MapQuest Tries Its Hand at Social Discovery With mqVibe

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Many companies (not least Foursquare and Facebook) have been trying to find the right intersection of social media, LBS and mapping in the service of “social discovery” — finding a  way for people to search not only for “pizza” in their vicinity, but to get a nuanced perspective from trusted sources about where the best pizza is.  Essentially, a way for travelers to discover new areas and for locals to make lists of the “best of’s” in their neighborhoods.

mqVibe, a newish social mapping project debuted by MapQuest last October has been trying to create a neighborhood-centric “discovery” engine. The service launched in 50,000 neighborhoods across the U.S. and uses social media information about an area to generate a score for these neighborhoods.

Anke Corbin, vice president of marketing and sales at MapQuest, told Street Fight recently that mqVibe was originally developed as a way for travelers to “feel like a local,” but the service has gotten locals and local merchants involved as well.

“[It’s] for people who really love their neighborhoods and really want their favorite hotspots and their favorite places to the be at the top of the list,” Corbin said. “We really initially created it because we wanted it to be a travel app, but we’re also seeing quite a bit of local neighborhood engagement.”

Unlike other location search apps, which can find the closest gas station or best pizza in town, mqVibe is focused on the neighborhoods in an area, and contrasting them to determine which are “best.”

“We think that most of us, the way we live our lives, we kind of do live them in neighborhoods and these pockets of ‘coolness,’ these areas where things are happening,” Corbin said. “You may or may not get that from a top review. You may find that there is an amazing restaurant, but when you get there… maybe there’s a Curves next door and a laundromat on the other side and there’s not this real evening of activity.”

Users of mqVibe can add rankings and comment on neighborhoods and areas, as well as specific locations, which creates a kind of local’s guide to a city. The service is still fairly new, but Corbin says the company is looking to do a lot more with it. They are working on obtaining “more rich information,” that goes beyond just rankings, as well as working with local merchants.

“We definitely want to expand the connection to the local merchant,” Corbin said. “We want to make it easy for local merchants to work with us and that of course will really help the users benefit in that connection.”

Merchants can currently interact wit the service by making sure their place page has the right information on it, but Corbin said the company wants to add features like restaurant booking, and the ability for merchants to add promotions and deals: “We’ve looked a number of sources because we want to, one, allow a merchant to enter their own deals, and we also wouldn’t mind partnering with maybe some aggregators where those local relevant deals are already put together,” Corbin said.

In addition to adding promotions and bookings, Corbin said that search is advancing to the point where people can find exactly what they want in an area. This new “semantic search” which mqVibe is starting to integrate, will allow a user to search with terms like “margarita,” “happy hour,” and “great deck,” instead of looking through a list of mexican restaurants.

Corbin said that with mqVibe, MapQuest is starting to think beyond getting from one place to another: “I think point A to point B is a commodity, and it’s part of a much bigger process that we all go through,” Corbin said. “Maybe it’s deciding where I want to go, what’s all around me, what are the happenings I might be able to do. Then, how do I get there, and once I’m there, was it a great experience I want to share with other people?”

Isa Jones is an intern at Street Fight.


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