Takeaways from the 2014 Location Intelligence Summit
Two weeks ago Directions Magazine hosted the 10th edition of its Location Intelligence event. LocationTech, HERE and Oracle Spatial and Graph programs were intertwined with our event. Here are my takeaways after sampling sessions from all four tracks.
Big Data, Consumer Sampling and “Elizabeth’s Soap”
Paul Donato (photo at right), the executive vice president and chief research officer at Nielsen, delivered the keynote address. Yes, that’s the same company that does the Nielsen TV and radio ratings. I guarantee anyone reading this recap who attended Donato’s keynote presentation (video) can tell you the story of Elizabeth’s soap. Why? Because Donato illustrated his key points with a poignant, true story. Here’s my retelling:
Elizabeth is the oldest of three generations in a rural village in Kenya. Each month Elizabeth travels by bus about 100 km to the closest city and buys a big box of soap for washing clothes. She returns and puts the soap into small bags and sells it to her neighbors. If you ask her customers what kind (brand) of soap they use, they’d say, “Elizabeth’s soap.”
That’s important because in developing areas like hers, there is no sense of “brands.” Further, unlike in the developed world where demand drives supply, in these areas supply is what will drive brands and brand loyalty. The challenge for Nielsen is measuring that supply chain. In short, Nielsen has to find out which little stores, like those Elizabeth visits, stock which kinds of soap and how much. Out where Elizabeth shops, 80% of trade is done without electronics, making measurement difficult.
How, then, does Nielsen measure such things for its customers? By hand! Enumerators visit the shops regularly and count how many boxes of each type of soap (and other products) are on the shelves. That’s labor intensive, slow and expensive. By the way, Nielsen has been doing manual counting for some time. Back in the day, its employees counted cans of Heinz beans on store shelves. That’s said to be the origin of the term “bean counter.” I was not able to easily confirm the veracity of the story via the Internet.
But, back to those enumerators. Where should they go to do the counting? Where the stores are, of course! But, how do you know where the stores are? Nielsen uses remote sensing (with training on a “retail signature”) to identify areas without any stores. That can save teams 40% of the cost of enumerating by simply not visiting those areas. Instead, they can concentrate resources on areas with stores.
You can read more about what Donato does here. That’s the article I read that prompted Directions to invite him. I’m so glad we did!
Marketing Uses of Location-based Advertising: Location May Play Second Fiddle
Asif Khan, founder and president of the Location Based Marketing Association (LBMA), addressed the indoor marketing space and shared a great example from Guatemala (See video at 9:00 mark). A sport shoe store (Meat Pack) offered coupons to those entering competitor’s locations. The trick? The value of the coupon would drop over time from 100% off to zero% off. So, potential bargain hunters were sprinting to the store to get their deals. One fellow did, in fact, receive an 89% discount on his purchase.
Nivea, the skin care company, also used location in a campaign, but in a secondary way ... and outdoors. The company offered paper “watches” in magazine ads that parents were to register with a website via the Nivea website. Mom or Dad then cut the “watch” out of the ad and put it on the child’s wrist. The parent could set a radial boundary for the child and if he or she went beyond it, the app’s alarm would sound via the cell phone. The story takes place at the beach, tying together two kinds of protection: Nivea sunscreen and Nivea’s tracker.
What these novel examples suggest is that the buzzworthy and effective location-based campaigns will use location, but only as a small part of the campaign. In short, it’s just one simple element.
Augmented Reality is the Next New Media
Khan also suggested that augmented reality is a new media, the eighth media by those who are counting. I found the other seven on Wikipedia. He made that comment in the context of how new media may or may not replace old media. Print may be the exception, he argued, but in general new media does not replace the one(s) that came before, but rather changes it. Thus, TV did not replace radio, but radio changed.
What does it mean if indeed augmented reality is a new media? I for one never thought of it that way. It’s not exactly the first “location-based media” as mobile devices with LBS apps already exist. Still, it has different qualities and potential than LBS. How will this new media play out and, equally important perhaps, how will it impact what came before? How might LBS apps change? How might TV change, or radio, as augmented reality gets wider use?
Washington and Geospatial: Opportunity Knocking
John Palatiello of MAPPS, Kevin Pomfret of the Center for Spatial Law & Policy and Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum had a brief chat about what’s going on in Washington related to policy and the geospatial industry (video). Palatiello suggested there are lots of opportunities for geospatial to help with federal government issues. Unfortunately, he observed, decision makers do not always decide to take advantage of our expertise. He noted these opportunities:
- Obamacare has some 814 provisions for the use of geodata, but Congress said no to a suggested geospatial officer for the Department of Health and Human Services.
- There is no complete federal land inventory and no accurate land building inventory.
- A national parcel system (which the U.S. does not have) might have provided warning for the foreclosure crisis.
- We need a good map of our digital coast which is home to 52% of the U.S. population as climate change continues.
- The Highway Bill needs reauthorization and should include support for geospatial, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and other cutting edge technologies.
- We need better maps of underground utilities to help prevent disasters. (See Geoff Zeiss’ discussion of a plan for such a map for France.)
- FEMA’s flood insurance program is $24B in debt due to recent weather events; we need data to help reduce risks.
- Federal agencies are not coordinated in their collection and use of geospatial data and related assets, according to the Government Accountability Office.
- Any discussion of climate change and its impact on this country demands geospatial input.
- Federal discussions of privacy and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) use the term “precise geolocation” but it’s still undefined.
Lean In to Transparency When it Comes to Privacy
Polonetsky made a valuable point about how consumers respond to different companies’ use of personal data. When Amazon suggests new books, CDs or shoes that they might like when they return to its website, its customers are delighted. When Target taps the same sort of data and determines a teenager is pregnant before her dad knows, we are furious.
What’s the difference? Amazon is transparent, perhaps overly so, about how it uses customers’ purchase history. Everyone knows that it makes recommendations based on the data and for most people, that feature adds value to each visit. The same is true for the MagicBands Disney offers for visitors to its parks. Yes, they collect data about where the family goes, what they buy and what rides they select, but it also adds value: shorter lines, visits with costumed characters and a way to track lost children. Polonestky suggests that retailers and others “lean in” to privacy, by which I think he means embrace the data, use them to add value and be not just transparent, but shout about their benefits for the consumer from the rooftops.
Placed Tracks 150,000 People 24/7 and They Don’t Mind
With all of the efforts to learn about consumer behavior and not breach privacy, what Placed does seems so “old fashioned.” David Shim, CEO, explained that the company basically “pays” individuals (about 150,000) to be tracked 24/7 as they go about their lives and use their mobile devices. Payment comes in the form of cash or for those who prefer, via donations to charity. All those people create data about 150M location visits per day. The company has individuals validate about 12M by actively confirming where they went.
Those data, in aggregate, are used to help model how the rest of us might act in general, or react to different ads campaigns or offers.
Oracle 12c is Fast
Jim Steiner (photo at right), vice president for Server Technologies at Oracle, opened the 10th Oracle Spatial Summit with one message to communicate: the latest and greatest version of Oracle Spatial and Graph, version 12C, has dramatic performance enhancements (Steiner's keynote and other slides in PDFs). He cited two key ways his teams achieved speeds up to hundreds of times faster than previous releases:
- putting processing closer to the data (see above)
- Spatial Vector Accelerator (an option that speeds things up, called by one user “the magic switch”)
When asked to make some predictions about the future of geospatial computing and Oracle, Steiner ticked off these areas to watch:
- changes in processing
- indoor, beacons, tracking
- the cloud - new biz models
Social Media, Crime and the Fourth Amendment
AGSI probably had the most “buzz” during the event. The company, based in Canada, offers solutions that make use of publicly available social media data. The company has been particularly successful offering a solution for public safety.
Go360 Public Safety & Security Suite taps into the firehouse of data from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others (more to come) and allows officers to query over time frames, in a specific geography, for specific keywords. Users can also set up alerts for when certain combinations of terms come up in an area of interest. An alert came up for the mall shooting in Kenya, for example, before local respondents knew what was going on.
Go360 can be used to get a heads-up on planned attacks or to aid in response when one has occurred. It can also be used to find and contact potential witnesses who were in the area at the time of a crime. AGSI demonstrated that by inviting those who tweeted within our area of the conference center to its booth (image below).
AGSI used its Go360 solution to find those who tweeted about our event from the area of the Washington Convention Center. It sent tweets to those who did and invited them to its booth.
C. G. Walwyn, commissioner of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force, had nothing but praise for the system. He highlighted how data used to help track down and arrest gang members and thieves could sail into court in the U.S. (he’s worked here, too). Why? The data are all public; there are no issues of privacy invasion.
I asked the obvious question: Why do folks committing crimes leave their location information turned on when posting on social networks? The response: They are not too bright and they like to use that feature for other reasons, such as finding their friends.
The commissioner noted that only a select few in his force have access to the system “because everyone has a best friend.” By that he meant that once word gets out about how the system works, the “not too bright” ne’er do wells on the island will switch off location sharing and make the system less useful. That’s not to suggest that there are not other ways to determine a device’s location; there are. However, heading down those paths can spark fourth amendment issues here in the States. One attendee gave the AGSI’s system about six months of use before those being rounded up in St. Kitts and elsewhere change their online social media behavior to avoid detection.
Leave Your Data Where They Are
Andrew Turner, CTO R&D Center at Esri DC, addressed the LocationTech audience to speak about Open Data Straight from the Source. His main point was that moving data around or copying the datasets to new locations is not a best practice for maintaining or sharing them. Instead, he argued, the best approach is to leave the data where they are and use the workflows in place to keep them up to date. Then, the trick is to add a layer of technology to publish the data.
He was speaking in particular about the newly launched Esri Open Data solutions in ArcGIS Online, but other options are available. He noted a solution for those who want to host their geodata in GitHub, and publish it to ArcGIS Online. A tool called Koop enables just that. It exposes GeoJSON services as Feature Services. If I understood correctly, the City of Philadelphia is currently using it.
Oracle’s Jim Steiner and his colleagues also made a push for leaving datasets where they are, but for a different reason: performance. There’s been a move afoot for a few years to leave data “where they are” in the database (compressed or not, in the case of LiDAR stored in Oracle) and bring the processing to the data. It turns out that implementation for processing, in contrast to the reverse (aka “the old way”), is far faster (slides from Oracle LiDAR presentation, PDF).
Be Realistic About How Data are Used
On the other side of the data discussion was Juan Martin, CTO at Boundless, who introduced GeoGit, an open source toolkit for managing changes to data. His argument is that there are no authoritative datasets, but instead datasets are changed for specific uses. Thus, there’s a need to track changes and different versions. That’s what GeoGit does. The tool is designed to be robust; it has no single point of failure and is distributed.
The good news is that version 1 of GeoGit is coming this summer. Plans are in place for an implementation in a browser, in a Python library and as a QGIS plug-in. The good news for developers is that most enterprises will need a custom implementation to embed GeoGit into their existing solutions. And, that means more good news for end users: once implemented, most end users’ workflows will look and act the same as before, even as GeoGit runs invisibly inside the enterprise, taking care of data change business. Geoff Zeiss did a nice detailed write-up about GeoGit on his Between the Poles blog.
The State of Map Making
A team from HERE hosted a hands-on workshop that introduced spatial analysis on its platform. One theme raised was that “anyone can make a map, but not everyone can maintain a map.” That’s true in several senses. It’s certainly relevant to new users of spatial analysis as they select base maps/base map services from providers. It’s also an issue in organizations like the Census Bureau, which must keep up with changes to the United States land base by tapping local governments for updates. And, it’s true indoors, as well. Ankit Agarwal, CEO of Micello, explained that his company, known for mapping the great indoors, spends more money updating its maps than creating them in the first place.
Why is a Real Estate Company Dropping PostGIS?
Simon Greener, an independent geospatial database consultant and an advocate for users (and a long-time contributor to Directions Magazine) shared that a large real estate company in Australia was considering dropping PostGIS. Why? Not because it’s not fast enough, but because the organization was having a hard time finding experienced database administrators (DBAs). That led me and others to ask some pointed questions: How hard is it to teach an Oracle DBA how to support PostGIS? Where would potential employees learn to be a PostGIS DBA? Should we teach it in schools?