Foursquare and Gowalla have literally put location-based social networks on the maps and Twitter's acquistion of GeoAPI is diligently working on making the microblogging platform a communication center for followers that are within close proximity of each other. With the assistance of GPS devices and satellites, maneuvering outdoors is no longer a difficult task. However when trying to access a similar experience indoors, the necessary geo-location technology is just beginning to emerge.
Since every shopping mall, airport, trade-show and other indoor venues are all unique onto themselves, mapping the indoors would appear to be a costly and time-consuming venture.
While mapping technology firms are trying to make the process more of an assembly line type of operation, few have been as successful as Micello. While based in Sunnyvale, California, Founder and CEO Ankit Agarwal also has factory operation in Chennai, India where he has churned out hundreds of geo-location maps for indoor public venues.
Micello begins the process with a map supplied by the venue proprietors and then based on the company's proprietary technology is able to create a map within hours. Subsequently the Micello map is then superimposed onto a Google Map for standardization purposes. The end result allows users to view a mobile map they can use to navigate indoors - as illustrated in this Ikea example.
Ankit AgarwalAccording to Agarwal, “We want to own the indoor maps, and we believe we can do it,” says Agarwal. As a “family and friends funded” company, with a total of 17 employees, Micello has its work cut out for it. But isn’t Agarwal worried that giants like Google and Microsoft will soon claim this market?
“The way we see it, Google and Microsoft are not content providers, they acquire things. Google Earth was an acquisition, and so was StreetView. A lot of the other providers’ data comes from (Nokia's) Navteq and such places.”
Point Inside, a competitor of Micello, just released in April, its Indoor Smart Map with SmartFix functionality for iPhones and iPads. According to their Web site, they currently feature over 100,000 stores and service directory listings for hundreds of malls across the US and Canada. Currently, national chains like Nordstrom and American Eagle are already on board and others are joining daily.
Taking the mapping component and merging it with location-based service integration, merchants using Point Inside are able to connect and communicate with shoppers when they're physically moving inside the mall, by posting events and promotions to the Point Inside application, similar to this Takken's Shoes promotion.
Retail merchant sign-ups cost only $1.50 per day, per location, with an initial term of 90 days. Once registered, promotions are easy to create. Merchants only need to enter promotion text and image, schedule the timing of the promotion and drag and drop the store or venue's location.
Point Inside advertising is hyper-local and hyper-relevant. No other map medium enables you to target shoppers who are in the mall, within a 45 second walk to your store. The application can also function when there’s no cellular or WiFi signal available, and actually allows users to record the location of their parked car, so they can easily find it when their shopping spree is over.
So now that indoor mapping and location-based services have taken to the indoors, it will be interesting to see how location-based social networks adapt themselves to this new technology. In the foreseeable future, I can see an LBS not only allowing merchants to communicate out to the customer, but also able to have a two-way conversation with the prospective customer or shopper that is close by to their store. Whether it's Foursquare or Gowalla or a new LBS entry into the market all together, that's when geo-targeting is going to get very interesting.