Naming Names

By Adena Schutzberg

On Monday, Nokia reported it would acquire Plazes (press release) for an undisclosed sum. My gut response was, "Good move; I bet you got it relatively inexpensively and the technology will help grow Nokia's fast-moving train into location services." What struck me as I browsed other reactions in the media, both formal (newswires, business publications) and informal (tech and geo blogs, Twitter), was the description of Plazes. What exactly is Plazes? How did the descriptive terms chosen by the publications relate to their mission or position in the media, tech or geospatial world?

Here are some examples, roughly in publication order from first to last, as found by Google News.

Nokia to acquire social-activity service provider Plazes (Nokia press release)
First off was European websites typically post press releases before they appear on U.S. sites due to the time zone differences. "Social-activity service," the term Nokia uses in its news release, does not directly imply location. The PR text goes on: "Plazes provides a context-aware social-activity service that people can use to plan, record, and share their social activities: why they are at a given location at a given time, whether in the past, present or future." Location, I'll suggest, is not the heart of the matter for Nokia, as it's not mentioned until near the end of the description. Social is upfront and perhaps more important.

Nokia Buys Location-Based Social Net Plazes (MocoNews)
MocoNews in California uses a headline that puts location at the fore. A referenced article on the same page on Plazes funding at PaidContent describes the company as a "geo-social net."

Nokia to buy 'content aware' social network (Mobile Entertainment UK)
I am not familiar with the phrase "content aware" but it doesn't tie directly to geospatial in my mind.

Nokia to acquire social networking company (Network World)
Many sites used the term "social networking company," again seemingly ignoring location.

Nokia Acquires Plazes To Be Ovi's New Mapping App (O'Reilly Radar)
Having discussed the company before, this techwatch blog needs no descriptors and instead relates the acquisition to Ovi, Nokia's platform for content sharing. In the text, Brady Forrest calls the product an "LBS web app" and a "social mapping property."

Nokia Corp. announces acquisition of Plazes, a location-sharing platform (RTTNews)
RTTNews, a global financial newswire, gets to the heart of Plazes, at least in my opinion: it's about location-sharing.

Newsbrief: Google Android Delays, Nokia Buys LBS Firm, Infosys Patents (Mobile Burn)
Mobile Burn uses the generic term LBS.

Nokia acquires location-based Twitter rival (Electronista)
Electronista, a blog with the tag "Gadgets for geeks," puts Plazes in the same category ("status" tool) as Twitter. The big distinguisher? Plazes has location. (Twitter add-ons do, too.)

Nokia buys another location company (ZDNet UK blog)
A ZDNet UK blogger just sounds bored writing about another Nokia location-focused acquisition. After quoting the press release he intones, "Whatever that means."

Nokia Buys Mobile App Plazes (AppScout)
AppScout goes directly to the app being mobile, though Plazes is also Web-based. Does mobile imply location?

Nokia Acquires Social Networking Startup (, an IT blog for small- and medium-sized companies, along with a few others, points to Plazes as a startup. Plazes is three years old.

Location-Based Service Locates Business Model (Digital Daily Blog)
All Things Digital's Digital Daily Blog gets right to its issue: now Plazes, whatever it is, is making some money.

Nokia acquires geotagging startup Plazes (BetaNews)
BetaNews uses the term geotagging, which technically, I'd argue, is correct. The service does assign location to individuals. I, for one, still link this term to adding location to documents like photos or Web pages.

Nokia Purchases Plazes for the Voyeuristically-Inclined (Profy)
A writer at Profy, a blog/social platform, fears the creepy factor, which I'd argue implies "tracking," though that term is absent from the headline.

Nokia To Buy Social Geotracking Startup (ChannelWeb)
ChannelWeb also focuses on the tracking aspect, but without a fear factor.

So then, how does Plazes describe itself? It doesn't. The company's tagline is: "Right Plaze, Right People, Right Time." The website and blog are devoid of a defining term or phrase. Rather, the text focuses on what you can do with Plazes: "Create activities to let your friends know what you are doing when and where." Clearly, the company didn't want to tell its potential users/acquirers what it is. It allowed many groups, including the media, to apply the terms they found appropriate. Perhaps that is a reason for the hodgepodge I found, one that often missed out on the location aspect of the technology.

My point here is that today's world of technology does not have the strict vocabulary we might want or even need. It's full of different perspectives, ideas and motivations. And, while perhaps challenging for those who like "black and white" lines, this fuzziness is not necessarily a bad thing. Who creates these new terms and definitions? The users of today's technologies (mobile phones, blogs, Google Maps...). They bring no, some or many experiences to the table as they communicate about everything from location-based services to social networks to GIS. That means definitions are regularly stretched and morphed, or fully re-defined.

We in the geospatial community may consider the question "Is Google Maps GIS?" worthy of consideration, while those using either or both of these technologies more casually might never think to ask it, let alone spend time answering it. We in geospatial need to be ready for everybody to invade our language and our space, as parts (and perhaps someday, most) of what we do go mainstream.

Published Friday, June 27th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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