CityMaps Releases Mobile App, Wants to Be Kayak for Places Info

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After spending three months in a web-only beta, social mapping service CityMaps is making its move to mobile. The New York-based company has released its first mobile app on iOS this morning and has announced its expansion to San Francisco and Austin.

City Maps is essentially a Kayak for local information. The service aggregates local signals from information sites like Yelp, Twitter, and Foursquare as well as commerce companies like OpenTable, Fandango, and handful of daily deal sites, and displays the information in a custom-mapping interface.

Co-founders Aaron Rudenstine and Elliot Cohen say that within a month users will be able to login through Facebook Connect, populating the map with information from, and about, nearby friends. With Facebook’s new location API, third-party sites like CityMaps now have access to the full-spectrum of local signals created on the social network, including geo-tagged status updates as well as check-ins.

“If you think about local searches, most end up on a map — you reserve a table on open table, you read reviews on yelp, you buy movie tickets on Fandango — and then you always go to a Google maps of sorts to find out how you get there,” says Cohen about the need for disruption in the map space. “We want to give businesses and consumers a 360 degree view that’s all in one place.”

The idea of creating a catchall-mapping interface is nothing new to the startup scene. Companies like LocalScope have been around for over a year but Cohen, who developed the idea last year, says that Kayak saw a similar competitive landscape when the airline ticket aggregator launched in 2004: “Kayak wasn’t the first company that said, ‘wouldn’t it be great to pull all of this information into one really great framework,’” says Cohen. “They just happen to be the one that came at the right time, when all of that information became accessible and inexpensive enough.”

“The vision,” says Cohen, “is to create a crowdsourced map of your city a la a Wikipedia of places.”

Cohen and Rudenstine believe that with the release of Facebook’s open graph, the web — the world of local information included — is moving to a more open ecosystem than “the world according to Google.”

“While a lot of industries were seeing disruption and innovation [over the last five or ten years,] maps have stayed more or less the same,” says Cohen, who heads up operations for the company. “[The base layer of] Google Maps today is more or less what it was a decade ago.”

Though going after Google for local remains a long shot, it’s less laughable today than a few months ago. Google’s near absolute market share in the digital-mapping space has cracked in recent weeks, with major companies like Foursquare, Streeteasy, and even parts of Apple, deciding to switch its base layer to a customized Open Street Map. The movement is a tiny fraction of Google’s business accounts, but is an important conceptual break in the mind of consumers. As consumers begin to see non-Google maps in services like Streeteasy and Foursquare, the idea of an alternative becomes more and more tenable.

In many ways, what’s happening with Google Maps is a case study of Clay Christensen’s concept of disruptive innovation. As a market leader innovates its product beyond what is needed by consumers, in this case, Google’s local business clients, a competitor, Open Street Map gains market share by offering a simpler, cheaper product. With a handful of free API’s offering a critical mass of high quality local information, hyperlocal companies want more control over how they display their own as well as others information. Meanwhile, with ex-Gowalla CEO Josh Williams now on board, Facebook is well positioned to help push forward a social, and more open, local information ecosystem.

Rudenstine and Cohen say they plan to offer public-facing mapping tools that allow users to customize and make changes and then share these updates with their friend. “The vision,” says Cohen, “is to create a crowdsourced map of your city a la a Wikipedia of places and we think there is something to that here.”

Steven Jacobs is an associate editor at Street Fight.

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