Waze VP: What Search Did for the Internet, Maps Will Do for Mobile

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TT3_1258As the local market readjusts to a mobile-first world, executives from Waze, ESRI, and Placed discussed the role of mobile analytics and mapping in a changed scenario at a panel discussion during the Street Fight Summit West in San Francisco Tuesday. Moderated by Street Fight’s deputy editor, Steven Jacobs, the discussion spanned a broad range of issues concerning the topic including privacy, potential and ancillary use cases of location data, and returns on investment derived from mobile and mapping.

“What search did for the Internet, maps will do for mobile,” said Andy Ellwood, senior director of business development at Waze. He said that maps are an integral part of the “location holy grail” for small businesses as they enable businesses to track or geo-fence user behavior within a given radius. In turn, this helps them customize their advertising strategies.

TT3_1303However, location data has undergone a radical paradigm shift. As Jacobs put it, the face of location data has changed from an explicit check-in to passive location-collection data epitomized by crowd-sourced startups, such as Waze. “We are influencing the in-between,” said Ellwood, referring to the company’s focus on optimizing a drivers route between destinations. Unlike Google or Apple, Waze uses a crowdsourced approach to improve upon its maps. It has community of 100,000 real-time map editors who refine and improve its product.

However, the crowd is not always a guarantee for data accuracy. “Out of all the educational opportunities I have come across for small businesses, trust is the biggest,” said Bronwyn Agrios, business development and strategy at ESRI. She said the location analytics industry is moving from a paradigm of low volume, high accuracy data to one of high volume and low accuracy. During her consultations with businesses, Agrios said she always advises them to combine crowd-sourced data with business intelligence. “Don’t make decisions based on one source,” she said. “That would be silly.”

During the discussion, David Shim, chief executive officer of Placed, also highlighted interesting models for mobile analytics tools. He said his company helps brands optimize their consumer insight by running tests that provide data validation of their anecdotal observations. Typically, the consumer insight and market research process at major firms are expensive and involve enormous amounts of time and resources.

Privacy is, perhaps, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for greater effectiveness and adoption of mobile analytics. As long as consumers are wary of being tracked by their smartphones, mobile analytics faces problems. “The more value you provide, the more someone understands why you need that information,” said Ellwood. “It is fundamental that people understand your reasons for taking that information.” According to Shim from Placed, clear definitions of the data transaction or value exchange can help allay privacy concerns. As an example, he cited the case of his company which pays users to track their usage. “Being upfront about everything is really critical and people appreciate that,” he said.

Street Fight Summit 2013 is coming soon to NYC. Find out what’s happening and how you can get a seat at Street Fight’s flagship event here.