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


This startup wants you to play with its balls

Last week in Boulder, Colorado, we saw a ton of cool startups but many of them didn’t make products consumers can go into a store and buy. GearBox, though, is selling robotic balls that will cost about $50.

Now, what’s cool about a robotic ball beyond their opening pitch of “play with our balls?”

Well, you use a smart phone to tell the ball where to roll, watch the video I shot to see how the ball works. That alone is fun, but is sheer delight for cats or babies.

But they went further than just the obvious use cases. The robot inside the ball is actually a pretty open platform that you can use to build other kinds of devices. You can also program it to do different things with a couple of lines of code thanks to its API. They’ve already held hack days to see what developers might want to do with their balls.

Anyway, the video is fun to watch as they demo it to a bunch of venture capitalists (Jason Calacanis is seen in the background checking out this startup’s balls). They were all in town to see demos from Techstars companies. More on Techstars later this week as I get more of the cool startup videos I shot in Boulder.

I’m buying one. I think they’ll be the hot Christmas toy for geeks this Christmas.

GearBox's robotic camera

Behind the endless iPad photo book: Fotopedia Heritage

I love getting an in-depth look at cool new technology, but even better I love getting to know some of the great technologists that have done amazing things in the industry.

This video has a little bit of both. Jean-Marie Hullot worked for years for Steve Jobs as CTO at NeXT and at Apple. He’s played key roles (he asked me not to tell you just how key) in the development of major products at both companies, including the iPhone.

But lately he’s been following his other passions: photography and iPad applications. Yesterday he released a really cool new app: Fotopedia’s Heritage. He calls it an endless photo book. It shows photos from World Heritage sites around the world (more than 800 of them) and has a unique interface and way to navigate around them. They are good photos because they were community curated and the images picked are ones that have liberal Creative Commons licenses.

I love the app. Why? Because it lets me dream about traveling to places around the world. It also lets me show my kids different historic sites around the world and take them there without having the expensive travel. It’s like a new kind of atlas with thousands of photos at your fingertips.

Anyway, he came over on a Saturday evening and spent time showing me around the app. If you stay until the end of the 35 minute interview he even tells some fun Steve Jobs stories. For more info, see the Techcrunch review of the app.