Building Your Location Graph

June 2, 2011

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The fight is on! All big companies want to conquer the mobile Web. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Groupon and Yahoo are adding places to their services to build the “location graph” of their users. This offers unparalleled opportunities to serve the user with personalized offers and advertising and the user will be happy to receive them.

The location graph is the social graph for location-based services. Wikipedia describes the social graph as "the global mapping of everybody and how they're related." I define the location graph as “the personal location pattern of someone and how he is connected to these places.” Translated to business opportunities: the location graph is a means to sell ads.
The location graph keeps track of the past, present and future. The past knows what places you visited, how well you liked them, what your friends think about these places and who has similar interests to you outside your social network. The present knows where you are now, what you are doing and with whom. Maybe you are now sharing pictures and recommending the wine you are drinking. The future predicts where you will go next, based on the context of your current location, your location history, recommendations, your friends, and someone with a similar location graph.
Do you own the location graph of your users?
The location graph offers companies in the location-based services space many personalized advertising opportunities. Many companies, small and large, are currently collecting location data of their users to build the location graph. Two important issues arise: 
  1. How do you deal with privacy issues?
  2. Do you really own the location graph?
The last word about security and privacy issues has not been said. We learned from an announcement at Where 2.0 that many smartphones keep track of, and store, location. The issue has been in the press all around the world. Some want strict privacy policies while others want it to be as open as possible. The recently launched COLOR has a very open view on the location privacy issue. All social connections in the application are dynamic and established on-the-fly depending on who you’re hanging out with. Make up your mind! 
The other question is less obvious for many. Do you really own the location graph, the location visited? How did you get the names, the geocoded addresses stored in your database? Using an API for geocoding may not mean you become the owner of the location and it may not give you the flexibility needed to display a location on the map. When you build your business model on the location graph, I advise you to become the owner of the places in your database.

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