Location Intelligence 2007 Takeaways

By Adena Schutzberg

Instead of describing each session in detail, I want to share some of the themes I identified at this year's Location Intelligence Conference held in San Francisco last week.

On the Shoulders of Giants. If mashups were the first generation of new Web geoproducts built on the wonders of Web 2.0 technology, it's time for the next set: those that use mashups (or their underlying platforms) as widgets in a "create your own website" solution. The idea for LocalGuides.com, which will launch "soon," was introduced by Local Matters' Perry Evans (who has history with MapQuest and Jabber). The quick demo impressed me for a few reasons. The site offers up some custom guides - to cities and to tasks, such as remodeling a bathroom. That latter might sound odd for a local search company, but if you are remodeling you'll want local plumbers, the local hardware stores and perhaps other providers for things like curtains and tile for the new room. It's another way to organize local search - not around place per se, but around a "life task." Another part of the site allows users to create their own guides - again, to places, like their town, and to tasks. These guides can be kept private or be made public. The business model? This is great, and Evans put it succinctly: "When you are searching we are getting paid." That is, the site taps into sources of content providers (think Yellow Pages, travel sites, etc.) and sends them business, thereby, Local Matters gets paid.

Partnering. The Location Intelligence Conference is about, for lack of a better term, partnering. It's not a developer conference per se, though those sorts of partnerships are among those pursued. Other sorts of partnering I witnessed or heard about this year: matchmaking (a third party hooking up two potential partners), second dates (where connections had been made in the past but the second meeting furthered the relationship), going to the bank (companies/individuals on their own or via a third party pursuing funding). Said another way, this is primarily a business-to-business event. As one presenter put it to me, "The question is am I going to send you [people in the session] money or are you going to send me money?"

Intellectual Property (IP) and Legal Issues. IP is taking on a new importance. A session on IP and patent issues highlighted the existence of such property in geospatial companies and the need to protect and perhaps make money from it. This is a relatively new addition to a company's "to-do" list. I took away two "big ideas."

First, IP management is a "looking ahead" sort of venture. Your idea may be ahead of its time, waiting for "likely-to-be-available technology" to hit the market. If you can get out ahead of it with a patent, you may clean up later. In short, if you can make a statement like "When higher bandwidth allows real-time streaming of live TV on an iPod, this will be hot," you better look at patenting/protecting the idea behind this.

Second, and perhaps more immediately applicable to readers, is the simple "action" checklist speaker Mark Partridge shared for defining first steps of IP protection. Doing the 14 things on his list will cost just a few hundred dollars. He points those interested to his website, though the checklist doesn't seem to be publicly available.

IP and Making Money. I ran into not one, but two companies offering new ways to make cash from existing or "to be captured" geodata. I blogged about the latest offering from Placebase - the company now offers data from big time providers on a per transaction cost (press release). Along with that, explained Jaron Waldman, CEO, the company wants to help offer up other datasets from "non-big-time providers." For starters, consider Deadcellzones.com. The folks behind the dataset currently offer it for free on a website and make money from the Google ads around it. Placebase will soon add it to it Pushpin Collections (preview). So, the IP will soon have a potential second revenue stream.

WeoGeo has a different twist on making money from datasets. Paul Bissett, the CEO, is implementing a soon-to-be-launched marketplace for data that will ensure the owner payment for them and for products built upon them. Or as he describes it on his blog: "a B2B portal and server solution to rapidly deliver mapping products to end user customers." What platform underlies that effort? Amazon's EC2 and S3 services. In fact, if I follow it correctly, WeoGeo, the company, built the platform WeoCEO which enables the WeoGeo Server. It's that technology which powers the soon-to-be available B2B portal. I'll go out on a limb here and note that Bissett reminds me of John Frank of MetaCarta and further, this solution has the potential, similar to MetaCarta, of turning a bit of the world of geo on its head.

Numbers. I attended only a fraction of the sessions, but if pressed, I'd offer that 30-35% of all the PowerPoint slides I saw had numbers on them. What sort of numbers? Number of cell phones sold and projected to be sold. What percentage of them had GPS chips, or would in the future. What percentage of startups got funding from one or another source. What percentage of businesses use location, etc. And, unlike me, whose eyes often glaze over at such stats, attendees were scribbling madly. While we plan to make all the presentations available to those who attended, I overheard many, many people asking presenters for slides simply for the numbers! And, not to embarrass anyone, but those people requesting the presentations with the figures were not representatives from small companies without marketing or research departments. These were some of the biggest, most successful companies in our industry! Moreover, it's my sense that the vast majority of these numbers are easily found in press releases on the Web. Do these companies not have librarians? Or competitive intelligence staffers? Or are the data not easily available to staffers?

Formal Demos are Fading. While most booths had machines up and at the ready, staffers using them were checking e-mail and running the business at home rather than "doing demos." Large screens showed flashy videos, not feature function demos. The goal seemed to be simply to enhance the brand, not compete or convince. That said, informal demos - those done on laptops around small cocktail tables or over lunch - were on the rise. I found myself in a few of those, instigated by vendors who literally grabbed me for a five minute "show and tell." As a journalist, I loved those and I suspect, but can't support with hard numbers, that potential buyers might, too. These demos had several things in common: (1) no intro to the company, (2) a direct jump into the "point," and (3) a sense that I could leave at any time. Folks in our industry are apparently reading and living the "elevator pitch" made famous in Crossing the Chasm some years ago. Questions: Buyers, is this what you want? Vendors, does this work?

Saving Dataplace. I missed the opening session which included some updates on projects that were introduced last year. Luckily, in researching this article I posed a question to Rich Gibson of Locative Technologies: What was the coolest thing you saw at the conference? He pointed to something in the first session, which he moderated: the state of the Fannie Mae Foundation's DataPlace. Fannie Mae, as you have likely heard, is changing owners and the foundation will be closing. That threatens DataPlace's existence.

I first saw DataPlace a few years back at an event at Brookings. It blew me away and based on the coverage it's had in the GIS community since, others appreciate it too. In short, it's an easy-to-use tool for communities to "look at themselves." While universally cheered, DataPlace is under the gun. Fannie Mae will provide another year of funding, maybe more, and then it's on its own. So, the question is, can we, the geospatial community, help sustain DataPlace for the long run? Should we? An analogous site is Scorecard.org from Environmental Defense. It offers environmental data in a similarly simple manner for all. Its future, I understand, is unclear as well.

Published Friday, April 27th, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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