With national brands showing reserved interest in hyperlocal, companies are looking for ways to make location consumable at scale. Part of that is a fundamental shift in the way companies are building for location — away from a proximity-based, geo-fenced approach towards an audience model, which uses location as a proxy for reaching certain users (teens, students, mothers, etc.).
JiWire, a company that began serving ads across public Wi-Fi, is getting into the game with a new audience tool called the “location graph.” The service ingests billions of location signals from the company’s location media network (which includes Wi-Fi as well as smartphone and tablet impressions) and builds profiles on top of that data. The key here is that these profiles delve into a user’s entire location footprint, not only his or her current location.
“The first step in all of this is understanding the location graph: how all of those locations are interconnected in the same way people are interconnected, in the sense of a social graph,” JiWire’s Interim CEO David Staas told Street Fight in an interview. “Different types of audiences move in different types of patterns, and their behavior is largely based on their locations.”
JiWire can dig deep into location history because the data analysis, audience targeting, and ad serving are all happening within its own network of location media. That’s different from the horizontal approach taken from some of the earlier audience players like PlaceIQ, which take a data-as-a-service approach, plugging into third-party mobile networks like Google’s AdMob.
“When you think of [location] as a layer, you tend to use location just as a targeting attribute, limiting the ability to really scale and, in many ways, putting you back to the proximity use-case,” says Staas about the two models. “With the PlaceIQ approach, there are some real limitations because in essence it’s a geo-fence, in which they try to understand what that audience is at any particular time.”
How the location-as-a-stack versus location-as-a-layer debate shakes out could have big implications for the sell-side of location media. The question is whether a location company like Foursquare can generate enough added-value from its vertical ownership to combat the massive scale of a horizontal player like Facebook.
If mobile is any indication, scale isn’t the issue. The big problem in mobile, as Mary Meeker points out, is closing the gap between mobile supply and mobile demand – a trend that hasn’t seen much change over the past few years. And by creating a better supply, a vertical approach may be able to stimulate demand.
Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.