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.
to acquire social-activity service provider Plazes (Nokia press
First off was AdHocNews.de. 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.
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."
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.)
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."
Buys Mobile App Plazes (AppScout)
AppScout goes directly to the app being mobile, though Plazes is also
Web-based. Does mobile imply location?
Acquires Social Networking Startup (bMighty.com)
bMighty.com, an IT blog for small- and medium-sized companies, along
with a few others, points to Plazes as a startup. Plazes is three years
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
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.