Market Now Awash in Free Local Data

Amazingly, there are now multiple sources of free local and POI data in the market. That wasn’t true a year ago or even six months ago. A developer or publisher can now obtain free local business and POI data from:

OpenStreetMap is also out there.

All the data aren’t the same and all the APIs aren’t created equal in terms of developer or publisher discretion over how the data are presented or the capabilities they offer. Regardless the local market is in a very different place — so to speak — than it was just a short time ago.

Traditional (paid) local data providers such as Infogroup are adding enhanced data to help differentiate from the free providers. And data quality and freshness will be an argument going forward. But “good enough”– and free — may be good enough for many.

Factual, which describes itself as an “open, collaborative” data platform, just received $25 million in A-round funding from Andreessen Horowitz and several others. The company is populated with former Google and Yahoo people, including co-founder Gil Elbaz, co-founder of Applied Semantics, which became AdSense after Google acquired the company in 2003. Ex-Yahoo Geo Product Manager (and ALikeList Platform Director) Tyler Bell also recently joined as director of product.

Factual is taking a global approach to local data and displays its databases openly online, such as US data for example.

SimpleGeo, which recently went through a product revamp, argues that Factual’s free data may not be free forever; the latter has suggested it  may charge for the information at some point. SimpleGeo also argues, on the other hand, that its API and free data aren’t restricted like the Google Places API.

SimpleGeo now offers a free local database (Places) and free enhanced data (Context) without restriction to developers and publishers. It plans to make money on storage.

Assuming some or all of the companies on the list above continue to exist the data should continue to improve and will likely remain free. We are thus in the process of another market “disruption” around data. The navigation market was similarly upended when Google made its navigation product free. Nokia/Navteq then followed and others have brought out similar free offerings since (e.g., Mapquest, Orange in Europe).

All this begs the question about where incumbents now compete, with the big search engines and networks on the one side and the “two guys in a garage” development crowd on the other. You can’t sell ads if you’re in the latter category but you may not need to now with all the local ad networks out there.

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17 Responses to “Market Now Awash in Free Local Data”

  1. Tweets that mention Market Now Awash in Free Local Data -- Topsy.com says at

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Greg Sterling and Stanley Gauss, breizh2008. breizh2008 said: RT @gsterling: Market Now Awash in Free Local Data http://bit.ly/hYdxct […]

  2. Andrew Turner says at

    There have been a lot of free location databases for many years. Particular to business and points of interest, sites like Geonames.org has long been a staple of any application needing location data. Mozchef was another historic place database and as you mentioned OpenStreetMap has been around for years.

    In addition to merely simple place location, richer demographics information has been available through open government sources – albeit difficult to find. I work on GeoCommons – which allows crowd-sourcing of POI, demographics, weather, and all types of location information that companies and individuals can use in their applications, planning, and business analysis.

    The best result of these prevalent POI services is that the concept of looking up and understanding location data is becoming very common. Organizations can begin to move beyond merely finding the information to determining and measuring how it affects their business operations, marketing plans, and engagement with consumers.

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks for filling out the list.

  4. Marshall Kirkpatrick says at

    For many purposes, I think you could add the Foursquare API to this list, too.  I’ve been thinking about this general trend as well, and people have been telling me this is really different, but as a non-specialist in the field I’ve not had the confidence to draw the conclusion you drew here.  And clearly commenter Andrew doesn’t agree still!  I sure hope that some big exciting things come from all this data, and not just a bunch of geo-located shopping and coupon crap.

  5. Greg Sterling says at

    Coupons and deals are an important part of the ecosystem but yes there SHOULD be much more built out of these things

  6. Arjun Ram says at

    What you have mentioned is certainly true for the West. With more and more silos coming up it is going to be becoming important for them to be linked up. Twitter has already done some of this at

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/searching_twitter_for_places_just_got_easier.php

    LinkedGeoData is another effort to that is working in a limited way to achieve the same. http://linkedgeodata.org

    Yahoo Geoplanet is also another early mover into this space. Alas a bulk of the team has left yahoo and effort is in limbo at the moment – no decision yet.

    Even google has realized that POI data in itself. They have opened up their geocoding API without a key and increased the limit to 2500 per day.

    The key is going to be build useful workflow’s on top of location given that over 600K phones(300K android + 275K iphone – last reported) being shipped every day.

    Simplegeo has built tools for location developers to capitalize this and have a good team in place. The barrier for entry still needs to be lowered & they understand this very well.

    The problem in the east is bit dicer given that this data isnt widely available. But Android phones with GPS are shipping for as low as 120$ – All of a sudden you have a lot of phones capable of using location based services.

    Caution: Conflict of interest.
    We as a company (Taazza) have been working to resolve this problem (http://www.taazza.com/mobile) where we provide location based news & deals in India at the moment. Providing location based content is a challenge. We have learnt to work around our data constraints ;)

  7. Graham Rhind says at

    It seems to me that no data is being provided by the companies listed above. What is being provided is access to data through an API – not the same thing at all.

    If anybody can point to raw data that is freely accessible, that would be great!

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Maybe you can explain. I assume that an API with data and content is essentially the same if you have the data yourself. If there are lots of restrictions — no. But something like SimpleGeo where there are essentially none I would think so.

  9. Graham Rhind says at

    Rightiho.

    First of all, making data only available through an API limits the access (at least initially) to those with the programming and technical knowledge to write code to access the data through the API. I see a place on SimpleGeo to get an API key, but nowhere where I can download the data. It may seem like semantics, but for me, it’s the difference between something useful and something useless.

    Secondly (and I may be wrong), I’m assuming that once you’ve got your program up and running, you won’t be able to just request a download of the whole data set to your own PC, so that you can actually do what YOU want with the data.

    Right? So what I see on offer is (limited) access to data being held by others, as long as you write a program to provide that access. “Free data” to me would be: here’s 60 million US addresses. Have fun!

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    So it really goes to the API terms and what you’re permitted to do with the data.

  11. Graham Rhind says at

    …and whether you have the technical ability to use the API to access what you’re after…

  12. Bill Greer says at

    Andrew already mentioned GeoCommons, but i’ll add in the not that all of the data in geocommons can be downloaded as a spreadsheet (Csv), Shapefile, KML, or as feeds. And Allows you to add your own data, and geocode that data, without upload limits.  the GeoIQ Api also allows the more technical users to hook in through the API. 

  13. Mike says at

    The post sets up a contrast between ‘free’ data and paid local data providers — that’s probably not the right comparison. The terms and method of access of the free data are such that you couldn’t reasonably use any of these sources to build the type of business where you’d normally consider the option of a paid provider for business listings. The free data instead maybe opens up ancillary uses where previously you couldn’t justify the licensed / paid content. 

  14. Greg Sterling says at

    Mike:

    Probably a fair point. As a non-developer I’m not working with these APIs and not directly familiar with their terms and limitations. I think however the intent in some of these cases (Factual, SimpleGeo) is to enable developers to build viable sites/apps that can operate as businesses.

  15. Duncan says at

    Greg in terms of some of the points made above, about restrictions on the data, whilst I whole heartily concur there’s been a big step in the right direction in terms of freeing up accessibility to location based data, I think there’s still some reasonably limiting characteristics here in these early stages.

    Many of these platforms indeed only allow API access and are designed to enable mobile or web based consumer apps to show a small set of data per call. Very useful if you want to build a consumer ‘what’s around me’ iPhone app that only calls a few data points at a time, and simple displays them . Not so good if you want to analyze large amounts of data, reuse data outside of the restrictions etc… Whilst indeed there’s never a free lunch the case could perhaps be made already Google offers a lot of this functionality (or plans to) in it’s local search and other API’s…

    So perhaps we are a little way off the true reality of ‘free local data’ (with some exceptions such as geocommons etc… As Andrew already mentioned), and maybe we will never get to the true ‘Wikipedia of Places’ – but at least it feels as if we are headed in a positive direction.

    Another potential pitfall of course for all these sources is the potential fragmentation of multiple ‘sources of truth’ – which one really is accurate, if there’s no master but multiple flavors etc…? (imagine mutple competing wikipedia’s each with there slightly different entries, categorizations etc… for certain topics). Another topic which a few folks like Placecast have touched on, but I’m not sure we’ve actually made a huge amount of progress on, is the opportunity to provide a frame of reference to link and cross reference multiple Db sources that are actually describing the same place…which I think will be a growing problem in the near future, and probably needs a decent solution sooner rather than later, otherwise it’s not hard to see the player with the most momentum (most money would be on Google Places I presume) becoming the de-facto source of truth here.

    Regardless an interesting topic…

  16. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Duncan for the explanation. How accurate are the geocommons data? 

  17. Duncan says at

    Sorry I’m always swapping these two – I meant to reference Geonames, not Geocommons. Andrew is better placed to speak to the Geocommons data, and I don’t have a great deal of experience with it.

    But I have used the ‘original’ open data places of places that very few people talk about, Geonames. It has a fantastic diversity of geographic information such as geological formations etc… And a very good database of places and very other things (such as geo coded Wikipedia data), but not really business POI’s. You can try it yourself at http://www.geonames.org

  18. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Duncan

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