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AOL Bets On Social Navigation & Open Source; Why People Will Power Location Apps

Topic: Media, Social Media | Author: Peggy Anne Salz | Date: January 6, 2011

navigation strategies USASocial and mobile are combining to create some amazing experiences. From location-linked games to social shopping schemes, there is money – and competitive advantage – in harnessing location information to power our interactions with the people and communities around us. This trend also turns up the pressure on companies to focus on the quality of the data and develop new ways to get us involved in creating and curating our own local maps and information.

This is just one of the topics heading the agenda at Navigation Strategies USA, a two day conference organized by the Wherebusiness (January 25-26, San Jose). MSearchGroove is proud to be a media sponsor of the event and bring you this event preview looking at the hot issues affecting the navigation ecosystem.

Open source mapping & AOL

Top of the list is open source. As more apps come online – specifically, automotive apps — there is a greater need for quality navigational data. That is where  community-sourced – or open source – mapping can deliver key advantages to the LBS industry. And then there is the business that can be made when you connect hyperlocal mapping data (including location and information about local businesses) with mobile marketing and advertising.

AOL has its eye on the prize, which is why MapQuest (a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL) has sharpened on open source (OpenStreetMap – OMS).

Its goal is to become the first large mapping company to embrace open-source mapping at scale.

To this end AOL MapQuest has struck out in new directions — revamping its UI, spearheading an  aggressive expansion of Patch, the growing hyper-local news and information platform AOL acquired in 2009.

As a result OMS powers the maps behind Patch and allows people to get involved in the process, and include hiking trails, parks and bike paths to improve the overall experience (and quality of the navigation data).

Interview with Randy Meech

Clearly, AOL isn’t the only company in the space – but it is one with the clearest objectives.

RandyMeechAOLI caught up with Randy Meech, AOL Head of Engineering, Local & Mapping, to discuss the value of open source, the role of mobile and get an update on the $1 million fund AOL launched in July to support the growth of open-source mapping. The fund supports projects in specific communities to help expand and enhance the geographic data available to developers, designers and other users. It’s part of AOL’s commitment to open-source technology – and Randy tells me it’s also the source of competitive advantage in a navigation and LBS space where the data is – literally – everything.

Involvement & motivation

Empowering people to participate in the creation of their own maps (and local information) is more than an ideal; it’s an ideal business model. As Randy points out: “It[is] very clear that if we can get those tools right and make it easy for people to go in and edit their local data, it’s going to be much more helpful for everything around mapping, in particular navigation.” But it’s not just about mapping, Randy believes that being a leader in supporting open source “definitely helps to get the best talent.”

Regional differences & Amazing Waze

There are distinct differences in the data and the quality between the regions. The U.K. and Germany have done well, harnessing eager communities to fill in the blanks in their local maps. “The ability to map out your town when there’s nothing there — that’s very motivational and probably helped build the community there.” The challenge in the U.S., on the other hand, is tackling the “sheer size of the geography.”

Granted, mapping can be a monumental task. But the combination of social and mobile can pay huge dividends.

A company that provides a blueprint is Waze, a company that taps into drivers to deliver real-time traffic information and maps. Randy recently saw a demo in Tel Aviv and was notably impressed. “They’ve really hit critical mass of users and that is just a fantastic experience so I expect to see a lot more stuff like that in terms of social map navigation and mobile.”

(Ditto for me. I interviewed Waze recently and concluded that the company, which harnesses our personal mobility and our position as nodes in a larger network, delivers tangible benefits combined with a super-cool user experience.)

open source communityRandy tells me we can be sure that 2011 will be the year of social and mobile.

In fact, we can expect some interesting launches from AOL that harness the power of communities. As Randy explained: “I don’t want to go too much into specifics but for people to be able — in an open source shareable way — to give data about businesses in their area is definitely going to be a big area.”

Top of the list is the intersection of social and mobile, which will create new business models and opportunities. “The data that you can leverage when people are using your navigation apps in order to make their routing more powerful for them and more useful is a definitely a big trend.”

To learn the other top trends and Randy’s views on social navigation, listen to the podcast here. [12:31]

Editor’s Note: Randy will be giving the keynote at Navigation Strategies USA. You can still register to hear authorities weigh in on hot topics — including the importance of open source and why it works for the LBS and navigation industries. MSearchGroove is proud to be a media sponsor of this conference — and all conferences — organized by the Wherebusiness.

Next in the series is Enterprise Strategies for Location Intelligence USA 2011 taking place on March 30-31 in  Chicago, so mark your calendars!

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