Posts Tagged ‘hyperlocal’

The Letter W and Hype (or Local) at the Location Business Summit

Each time I give my Hyperlocal or Hype (and Local) talk it morphs slightly and becomes more scathing of the term hyperlocal.

I started to write the talk for Where 2.0 in San Jose earlier this year and approached it from the point of a hopeful sceptic who was looking to be persueded that the long promised hyperlocal nirvana was either right here, right now or was at least looming hopefully on the horizon.

A month later and I had the pleasure of sharing the keynote slot with Professor Danny Dorling at the GIS Research UK conference at University College London and I revisited the theme. By this time any hope of hyperlocal nirvana had pretty much vanished.

Yesterday I took the talk out for the final time at the Location Business Summit in Amsterdam and the elephant in the room relating to hyperlocality had grown into a full blown herd of elephants.

My scepticism was echoed by several members of the audience, notably James Thornett from the BBC who blogged about it and with whom I shared a panel on the nebulous concept that is the geoweb today.

But what really seemed to catch the audience’s imagination was my twin memes of Geobabel and the Three W’s of Geo … the where, the when and the what.

A new and accurat map of the world

The where is what we’ve been doing for centuries; mapping the globe. Whilst it’s a sweeping generalisation, we’ve pretty much done this, albeit to a varying degree of accuracy, coverage and granularity. We’ve mapped the globe, now it’s time to do something with all of this data.

The when is the gnarly problem of temporality, which just won’t go away. Places and geography change over time; how we map a place today doesn’t show how the place was 100 years ago and neither can we expect the geography of a place to be static 100 years hence. As we update our geographic data sets and throw away the old, supposedly obsolete, historical versions, we’re throwing away a rich set of temporality in the process.

Map from memory

Then finally there’s the what; a reference to a place in intrinsically bound to it’s granularity. References to London from outside of the United Kingdom are frequently aimed at the non specific London bounded by the M25 orbital motorway. Zoom in and London becomes Greater London, and then the London Boroughs and finally the City of London and neighbouring City of Westminster.

The strong reaction to these twin memes makes me think that we’ll be seeing these topics continue to raise their heads until we’re able to find work arounds or solutions.

Photo Credits: Nad on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Hotel Okura, Amsterdam (52.3488,  4.893717)

The 3 W’s of Geo (and hyperlocal deities and a pachyderm)

Earlier this week, Jeremy Morley from the Centre for Geospatial Research at the University of Nottingham and Muki Haklay at University College London got in touch with me. The GIS Research UK Conference was in full swing, and OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast had had to drop out of the conference due to ill health; would I think about stepping in for the closing keynote of the conference?

Hedging my bets and guessing that few, if any, of the audience had been in San Jose at Where 2.0 a couple of weeks back, I gladly accepted and reshuffled, added to and polished my Where 2.0 deck to yield Hyperlocal Deities, Pachyderms, the Letter W, the Number 3 (and some Geo).

The majority of the deck should be relatively self explanatory but I think it’s worth calling out what I’ve labelled the three W’s of geo … where, when and what.

A new and accurat map of the world

The where is what we’ve been doing for centuries; mapping the globe. Whilst it’s a sweeping generalisation, we’ve pretty much done this, albeit to a varying degree of accuracy, coverage and granularity. We’ve mapped the globe, now it’s time to do something with all of this data.

Map Archaeology

The when is the gnarly problem of temporality, which just won’t go away. This shows up in two ways. Firstly there’s the fact that places and geography change over time; how we map a place today doesn’t show how the place was 100 years ago and neither can we expect the geography of a place to be static 100 years hence. Secondly there’s the problem of places which only exist at certain times of the year. Take Burning Man and Glastonbury; for most of the year these places are a salt flat in a desert and a farmer’s field but at a certain time they become places in their own right.

The A13 from Ship Lane

Then finally there’s the what and again, this manifests in two ways. Firstly we need to recognise that places aren’t only spelt differently but they’re said differently and “New Orleans” and “Noorlans” are one and the same place. Secondly a reference to a place in intrinsically bound to it’s granularity. References to London from outside of the United Kingdom are frequently aimed at the non specific London bounded by the M25 orbital motorway. Zoom in and London becomes Greater London, and then the London Boroughs.

We’re so close to completing the where of geo, we’ve only just touched on the when and the what remains uncharted territory. And that last pun was fully intentional.

Photo Credits: The Norman. B. Leventhal Map Center, wokka and Thurrock Phil on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

Where 2.0 – Hype (or Local?)

Sometimes writing a talk and putting together an accompanying slide deck is an education in itself. You set out with a point you want to make and in researching the evidence to back up your assertions you find out that the point you originally wanted to make isn’t actually correct. You could give up at this point, which is not to be recommended as you’re already on the conference schedule, or you could accept that your reasoning was flawed in the first place and make your talk instead centre on why you were wrong.

Thus it was with the researching and background behind my talk at Where 2.0 in San Jose on Wednesday. Originally entitled as a declaration, it soon became obvious that “Ubiquitous location, the new frontier and hyperlocal nirvana” was missing a very significant question mark.

The audience seemed a trifle bemused when I told them that the talk was brought to them “by the number three and the word local (hyper and micro)“, but when I mentioned that it included “a theory” a Mexican wave of shoulder slumping swept the (packed) room, followed in short succession by a long sigh.

I couldn’t blame them.

Luckily attention perked up when I mentioned that it was my Theory of Stuff (Stuff? Stuff? Huh?) and illustrated this point with a scene from the classic Monty Python Anne Elk (Miss) and her Theory sketch.

you may well ask, chris, what is my theory?

So, to the talk. Just as “the wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose them” (apocryphally attributed to Grace Hopper), the wonderful thing about hyperlocality is that it has so many definitions, but a summation of these seem to agree on:

  1. entities and events located in a well defined, community area
  2. intended for consumption by residents of or visitors to that area
  3. created by a resident of or visitor to that area

That’s three elements and continuing the number three, hyperlocality needs to overcome three matching hurdles, three geo hurdles and three location hurdles

  1. the ability to have scannable, parseable content
  2. the ability to join users to the content
  3. the ability to determine what is local and what isn’t in that content
  1. the ability to scan and parse content for geographic references
  2. the ability to determine where a user is located
  3. the ability to determine what is local to a user and what isn’t relative to the user
  1. the ability to use IP location
  2. the ability to use GPS
  3. the ability to use A-GPS

(the third one there is an artifact of the need to make the “number three meme” work and I throw my hands up in surrender for that piece of artifice. Mea culpa)

what is it for and why would anyone use it?

While we’re on the subject of the “number three meme” there’s also three genera of hyperlocality

  1. “classic” hyperlocal; taking, refining and creating local news (, Patch)
  2. “corporate” hyperlocal; where a corporation removes their brand to fit in with the local community (Starbucks and the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea in NYC)
  3. “user” hyperlocal; creating and delivering localised content and information based on checking in (Foursquare, Gowalla, Rummble, etc)

The meme continues with the level of granularity at which hyperlocal services operate:

  1. “local”, at county level (Washington Post / Loudon)
  2. “hyperlocal”, at city of neighbourhood level (Placeblogger)
  3. “microlocal”, at block level (Everyblock)

So far, so (hyper)local. There’s good exemplars of all of the above, in operation, right now. But there’s also several elephants in the room, looming large and waving their trunks for attention.

Is location that ubiquitous? We all say it is but where’s the proof? So 21% of mobile handsets are classed as smartphones (though not all of those have location capabilities), what about the remaining 79%. That’s not that ubiquitous is it?

Then there’s the issues of location and privacy; when location enablers such as Yahoo’s Fire Eagle and Google’s Latitude were launched we had lots of hand waving, foot stamping and Big Brother references from privacy activists, some of which was warranted, some of which were just pleas for publicity.

Most matching of users and content and ad inventory is dependent on technologies which derive location from an IP address. That’s simply not good enough for hyperlocal coverage where the difference between an IP location and a GPS location can be over 10 miles; that’s not even local let alone hyper or micro local.

User hyperlocal isn’t without problems either. Gowalla won’t let you check in unless your GPS lock agrees with the location of a place, eliciting cries of “but I’m here dammit”. Yelp has … issues on how it undertakes hyperlocal. Foursquare allows you to become Mayor of The North Pole from the confort of your own sofa and Fake Mayor on the iPhone bypasses Foursquare altogether.

So the outlook for hyperlocal is all hype then, obviously?

Well not quite. The number of location capable smartphones will continue to grow with 5 million mobile handsets predicted by 2011. Foursquare is growing at a phenomenal rate hitting the 1 check in per second mark recently. 33% of us now read and consume news from a mobile handset and we seem to be quite happy with displaying our location history via check ins, a far cry from the location hysteria of 2 years ago.

This year at Where 2.0 the view of the geo-scape was significantly different from the previous year; I don’t doubt that will be the same for Where 2.0 in 2011. See you all there.

Written at Where 2.0 2010 in the San Jose Marriott (37.330323, -121.888363) and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The Long Tail; Hyperlocal or Just Hype?

I’m currently on my way to California, the Yahoo! mothership in Sunnyvale and the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose, where I’ll be talking about Ubiquitous Location, The New Frontier and Hyperlocal Nirvana on Wednesday, March 31st. From doing some background research while waiting for my plane, it looks like my talk is going to be changing somewhat from the original plan. If you’re going to be at Where 2.0, please pop over to the Yahoo! booth and say hello and meet the Geo Technologies and Yahoo! Developer Network teams.

The Long Tail - Review Copy

I’ll be writing up a fuller version of my talk once it’s complete and once it’s actually written but for now, here’s the published abstract.

The Head is all mined out; established players jealously guard their business relationships and look forward to the next contract renewal. Slightly further down the curve, the up and coming players as well as those who have slipped and fallen, eye the Head jealously and fight for scraps in the shadows. Everyone looks at the Long Tail as the new frontier.

With location-aware devices relentlessly converging, location is becoming evermore ubiquitous and is taking its rightful place as a key context to enable companies and applications to cultivate the Long Tail. Knowing local places, enriching local content, and informing local needs – anywhere and everywhere.

This talk looks at the business, social, and technological hurdles that are now being addressed or that still need to be overcome in order to reach the long-promised hyperlocal nirvana.

Photo Credits: super-structure on Flickr.
Written and posted from the BA Lounge, Terminal 5, London Heathrow (51.469935, -0.485936)

Location is a Key Context, But Most People Don’t Know This

Like a lot of people, I get most of the information I use, both personally and professionally, from the web; from RSS feeds, from keyword search alerts and from Twitter. The genesis of my recent Theory of Stuff slowly accumulated out of this mishmash of feeds, alerts and status updates.

Firstly I read about EchoEcho, a new location based service which promises all manner of good stuff by showing you where your friends are regardless of which location based service they currently use. Let’s leave aside for one moment that the service independence of this app seems to be based around the concept of getting all your friends to use EchoEcho and then consistently getting them to report their location. Let’s look at something far more fundamental than that, the strong sense of location deja vu harking back over two years ago.

Haven’t we been here before? Hindsight seems to have proven that concepts such as “who’s nearby” and “show me where my friends are” aren’t, on their own, enough to build a business around. The brief flare of enthusiasm over services which tried this approach such as PlayTxt and DodgeBall were soon extinguished as users, fickle as they are, got bored and moved onto the next big thing.

Then there were two articles looking at “checking in“, both looking at FourSquare and Gowalla but each one coming at it from wildly differing ends of the experience. On the one hand, there was Business Week quoting the eye watering “I don’t feel complete unless I check in” from FourSquare, Gowalla and Yelp addict Diane Bisgeier. Though the article focuses on this as a San Francisco and the Bay Area phenomenon, this has crossed the Atlantic with vigorous checking in going on in the UK and in mainland Europe. I may even have contributed to this, from time to time.

A totally contrasting view was shown by Andrew Hyde who was fed up of “the needless ego boost” of saying where he was and “committed location based suicide” by deleting his accounts from FourSquare and Gowalla. We’ll leave to one side the irony that this was done very publicly and with an accompanying blog post.

All of the above moved Thierry Gregorius to lament that “if ‘normal’ people don’t see the point of location-based services, how can the geo-industry claim being mainstream?“. A valid point but one which confuses the very visible front end view of location, as seen in LBMS and the less visible back end view of location. Ed Parsons summed this up succinctly by comparing back end location with the DNS system, which “normal people don’t see the value of but use every day“.

It was these three themes, “who’s nearby” as a raison d’etre alone, maintaining an audience by check-ins alone and selling location based services to a wide audience that made me sit down and write up my Theory of Stuff. The full text of this is in a previous post, but the short version of the theory states that in order for a business to succeed you need three things, some Stuff, be it data, inventory or something else, some People, your audience and some Secret Sauce which allows you to connect the audience to the stuff in a bidirectional manner. So how do these three themes fare against the theory of stuff? Surprisingly and thankfully, they all seem to validate it.

The concepts of “who’s nearby” and “where are my friends” on their own, fail the theory of stuff. 

You have People, and in some cases a very large and quickly growing audience. You have some Secret Sauce which connects those People via their locations. But because there’s no Stuff to start with and the secret sauce isn’t bidirectional, no Stuff is created. The effect of this is that monetization opportunities are non existent or severely limited and the service isn’t sustainable. Both PlayText and DodgeBall are no more and the omens aren’t looking good for EchoEcho as a result.

Then there’s FourSquare and Gowalla, both of whom seem to have been inspired by Google. Cast your mind back to when Google announced the concept of Street View which was met with sneers and derision from some. Before Street View even went live it was written off as a loss leader, a waste of time and money and it would be Google’s white elephant.

Others of us in the location industry took one look at a Street View car and noted that the cameras weren’t just pointing parallel to the road surface to take photos of surrounding buildings. They were also pointing at the road and up at the road signage which, when combined with the fact that the (GPS, cell tower and wifi triangulation equipped) StreetView cars actually had to drive down the streets in question, would provide Google with their own mapping data that was also capable of powering routing and direction algorithms. A short while later and Google completes enough of North America to remove the need for TeleAtlas mapping data and makes massive savings on data licensing into the bargain.

Street View passes the Theory of Stuff by providing new Stuff to be connected and monetized by their existing Secret Sauce and the People who make up their substantial audience.

It would be easy to dismiss FourSquare and Gowalla as more up to date versions of the “where are my friends” service. While they seem to have created the current cultural phenomenon of checking in, which may well be their lasting legacy, both services have their own quirks (FourSquare’s Mayors and Badges and Gowalla’s items) and need to show they’re capable of holding onto their existing audience and growing it, substantially. 

So this surely means that both FourSquare and Gowalla fail the Theory of Stuff? Not necessarily. Just as StreetView generated valuable Stuff for Google, so both FourSquare and Gowalla are also generating a detailed set of local business listings and points of interest, all of them neatly categorised and geotagged as a bonus. That’s a lot of very valuable Stuff. This doesn’t seem to have been something that’s been noticed or commented on as much as it should be. If both these services can retain their audience and if they connect them with all the Stuff that is being captured and generated via Secret Sauce then they can most definitely pass the Theory of Stuff.

The idea that location is analogous to the Domain Name System is slightly more challenging to fit into the Theory of Stuff’s model but it’s still possible.

In the previous two themes, location has been the dominant factor in the provision of a service (PlayText, Dodgeball, FourSquare and Gowalla) or location data has been generated in order to create Stuff (FourSquare and Gowalla). In the DNS theme, location is not the prime reason for a service to exist, it’s a context, part of the Secret Sauce, that helps the service provide its users with relevant information. This was highlighted by Kevin Marks and JP Rangaswami in last year’s excellent The Impact of Context on the Mobile User Experience discussion at the Heroes of the Mobile Screen conference in London. Of course, you still need Stuff and People in order for this to work; Secret Sauce on its own is not a recipe for success.

As nomadic devices have proliferated, the difference between The Web and The Mobile Web have vanished; it’s just the web, regardless of how you experience it. A parallel can be drawn here with location. As location becomes more and more ubiquitous so the whole concept of a Location Based (Mobile) Service will also vanish, at least as a label. Location will just be a context. And there’s nothing wrong with that; quite the reverse, as the location industry will have achieved their aim of ubiquity, of providing a service and information that everyone uses but which no one actually bothers to think about it being there.

Photo Credits: Angelskdpstyles and leff on Flickr

Written and posted from  Yahoo! campus, Sunnyvale, California (51.5143913, -0.1287317)

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous