Local is the new social – location data startups

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Estimated reading time 4–6 minutes

A few weeks ago I attended an event by Dreamstake featuring a collection of startup companies that are using open geographical data – such as the data released by Ordnance Survey. There was much championing of the possibilities of much money to be made by using data that organisations release for free. This seems obvious to me – someone else has paid to do all the preparatory work so others can cash in. No-one seems concerned about the ethics of this. If UK taxpayers have paid for the OS work to be done, should they not automatically be shareholders in any company that profits from the fruits of this investment?

The companies showcased all had new twists on using location data. What I found especially interesting was the emphasis on context. When selling services, place alone is not enough. Time is important and also the circumstances. So, a businesswoman on a work trip will want probably different products and services to when she is out with her family.

The speakers were
James Pursey of Sortedapp
Sadiq Qasim LoYakk
Craig Wareham of Viewranger
Tim Buick of Streetpin

Location-based marketing

James Pursey opened by giving a brief history of location-based marketing, pointing out that this was pioneered by the Yellow Pages (now yell.com). His company attempts to match time, place, and location and makes the consumer the advertiser and the service provider the respondent. He explained this as a “reverse Ebay”. Instead of advertising your products and services, consumers post details of what they want, e.g. I need someone to clean my flat before my wife gets home (the data game still seems to be a man’s world!). The message is then pushed to local cleaners who have a window of time in which to respond. The app works on the location of your mobile phone, but you can alter that on a map so that you can be at home but arrange a service to be provided near your workplace, etc.

Chatting about a shared experience

Sadiq Qasim explained that LoYakk – local yakking – recognises that conversations are often focused around specific places and events. Social media links tend to be based on static lists of friends, with very little contextualisation. However, social relationships and conversations are often transient. You might want to chat to someone at a conference, but that doesn’t mean you want to become lifelong friends. By creating an app that mirrors the real world nature of such connections, people can drop in, chat to people in the vicinity and leave again. Events such as conferences, arts and sporting events, and holiday destinations are particularly well suited to this approach.

Mobile is local

Craig Wareham described Viewranger, which is an app for outdoorsy people. It combines guidebook information, a social community, a marketplace, based around location and has become popular with search and rescue teams.

Tim Buick of Streetpin emphasised that about half of searches on mobiles – perhaps unsurprisingly – are for something local. However, time is very relevant – he might be near a great pub that has a special offer on beer but he doesn’t want to be told about it at 8 in the morning when he has just dropped the kids off at nursery, but in the same location 12 hours later with his mates, the offer might be just what they want. The right information, to the right person, at the right place and at the right time is what matters.

The distinction between what is useful information and what is marketing becomes very blurred.

Place, space, maps

Thinking about this event along with the Shape of Knowledge event’s discussions of maps of cyberspace, and the Superhuman exhibition’s raising the question of the potential of transhumans to relate to space in a different way to current humans, made me wonder how location-based services will change in future. The technologically enhanced human will, presumably, need maps that make sense to computers as well as maps that make sense in real space and time. Navigation and location are most likely going to change beyond all recognition.