Putting Context Over Coordinates with New Location Encoding Standard

Context over coordinates. That’s the premise behind a new standard universal location ID called Placekey, which launches publicly today.

By offering a standard for identifying any physical place, the team behind Placekey is betting that advertisers and other data scientists will have an easier time joining disparate datasets and unlocking deeper insights. The platform was developed by SafeGraph, and it’s already been endorsed by heavy-hitters such as Esri, CARTO, Billups, Skyhook, and Nielsen.

While Placekey is not the first attempt at a universal standard identifier, its creators have taken a unique approach by defining locations based on context rather than coordinates. Previous attempts at building location identifiers, including Geohash, Mapcode, and What3Words, were based on grids. Placekey’s developers believe that others have fallen short because they lacked context about the people and places that occupy physical spaces. From a data science perspective, that meant they also lacked consistency and correctness.

Placekey’s creators are aiming to take a different approach. They say that combining geographical location with address and POI data is what’s necessary to have a standard universal location ID that will meet the needs of the broadest spectrum of users.

“The ultimate goal is to generate a unique Placekey for every place in the world—even those without a postal address,” says Safegraph’s Vice President of Marketing, Evan Barry. “The organizations involved in Placekey believe that data is most valuable when it’s made easily accessible and usable by many—not hoarded by a select few.”

Barry and his team say they are dedicated to keeping Placekey free because they know the value that comes from having as many datasets matching to Placekey as possible.

“Once that happens, everyone in the industry will benefit,” he says.

Although the need for a universal identifier is not new, Barry says it has become much more top-of-mind during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the very beginning of the pandemic, retailers and advertisers have struggled to predict how consumer travel and buying behaviors would change. Many businesses have relied on alternative data sources to make sense of the changes they’ve experienced or to enhance their own models around marketing spend, consumer demand, and site selection.

Barry says being able to associate a standard universal location ID to those datasets will make it possible for businesses to onboard and analyze data much faster, while also uncovering the kinds of actionable insights that can help businesses survive during the global crisis.

“This challenge is not unique to businesses that engage directly with consumers. Academic researchers, non-profit organizations, and government agencies have also had to turn to location-based data throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to understand things like predicting hospital bed demand or measuring the impact of state and local social distancing orders,” Barry says.

Having an open-source solution like Placekey could help to reduce the friction that data scientists and advertisers encounter when they’re joining datasets together. That means less time merging data and more time analyzing it.

“Joining datasets has always been a huge challenge for advertisers,” Barry says. “Most data scientists claim to spend up to 90% of their time cleaning and prepping their data versus actually analyzing it.”

An exceptionally strong advertising use case for Placekey could be in the out-of-home (OOH) advertising space. The seemingly simple task of tracking assets can be challenging, and Barry says retailers have been searching for a better solution.

“Having a common and universal set of identifiers, such as Placekey, to identify these places with a much higher degree of precision … makes understanding these assets easier while also helping advertisers ensure that their spend is always directed to wherever it will drive the greatest value.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

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