ILM:07: Why Mapping Deals Are So Vital to Local

At the ILM:07 conference last week in L.A., we saw lots of great mapping demos from Google, mobilePeople, et al. But it was hard to nail down how maps and their related services (ZIP codes, neighborhood mapping and other spatial endeavors) specifically affect the local ecosystem.

Of course, we know something BIG is going on. Look at Nokia’s $8.1 billion takeover of Navteq, and the ongoing battle for TeleAtlas between Garmin and TomTom.

So we pulled maps guru and consultant Mike Dobson up from the audience to talk about the deals during our “Kelsey Takeaways.” Dobson, the former chief technologist for Rand McNally and author of the Exploring Local blog, didn’t disappoint.

On stage and in subsequent e-mails with me, Dobson notes that the consolidation in the space is a really big deal. “These companies do not have competitors today, and it is implausible that anyone could catch them in less than three to five years,” he says. “Even that time frame presumes that someone with deep pockets would be willing to engage the challenge.”

Companies relying on user-generated content (i.e., Google) as a strategic advantage had better have some other tricks up their sleeves, says Dobson. “Navteq will spend approximately $336 million this year updating their navigation database. Anyone who thinks they could create a competing database using UGC does not understand the scope of the challenge.”

While UGC (and online social networking) is not a new paradigm for mapping info, its influence will be “pervasive” on local search and local media. “The tools, constructs and strategies of online social networking will create a sea-level change in local search applications,” says Dobson.

UGC is also overrated as a salve for business listings. “I don’t expect the small-business owner to react with a smile when she learns that she needs to register her business with the 100 companies who are attempting to establish themselves as the authorities for these business listings registries.”

Dobson also doubts that “anyone has thought deeply about how to keep these registries up to date. While the business owner may tell you when and where they are starting their business, they probably will not tell you when the business ceased. And how will those listings get corrected? Oh … UGC of course. And how will UGC be able to correct listings for businesses that do not have a … storefront? Enough already!”

Dobson also notes that while geography is appreciated by local execs in theory, most aren’t putting two and two together with their business. “Spatial analysis should be part of the tool set that they use to analyze data and wring more dollars out of their applications,” he says. “It does not seem that anyone is using spatial metrics to rate and rank preferred micro-markets by product or service type.”

The use of Folksonomies — user-generated categorization of search terms by Amazon and others — is also a key part of it, says Dobson. “If the local search and IYP companies started using Folksonomies and then applied spatial-yield management techniques to analyze the trends, they would begin to understand to how to wring every last advertising dollar out of the local search market.”

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