5 Influential Products That Helped Define Local Tech

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mobile-phone-map-searchThe local industry has yielded a bevy of popular products over the past few years. Some have survived while others have faded into the background, but the industry continues to merit the hype.

The rebirth of local tech largely developed around two technologies. On the consumer-side of the marketplace, the smartphone brought the web within reach of the moments where local shopping decisions are made most often: out of the home. Among other benefits, it turned local search and discovery from a smarter version of a phone book to a product that introduces a fundamentally different consumer behavior.

On the other side, developments in cloud computing have opened the door for a host of new software applications for brick-and-mortar stores. Two key benefits — its relative expense and the ability to access the information from anywhere — have allowed technology companies to bring software to previously underserved markets, connecting a much larger part of the marketplace to the web.

Today, local buyers and sellers have started to see the fruits of these technologies. We take a look at the five best products in local tech over the past few years.

Data syndication: In 2009, Yext quietly pivoted. The New York-based company which had built a big call tracking business launched a new data syndication product that promised to help brick-and-mortar businesses manage their listings across the web. Within three years, the product was exploding and the company spun its out existing pay-per-call business to focus exclusively on location data syndication and management.

The data syndication product built on the two key advancements of its time. Mobility allowed consumers to access digital search wherever and whenever, making local SEO an increasingly important component in driving traffic to brick-and-mortar stores. Meanwhile, cloud storage allowed companies such Yext and SinglePlatform to create a single location database accessible through a standard web API.

Check-in: Foursquare bears often ridicule the check-in as a passing fad, but the check-in did two critical things for the company. It provided a mechanism through which the company could build and maintain its own dataset, and more importantly, it served as both an opaque piece of content as well as an actionable, and manipulable, piece of data that (unlike content) gains value as inventory scales.

More importantly, it introduced consumers to the ability to interact with places in the same way they interact with information products. For the first time, places were a dynamic object, capable of the same laws that govern the distribution and manipulation afforded to text, images and video.

Daily deal: Groupon exploded in 2009 and 2010 with the introduction of the daily deal. The product drew on some of the social capabilities that were popular in the years following Facebook’s success: it replicated wholesale by bringing together people who were interested in a product. The company also allow consumers to buy local goods and services online in a way that was never before possible — a behavior that is increasingly popular today.

But its lasting impact was in helping to accelerate the shift of small business marketing budgets from traditional to digital channels.

Mobile point-of-sale: It’s sometimes easy to forget that Square built a billion-dollar business on a piece of plastic. The mobile card reader helped to dramatically expand the reach of one of the most entrenched industries, bringing payment processing capabilities to a slew of previously underserved small and mobile businesses.

Today, the product is entering its next phase. As larger and larger businesses adopt cloud-based point-of-sale systems, there’s a unique opportunity to build new technologies and capabilities on top of these systems.

Local marketplaces: The astronomical growth of Uber — and subsequent emergence of other local marketplaces — over the past few years built on a decade of innovation in search, commerce, and business software. In the past year, we’ve seen six different companies raise 30 million plus funding rounds. That means the next few years will see these products move from fascinations of Silicon Valley to meaningful mainstream services.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.