For about 2000 years, ever since Ptolemy wrote his treatise Geographia, maps and geography have helped humans understand their surroundings in the context of their neighbors, their town, their country, the Earth, and the Universe. For about 400 years, since Mercator figured out how to portray the curved Earth on a flat piece of paper, not much changed in the world of geography — until the launch of 24 GPS satellites by the U.S. Department of Defense about 30 years ago.
Digital location-based technologies are now a transformative force for consumers and businesses, particularly when coupled with the rapid adoption of mobile and the growth of big data. I’m a big believer in the future for “GeoDisruption” — the potential for consumers and businesses to interact in fundamentally new ways to take advantage of increasingly precise location-based technologies.
This is the debut of a column I’ll write for Street Fight exploring the growth of the “GeoWeb” and the emergence of GeoDisruptive trends and companies. When I’m not writing columns, I am the CEO/founder of On Grid Ventures, an investment and advisory firm focused on digital and location-based technologies.
GeoDisruption: Where we are
Location-based technologies have already been a dislocating force in many industries.
- Automobile marketing at the local level used to be all about newspapers and television, and companies like Autotrader, Cars.com, and Autobytel have used geo-based lead generation to irrevocably shift in-market auto buyers and local car marketing spending to the GeoWeb.
- GPS has made paper maps obsolete.
- General B2C platforms like Yelp are changing the way we evaluate local services.
- Vertical B2C platforms like OpenTable are changing the way we find and book nearby restaurants.
The major portals and aggregators are all making increasing bets on the potential for GeoWeb. Google, with Google Maps and Places; Yahoo, with its leadership position in local news and content aggregation; IAC, with CityGrid and UrbanSpoon; and AOL with Patch. Google’s recent acquisition of Israeli startup Waze for over $1 billion is a high-water mark in the development of the GeoWeb as it affirms the importance of user-generated, location-based content.
GeoDisruption: Where we’re headed
While the growth ambitions of Google, Yahoo, and others will continue to be fed with more acquisitions of GeoWeb companies, the application of location-based technologies is increasing more broadly in three areas: Business-to-Consumer, Business-to-Business, and Consumer-to-Consumer.
- B2C marketing (i.e., GeoMarketing) will continue to be transformed as innovative companies apply location-based technologies to how they acquire, transact with, and retain customers. GeoMarketing will be essential for most local retail and service businesses, and the landscape is ripe for vertical players in areas beyond automotive and restaurants, across the entire local landscape. Early stage companies like BeautyBooked are already trying to become the dominant search and booking platform in verticals like place-based salon services. ReachLocal and Yodle are growing fast as companies that help local businesses reach consumers, and national marketers are increasingly shifting dollars to locally targeted digital marketing and promotion.
- C2C interaction (i.e., “GeoSocial”) can also be further shaped as individuals increasingly become comfortable with sharing their location with family, friends, colleagues, and people with similar interests. Foursquare has jumped to an early lead as the platform for consumers to share their location, but Facebook, Google, and others are gaining fast.
- B2B companies that enable location-based innovation (i.e., “GeoInfrastructure”) continue to be a hotbed for venture investment. Location itself is nice, but it needs to be in the context of an individual, the surrounding locations, time of day, and other factors. This all needs to be accomplished respecting an individual’s privacy. Companies like Jumptap and Place IQ are finding new ways to provide marketers with context that makes location relevant.
While I have a background in computer science, I’ve never been a fan of pure technology. I am a believer, however, in the potential for increasingly accurate digital, location-based, real-time data to better inform the decisions we all make every day on where to go, with whom, what to buy, and other areas. The rapid proliferation of mobile devices is certainly an enabler, but the greatest innovation will come from insights into how a consumer’s behavior varies based on his or her specific location. We’re now a long way from zip-code targeting, and more GeoDisruption is on its way.
Jason E. Klein is the founder/CEO of On Grid Ventures, and investment and advisory firm focused on the startup and reinvention of businesses capitalizing on digital and location-based technologies. Follow him on twitter @JKNews.