search and LBS. This leads to a growing number of players who need an alternative to Google Maps - but under their own brand - and so we are seeing more activity coming our way to provide that.