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.