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How skobbler Uses OpenStreetMap to Advantage

Wednesday, January 9th 2013

Summary: There’s been lots of news from skobbler, a company that offers a mapping app built on OpenStreetMap, in recent months. Directions Magazine interviewed Marcus Thielking, co-founder of skobbler, about the company’s success.

There’s been lots of news in recent months from skobbler, a company that offers a mapping app built on OpenStreetMap. The app has more than 3 million users worldwide and a new iOS version came out in November. The company secured a 4M Euro investment, too. Directions Magazine interviewed Marcus Thielking, co-founder of skobbler (see his photo at right), about the company’s success.

Directions Magazine (DM): Quiet marketing does not always work. Why do you think skobbler has been successful operating this way? Which “quiet” things are most effective in gaining new users?
Marcus Thielking (MT): While we may not have the brand-name recognition of a Google, Apple or Nokia, or their marketing budgets, our OpenStreetMap based-products, from GPS Navigation 2 to ForeverMap 2, are incredibly popular because they’re feature-rich mapping and orientation solutions at great price points. From a map detail and functionality perspective, we also offer value that you just don’t get from some of the other players. For this reason, our apps are our main forms of marketing and the word-of-mouth has been very successful, generating over 3 million users worldwide. While this may not be the textbook definition of “quiet marketing” – make no mistake, we’re always building relationships within the mapping industry, engaging our users across social media, and participating in other traditional forms of “quiet marketing” – we think it’s the best strategy to drive interest and you really can’t argue with the results.
DM: ForeverMap 2 (see figures below) is the first and soon-to-be default map app for the Barnes & Noble NOOK. Are NOOK owners using the mapping and navigation on those devices? Are e-books, rather than tablets, going to be a key platform for mapping? Why?
MT: ForeverMap 2 is very popular on NOOK, because, as you point out, there’s currently no standard or preinstalled map or orientation solution available to users. We’re the first, so we’re filling a very real void, as you need orientation no matter what device you may have—whether e-book, tablet or smartphone. 
 
Interestingly, there’s a misconception that exists today, with some thinking that an e-book is simply a reading device. That’s just not true. Even without GPS functionality, an e-book is a mobile device, first and foremost. So e-book owners who have it while on-the-go – which is really the whole point of having one – will always want to unlock even greater utility. This is what ForeverMap 2 offers in the form of orientation. When you also consider that e-book spending is projected to skyrocket over the next few years, investing in map platforms for these devices today is a no-brainer. 
 
Now, will e-books be more important than tablets when it comes to mapping platforms? Well, tablets beat e-books in terms of digital usage, however, orientation is critical no matter what device you’re on. So, as I said, I think we’ll see the need for maps on e-books continue to rise given the inherently mobile nature of these devices, and as the e-book ownership pool grows deeper.
DM: Why has skobbler “made it” with OpenStreetMap (OSM) while others, notably CloudMade, have since pivoted to a new business model? (See: CloudMade Launches Gaming Monetization LBS Brand Zigi to Complete its Pivot)
MT: We’ve been successful using OpenStreetMap, because of the breadth of our experience and expertise. Remember, we were founded during a spin-off in 2008 from navigation leader, Navigon, and have been using the OpenStreetMap to build all of our products since March 2010. We know location, navigation and maps inside out, and in their most complex forms. When you combine our experience with our business model – focusing on both consumers and now businesses interested in building their own OSM-based offerings – you can understand how we’ve been able to successfully grow and develop as a company in a very competitive space.
DM: Apple, Wikipedia and foursquare have all integrated OSM into their services and that trend will likely continue. What factors will push more organizations to OSM beyond Google’s decision to charge for heavy use of its Maps API?
MT: The OpenStreetMap is more than just a cost-efficiency tool. As a crowdsourced dataset built using over 900,000 dedicated mappers, OpenStreetMap inherently delivers benefits above and beyond what you get from the corporate map providers like TeleAtlas and NAVTEQ. The most apparent benefit is the unrivaled map quality. With hundreds of thousands of contributors, the data dynamically and constantly evolves — just as places do. Locations are rarely fixed or stable. They change and progress over time. No other service or platform can immediately provide developers with the real-time, on-the-ground granularity of OpenStreetMap. Also important is firsthand influence. Mappers who edit the data have often had personal interactions with a place or locale. They know locations intimately, making their contributions detailed, rich and hyperlocal. More companies and developers are looking to OpenStreetMap for this reason—they want to future-proof their services and products, making sure that they always have the best and most up-to-date data. Only OpenStreetMap’s army of contributors can provide this.
 
Beyond data, though, OpenStreetMap’s flexibility is one of its key selling points. You see, Google owns Google Maps. Unsurprisingly, this has an impact on what you can and cannot do with Google Maps. Google can constrain the way you visually render and showcase its mapping technology. Needless to say, this is suffocating for those interested in building their own services. This is what makes OpenStreetMap such a significant development for developers interested in offering location-based/aware features. Do with OpenStreetMap what you will, both visually and design-wise — there are absolutely no limitations. Every map can be unique and rendered differently to fit your needs. If you’re Facebook, for instance, you can have a Facebook Map. If you’re Twitter, you can have a Twitter Map. There are no restrictions on what you can and can’t do with the way you present the OpenStreetMap’s data. Maps become an actual differentiator for companies this way, matching and enhancing their products, vision and brand voice.
 
You only get these benefits, though, if you choose crowdsourced maps over corporate maps. That’s why we’re seeing more defections to the OpenStreetMap—the advantages have become too evident to ignore.
DM: You refer to GeOS, available Q1 2013, as an operating system on which to build OpenStreetMap-based apps. What are its key features? What is the pricing model? How have beta users responded to it?
MT: GeOS is currently in beta and the proactive interest we’ve seen has really been tremendous. We already have a number of very well-known companies on both the mobile and Web side participating in our developer project. This only confirms the value we believe we will deliver to the market upon our public launch at the end of Q1 2013. With GeOS, we can provide easy integration with the OpenStreetMap, enabling features like true turn-by-turn navigation, online and offline map access and more. Also, keep in mind that we’ve used GeOS to build our own apps like GPS Navigation 2 (mobile), ForeverMap 2 (mobile) and Maps by skobbler (Web), so interested parties – whether they’re tech, travel or auto companies – have already seen what it can do. With our experience, we know how to make the most out of the OpenStreetMap’s assets, and GeOS is a product-proven manifestation of that. Beta users have seen this firsthand and love it. The response we’re getting is very positive, so we’re excited about 2013. For more information about GeOS, feel free to check out the developer portal on our website.
Figure 1: Built using OpenStreetMap data and GeOS technology, skobbler's GPS Navigation 2 delivers turn-by-turn navigation.
 
Figure 2: OpenStreetMap data enables hyperlocal geographic data beyond just street networks.
 
Figure 3: skobbler's ForeverMap 2 recently debuted on Android and, using GeOS, offers online-offline hybrid functionality.
 
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