Mobile location data is the foundation for mobile advertising, that’s no secret, but as the momentum of the industry continues to rise, it’s leaving a trail of fragmented data in its wake.
That’s why this post on TechCrunch yesterday struck a chord in saying that “it’s time for an open database of places which all companies and developers can both contribute to and borrow from.” In other words it’s a call for all players in the mobile location game — like Gowalla, Foursquare, Citysearch, Loopt, Twitter and even Google — to combine their separate user-location databases for the betterment of the industry as a whole, instead of continuing down a path of fragmentation.
The location data used for mobile advertising goes much further than simply knowing where a user is via GPS coordinates. Obtaining location data along with other user-information such as a tweet, a check-in, taking a photo, etc., adds much more relevancy, which is inherently necessary for effective mobile advertising. Knowing where a user is at any given time is only the first step- knowing what that user’s doing and what they’ve done at that location is what’s valuable from a mobile advertising perspective.
The problem, however, is that each company is building their own database of “places” information wrapped in various concepts. Gowalla and Foursquare are obtaining massive amounts of valuable user-data via “check-ins,” for example, while Twitter is building its own massive database of location data wrapped in geo-tagged tweets. Combining these and other data-sets in one centralized and standardized database, and making it readily available via APIs, would be a massively powerful resource on several levels.
While an open database of places would be enormously useful, it wouldn’t come without roadblocks. In allowing anyone to submit geo-data- spam and quality concerns would exist even though processes could be devised to ensure continued accuracy of the data. “Surely there are ways to design a places database which rewards good data over bad,” Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch said in his post. “Maybe a place doesn’t become official until two or three contributing databases agree it is the same place, or based on the overall trustworthiness and historical accuracy of the source.”
While a move like this may be perceived as a threat to any startup that’s worked hard to build its proprietary places database, it actually works to their advantage in the long-run, given that access to the central pool of geo-data would also fill gaps and inconsistencies in their own geo-data to make their offerings even stronger. “It should be one that everyone can contribute to and nobody necessarily owns,” Schonfeld continued. “Foursquare should be able to update it as easily as Twitter or Google, or any other Geo startup. The best data should prevail.”
From a mobile advertising perspective, having access to a centralized and normalized open database of places-data would do wonders for the targeting and relevancy of mobile ads. Varying ecosystems would inevitably evolve to provide monetization methods for anyone dumping geo-data into the open database, for example, or provide any mobile app developer access to a wealth of user-targeting and location data to monetize their apps through simple calls of a centralized API.
While anything of the sort is far from becoming a reality, the process has already begun. In an email exchange between Schonfeld and Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley regarding the concept, Crowley stated “the ‘Facebook connect of places’ would be amazing. Not sure who will build it – Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – but I bet you it’s a problem that’s mostly fixed by next year, there’s a lot of people working on this problem” The time has come for this to happen, and it will be a defining day in mobile advertising.