New Opportunities in the Spatial Information Economy
When big name companies merge, split or collide, reverberations of those actions can be felt across whole sectors of the economy, or at least make for interesting table conversation. One of the more interesting stories to come out of last week was Apple dropping Google Maps from their “native” operation system in favor of their own in-house mapping/navigation program.
The results have been both comical and distressing due to the failure of Apple’s system to measure up to Google’s. Some of the more notable stories have been: navigating people into the ocean, setting the marked address several blocks away from the intended destination (causing users to frantically search for the building which houses an all-important meeting or top-rated shopping experience), and essentially telling people the best route to their destination is through lakes, rivers, forests, mountains and other natural terrain. This forces drivers to grudgingly revert back to their Mark 1 Eyeballs and memory to figure out how to get from A to B.
What tech users are saying is it shows Google has the better mapping program; what it tells this geomatician is that people are as dependent on spatial data today as they are on TV series and shopping centers (in that, if our tubes stopped entertaining us and the store had no more ready-made food, we would not be able to entertain or feed ourselves, i.e. Armageddon).
So people need good data, as Google Maps is essentially a GIS for the people, giving them navigation, spatial awareness and a database of locations to meet their variety of needs. The sudden loss of this always-on system has been a big hurt for consumers and should be a wake-up call to anyone who needs motivation that the industry is set to boom. The trick is finding a way to capitalize on the now-obvious mass consumption of spatial information.
A good place to start is the point of consumption: the GIS. If customers can use a GIS to find a business, then a business can use a GIS to find its customers. The latter action requires custom solutions for each company, so it’s a very attractive market. To start with, all profitable companies know who their consumer is (in a non-personal, statistics kind of way) and that data can be used to find concentrations of where these preferred potential clients live and work. If that’s successful, paying internet companies and search engine gurus to create databases of when specific people search for their type of business and mapping that to a zip code-level of precision is a very profitable exercise for all parties involved (zip code-level is the best precision usually available to be found, but better is also available if you know where to look).
The failure of Apple also shows another nuance: the inevitable creation of proprietary mass consumer mapping programs and apps. Having a company’s location data display accurately is important. If a company has a basic survey done, tying it into the accepted coordinate systems, then it doesn’t matter whose app is searching for their business—their information is correct and as long as the program is good, the user’s experience will be as well.
Some other thoughts are the creation of cloud-stored 3D/4D models of their locations to enhance their customers’ interactions with their online presence. Facebook makes money off of simple games that are fun; it’s not a far stretch to think that games involving the actual store environment might prove to be profitable as well. (Speaking of games, check out how the geospatial firm Bluesky was able to step in and help rescue Binary Space's “Zombie Outbreak Simulator” iPhone app after Apple dropped support for Google Maps.)
These are my ideas and experiences, and the best way to learn is to share. Post in the comments below what your experiences and ideas are to tap the growing spatially sensitive information economy.
Here's another video about Apple's Map "Flop".