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
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
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
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.