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.