Tour of SimpleGeo reveals why location services can't get along

Last week I finally got to visit one of the companies that’s getting a lot of attention inside the location-based service world. No, it’s not Foursquare or Gowalla. It’s SimpleGeo, headquartered in Boulder, CO.

But one thing I’m interested in is why all these services don’t share data (I wrote about that in Techcrunch recently). You know, TripIt doesn’t talk with Google Maps which doesn’t talk with Foursquare which doesn’t talk with Gowalla which doesn’t talk with Bing Maps which doesn’t talk with Trapster which doesn’t talk with my running and cycling apps which don’t talk with Waze which doesn’t talk with Glympse and on and on and on.

In the interview and tour with SimpleGeo’s CEO (SimpleGeo plays intermediary for companies trying to build location-based services) he gives a good explanation of why these companies haven’t gotten along:

1. Their databases describe locations differently, so matching databases is hard.
2. The companies they are building on top of, like Navtek, have contracts that forbid a lot of databases being built on top of them.
3. The really useful data, like real-time views into what restaurants your friends are eating at, is very valuable so companies tend to want to keep that to themselves.

These are tough problems and is why the location-based industry feels a lot like online services felt in the late 1980s: lots of data silos, but no way yet to build common interfaces that join these together. We all know that the web came along in 1994 and fixed that. When will the same thing happen to the industry that Foursquare and Gowalla are leading now? I have a feeling SimpleGeo will play a big role in that and that we’ll be seeing a lot more of its CEO, Matt Galligan.

As to the tour of the office, neat to see how they are joining offices together with videoconferencing systems. If you are starting a startup or are trying to work with a remote team, you might get some ideas by what SimpleGeo is doing in its offices.

SimpleGeo's founder Matt Galligan

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. Nice interview. I'm really interested and involved in location lately, more specifically with location based marketing and this stuff interests me so much for some reason. I do hate the siloing that's happening but I don't see a solution in sight anytime soon.
    This has been a problem for years with business info with IYP's and what Google is struggling with trying to get small biz to claim Place pages and update info.
    Can't wait to see what SimpleGeo depose for sxsw next year…. Maybe a line buster so I could actually get into one of the LBS parties this time lol. Or I just need the Scoble / Hardaway pass ;)

  2. Bottom line of this interview: “location services” are missing an industry standard. The reason RSS works is the standard (or protocol) underlying the service. So, who is going to step up and define it? Me? My plate is too full. You?

  3. “But one thing I’m interested in is why all these services don’t share data”… Well I know *I'll* be taking my skills elsewhere, thank you very much.

  4. Difference between RSS and location is that the site owner publishes the feed; with location it's the user who still has to 'create' the spot and check in.

    Places too will need to push their data to our devices using a standardized protocol. A protocol mind you, that needs latitude and longitude, but also elevation.

    Add to that an identifier that contains the non-mathematical data (like a QR code, only not graphical but radio based) and you're off.

    Easy ;)

  5. Which begs the question: Where is the likes of NAVTEQ on this? Which of their kind is going to open up and seize a common enabling role for these services?