You might ask “what’s so special about that? Why can’t we just use Google Maps and call it a day?” The answer to that has to do with what you as a publisher believe will make you money not just now, but in the future as well.
When publishers use Google Maps directly, they are handing over their location-based information to Google free of charge. There is a tradeoff going on here - Google Maps has a terrific, easy-to-use interface and its search functionality is the best in the world, and it’s very easy to add your points so that others can use them and then embed the maps on your site.
But by doing this, publishers may be making a strategic mistake. When they hand over their points of interest (the term for those dots on a map) to a third party (like Google) publishers may be cutting themselves off from future revenue opportunities by simply handing location-based information over to Google (or other mapping providers) for free: It will be harder to monetize that data, as Google and its competitors will likely be doing the monetizing instead. We believe that mobile content represents a major revenue opportunity for publishers, and that location-based information is one of the keys to mobile revenue.
It’s one thing to have a simple map with a pointer showing where a car crash occurred, but it’s something else completely when a publisher has its entire entertainment listings mapped with the location of every nightclub, movie theater and restaurant in the city. We believe that information like this - carefully compiled and fact-checked over long periods of time - has significant value for the publisher.
This was one of the main reasons we wanted to provide publishers with two important alternatives. The first is that in Newscoop 3.5’s mapping features, publishers keep the points of interest inside their own database, and because they own their databases, publishers can monetize that information as they see fit, both now and in the future.
Another crucial point in our design of the geolocation features in Newscoop 3.5 has to do with supporting OpenStreetMap as a free and open source alternative to commercial online mapping services. OpenStreetMap is to maps as Wikipedia is to encyclopedias - anyone can contribute and improve its accuracy, which means that many parts of the world are far better mapped with OpenStreetMap than they are with commercial maps - countries such as Georgia are completely blank in Google Maps and Bing, for example, but are mapped in detail with OpenStreetMap.
This video shows how much the OpenStreetMap project grew in 2008, and it’s fair to say it’s grown far more since then: http://vimeo.com/2598878
OpenStreetMap also provides publishers with additional strategic importance: The project will probably never compete with publishers in the same way that commercial services are doing and will continue to do. For example, publishers that are too-closely tied to a mapping service provider could fall victim to changes in terms of service. And because publishers using Newscoop 3.5 can choose between Google Maps and OpenStreetMap, their options are open (this switching is enabled by a very cool open source project called OpenLayers, by the way).
There’s another angle to the OpenStreetMap story. When we put together our OpenStreetMap support, we consulted with leaders in their community, who advised us that big news sites might cause a drain on their servers. Instead they advised us to use a third-party service that uses the OpenStreetMap data like Mapquest. In 2010, Mapquest (which is owned by AOL) decided to adopt OpenStreetMap as their mapping provider, and have also made those maps available to others using their very fast servers. We think this gives us the best of both worlds - fast serving for the maps and support for OpenStreetMap. This is why we are using Mapquest as the default map layer in Newscoop.
It’s hard to say with pinpoint accuracy whether location-based information will turn out to be a major revenue generator for every publisher - that will depend on many factors, such as the kind and quality of information produced and the way it is presented on publishers’ sites, but we believe there’s a lot more potential for publishers who own it themselves than for those who giving it to a big corporation for free.