The Power of Location

“Location targeting is the holy grail for marketers.” This statement was directed to an entire industry at Mobile World Congress by Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of the world's largest advertising company by revenues. While this may be a revelation of a new reality to some, the geographer reading this might be saying, "Where's Waldo?" The so-called first law of geography from Waldo Tobler is "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” This was recently validated by analysis of Wikipedia. More recent research shows a basis for even more ways to exploit this power. In "The Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility," a peer-reviewed paper in Science magazine, the authors report after studying 50,000 cell phone records over three months that, "by measuring the entropy of each individual’s trajectory, we find a 93% potential predictability in user mobility." We may have free will but we make the same choices nearly every day.

Businesses are investing in the power of location. Gartner predicts that revenue generated by consumer location-based services will reach $13.5 billion in 2015, with advertising being the dominant contributor. Location targeting more than doubles the performance of mobile ads. NPR radio listeners, for example, are more eager to engage and share in social media based on local content.

We all know the explicit value of turn-by turn directions, but the value of location is implicit in other services that that use location. Location may not be a direct consumer product, but rather an intermediate good as the basis for many services. Monitor and change your environment for health. Play games based in the real world augmented with interesting information. We have only begun to see how our lives will change. Bring your own device; just make sure it is always-connected, always-located.

For location to be valuable but it must be accurate. Technology for location quality is good but it needs to improve. While not quantified, a repeated speculation is that "roughly half of all venue data on Facebook and Foursquare is not accurate.” There's an emerging industry focused on delivering quality geocoded locations. In the rush to meet the need, some short cuts are being taken. The dirty little secret of LBS ads is the use of “inferred” lat/lon locations. Inferred should be interpreted here as a really rough guess. Location data quality will vary and it is important to match accuracies to the use. It is “important for decision makers to understand the accuracy of the available geocodes so that they have a sense of the level of confidence they can place in the data.” - wise guidance from John O’Hara, Pitney Bowes.

OGC is addressing location quality.   The OGC Spatial Data Quality Working Group surveyed a thousand geospatial data suppliers and users around the world. The survey provided feedback supporting OGC’s development of terms of quality measure and a robust spatial data quality model. Standards developed on this framework will enable more effective and reliable evaluation, sharing and use of geospatial information, improve data analysis and ultimately influence policy decisions.  OGC is not specifying quality or fitness for use; we focus on how to express this quality in a uniform way. 

A Point of Interest (POI) standard will lead to higher quality location information. OGC is creating a standards working group to standardize the POI conceptual data model and XML encoding. This builds on work done in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This POI standard will allow comparison of location data from multiple sources, resulting in increased quality. This work in OGC has begun with the OGC OpenPOIs Registry: A database of points of interest information containing names and point locations for millions of businesses and civic places across the globe. The OpenPOI Registry is to be a comprehensive directory of links to other POI databases having the actual information about the places themselves. Access is free and the data is open to all to use.