geo, geomob

The several issues of geo development: a chronicle of October’s GeoMob

GeoMob has returned after a longer-than-usual hiatus due to other – and definitely very interesting – commitments of our previous Mr GeoMob, Christopher Osborne. It was a very interesting night with the usual format of four presentations covering aspects of research, development and business. Here’s my summary and comments.

Max Howell, @mxclTweetdeck

I’m a bit unsure on how to comment the involvement of TweetDeck into the GeoSocial business.
Max’s presentation has been focused on the integration of their application with FourSquare. It’s a tightly coupled integration allowing users to follow their Twitter friends using the locative power of Foursquare, i.e. putting them on a map. Max gave out some bread for our brains when commenting that “Google Latitude is not good for us because it gives out location continuously, whereas we are looking for discrete placement of users on POIs“: this is a real example of why more-is-not-necessarily-better and, in my opinion, the main reason for which, to date, Latitude has been less successful in catalysing users’ attention on locative services.

However, I’m not totally sure why TweetDeck foresees its future into becoming a platform to integrate Twitter and FourSquare into a single framework. “Other apps put FourSquare functions in a separate window and this is distasteful“. Is it really? And how exactly will TweetDeck benefit, financially but not only, from this integration? “We spent a lot of time on FourSquare integration but unfortunately it’s not much used“. They should ask themselves why.
Their TODO list includes Geofencing which might be interesting so let’s wait and see.

Matthew Watkins, @mazwat Chromaroma by Mudlark

For those of you who don’t know it yet: Chromaroma is a locative game based on your Oyster card touch-ins and touch-outs. They’re still in closed alpha, but the (not so many?) lucky users (I’ve asked to join the alpha 3-4 times, but they never replied) can connect their Oyster account to the game and take part to some kind of Gowalla for transport, based on the number of journeys, station visited, personal and team targets.

Two things to be considered:
open data and privacy: upon joining the service, the user account page is scraped for their journeys. Matthew explained they approached TfL to ask for APIs/free access to the journeys data but “due to budget cuts we’re low priority“. Apparently they’ve been allowed to keep on doing scraping. The obvious issue is a matter of trust: why should someone give their oyster account access to a company that, technically, hasn’t signed any agreement with TfL?
This is worrying, as to get journey history data you need to activate Auto Top-up. So you’re basically allowing a third party to access an account connected to automatic payments from your payment card.
Secondly, I can’t understand TfL’s strategy on open data here: if they are not worried about the use Mudlark is doing of such data, why not providing developers with an API to query the very same data? Users’ consent can be embedded in the API, so I’m a bit worried that Chromaroma is actually exposing the lack of strategy by TfL, rather than their availability to work together with developers. I hope I’m wrong.
monetising: I’m not scared of asking the very same question to any company working on this. What is Mudlark’s monetisation strategy and the business viability of such strategy? It can’t be simply “let’s build travel profiles of participating users and sell them to advertisers” as TfL would have done that already. And if TfL haven’t thought about this, or if they’re letting Mudlark collect such data without even letting them adhere to some basic T&C, we are in serious trouble. However, it’s the declared strategy by Mudlark that does not convince me. Matthew suggests it might be based on target like “get from Warren Street to Kings Cross by 10 am, show your touch-ins and get a free coffee” or on the idea of “sponsor items” you can buy. Does this strategy have a market that is big enough? And, as I’ve already asked, why should a company pay for this kind of advertisement that is potentially available for free? If the game is successful, however, it will be chaos in the Tube – and I’m really looking forward to it :-)

Oliver O’Brien, @oobrUCL CASA Researcher

Oliver has recently had his 15 minutes of glory thanks to some amazing live map visualisation of London Barclays Cycle Hire availability. He went further to develop visualisation pages for different bicycle hire schemes all around the world – before he received a Cease&Desist request by one of the companies involved. As a researcher, he provided interesting insight to the GeoMob showing some geo-demographic analysis. For example, weekdays vs weekend usage patterns are different according to the area of the world involved. London is very weekdays-centric, showing that the bicycles are mainly used by commuters. I wonder if this analysis can provide also commercial insight as much as Chromaroma’s intended use of Oyster data.

Thumbs up for the itoworld-esque animation visualizing bike usage in the last 48 hours – stressing that properly done geo-infographic can be extremely useful for problem analysis. Oliver’s future work seems targeted at this, and ideally we’ll hear more about travel patterns and how they affect the usability of bicycle hire schemes. I can’t really understand why he was asked to take some of the maps down.

Eugene Tsyrklevich, @tsyrklevichParkopedia

The main lesson of this presentation: stalk your iPhone app users, find them on the web, question them and make them change the negative reviews.
An aggressive strategy that can probably work – and I would actually describe Parkopedia’s strategy as positively aggressive. They managed to get a deal with AA about branding their parking-space-finding-app in exchange for a share of profit.
Eugene’s presentation was more about business management than development. Nonetheless it was incredibly full of insight. Especially on how to be successful when marketing an iPhone application. “Working with known brands gives you credibility, and it opens doors“. The main door that this opened was actually Apple’s interest in featuring their app on the AppStore, leading to an almost immediate 30-fold increase in sales. This leads to further credibility and good sales: “Being featured gets you some momentum you never lose“. This is a good lesson for all our aspiring geo-developers.

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