Mistaking the Context for the End Game

This is a post about location (for a change); but it doesn’t have to be about location as it’s all about mistaking a vital element for the end game itself. I should explain.

I recently got contacted by a gentleman in the US who was looking to register a lot of domain names, in a manner which recalled the rush to buy domain names in order to make a profit as the dot com boom rushed headlong to become the dot bomb bust and which resulted in the unlovely pass-time of domain squatting.

After seeing a lot of mention of location, location based services and location based mobile services in the media, the position of location based services on Gartner’s most recent hype curve and seeing a lot of acquisition activity in the location space, he was looking to register domain names with LBS in them.

The reasoning went that what he termed geo domains, such as london.com and newyork.com command a high premium then, given that location’s star is in the ascendent, adding the three magic letters of LBS to such domains, such as londonlbs.com or newyorklbs.com, will also command a premium, albeit a slightly lower one.

In agreement: Some macro experiments: Gummi Bears

Let me count the number of ways that this reasoning holds a degree of water, however small. We were certainly in agreement that location, geo, place and semantic understanding of these concepts, via techniques such as entity extraction, are going to be significantly important in 2010, for several reasons:

  • The economic downturn has either bottomed out (if you’re cynical) or is starting a tentative upturn (if you’re optimistic) and history has shown that investment starts to turn to new and promising areas in such circumstances.
  • Gartner have flagged LBMS as just cresting from the “slope of enlightenment” to the “plateau of productivity” in their last hype curve (see slide 14 of one of my recent decks), although I’d argue that Gartner should really be flagging the concept of location rather than just LB(M)S as there’s far more to location than just the services that fall under the LBS or LBMS umbrella.
  • While only with 21% of total market share for mobile handsets, smartphones are benefiting from the headlong convergence of location sensor enabled devices, although the forecasts for such devices reaching critical mass in market share have so broad a range of timelines as to be pretty much useless for making any concrete projections.
  • The public’s approach to location is moving away from Big Brother style hysteria and knee jerk reactions to acceptance of revealing one’s location providing a suitable value proposition is made; the check-in phenenomena that is Gowalla and FourSquare are good exemplars of this in action.
Disagreement

However, let me also count the number of ways in which we differ significantly on the importance of the keywords “geo“, “lbs” and “lbms” in domain names.

  • For the purposes of branding and marketing, a good domain name is still an essential facet of a company’s digital engagement strategy. We’re seeing a similar rush towards securing the right name on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as we saw in the glory days of the .com boom, though by no means to the same degree and by no means as blindly headlong.
  • But for the purposes of informing the type of information a user is looking for location is a key context and not the end game in itself, indeed I’d be happy to see the LBS and LBMS acronyms go away as they focus attention far more on the technology and far less on the context, experience and results that a user craves.
  • A significant percentage of online users equate the browsers icon on their desktop with the internet (hence the longevity of Internet Explorer 6 as a dominant browser). In the same vein, their prime source of searching for information is frequently a search engine, which is typically their browser’s home page.
  • People tend to use a search engine to look for information rather than by typing a domain name into their browser’s address bar (which explains why one of the dominant queries that Google handles is “google” or “google.com”); the search engine is becoming the internet in much the same way as the desktop browser icon used to be “the internet”.
  • Whilst a user may type a well known brand name into their browser’s address bar, frequently without the TLD, this still equates to a search as the browser either appends .com automagically or examines the entered URL for syntax and passes it onto the user’s default search engine for handling.
  • Again, whilst geographical keywords are much sought after for search marketing purposes and command a high bid price as a result, I’ve not seen any evidence, either from research or anecdotally, to show that a geographical URL has benefit in the same way. Indeed from looking at www.london.com, the site is a hotel booking aggregator, with suspect use of Transport for London’s Tube roundel logo and in the small print warns “This site and domain are not affiliated with or owned by any government or municipal authority“. It’s not a site I’ve even even been aware of nor known anyone use, ditto www.sanfrancisco.com and www.sanjose.com, two cities I frequently visit both as a tourist and for business.

So while the location industry may have embraced the terms geo, location based service, location based mobile service and their acronyms, these are vague and not well known outside of the industry, which is the target demographic. I can’t see a need for use of the domain name system in this way.

Location is a key context that informs the user and helps to provide relevance, it’s not the end game both in function or in the names and terms that describe it. I think Ed Parsons, Google’s Geotechnologist summed it up rather neatly when he recently described location as equivalent to DNS … “normal people use it every day but they (don’t have to understand it) or see it’s value” and I find the comparison to DNS particularly apt in this circumstance.

Photo Credits: hypercatalecta and Werner Kunz on Flickr.
Written at home (51.427051, -0.333344) and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

Written by Gary

Husband, Father, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user.