Nov 21 2009

and the people shall inherit the earth


I was pleased and excited to see this week’s launch of Public Earth’s website.  Not just because it’s the home of a small cadre of friends that I knew would build something very interesting, but because I believe in the fundamental premise underlying Public Earth.

The Twitter synopsis of Public Earth sums it up nicely.

We’re the Wiki For Places, dedicated to delivering interesting, unique, and up-to-date place information in a personalized way.

after world domination

The scale of product investment and advancement commitment from Google and Microsoft in mapping these past five years has been truly impressive.  These brands deservedly unseated MapQuest’s sleepy position by moving the ball forward on user experience, on multi-dimensional content, and on developer tools.

Fact is though, we’re still at the utilitarian consumption stage in geo-experience, and the very thing that creates their current world domination could well be what weighs down their forward progress.  The “Anchor Tenants” of the consumer geo universe, perhaps. [for fun: Google = Walmart, MapQuest = Kmart, and Microsoft so wants to be Target].

deep ruts in the road

The major map services have build their positions on consumption of maps as created and presented by them to the consumer.  While Google can legitimately point to the MyMaps success, I’d suggest that 1) this is pavlovian behavior driven by the necessity/greed/leverage of SEO, way more than it is socially energized participation, and 2) as I’ve written before, Google is so poor in social user experience, it’s just painful to watch.

The real action on the horizon inverts mapping into a paradigm of user creation and crowdsourcing the collective knowledge of places, and creating maps that are at once personal and shared.  There is a thriving new ecosystem in formation that is decidedly different and unique, and it’s natively social and participative.

Sites as deeply entrenched in consumer habit as MapQuest and Google can be severely challenged when it comes to materially morphing their brand. Orkut was indeed a fine piece of social technology.  Nuf said? 

Google’s mapping pathway seems to be driven by its dominating mastery of a fully owned and operated local advertising stack. Undoubtedly, this is core to their investments in local map content.  The route that elevated Google Maps to its front line position could very well be what holds it back from jumping the next shark.

the people’s voice recorder

Someone has to step up and power the collection of the true local voice. Yes, Google is well positioned to be aggregating this content, but (my sense) is that the developer community is 1) on to the impact of Google’s increasingly controlling hand and squashing foot, and 2) leaning forward for an open alternative. This is unlikely to be “one place” that forms this, but rather a connected collective.

The people have not yet spoken, and the businesses that unlock and turn loose this voice will indeed become major playas in the mobile/social/local ecosystem.

under the earth

Public Earth has taken a long cycle of development to do many things that are elegantly tucked behind a nice user experience.  The back office is much more interesting than the presentation, in my opinion.  To developers using their API, it presents what I consider to be a deep and well thought out geo content management system. As Google educates the world on the concept of a Place Page, Public Earth sits ready as the engine for a parallel path, powered by the people.

I’d posit that each and everyone of us has “50 maps inside” of us. You have history, you have local context, you’ve got highly tuned very personal experiences. All but a minute sliver of this has been recorded. Opening this up feels very unlike what we do in mapping services today.

In the massive collective “mother earth reclamation project”, Public Earth wants to take a lead role.  I hope it finds a place of active cooperation with Open Street Map and a dozen related open initiatives quickly gathering steam.  If it does, it will be indeed be one to watch.

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2 Responses to “and the people shall inherit the earth”

  • Scott Yates Says:

    They have a funny “about” page. They have the staff listed alphabetically by first name, so if you want to find the CEO or whatever you just have to guess.

    I’m not exactly sure where that falls on the unique/annoying scale, but they get points for trying.

    The service seems interesting, but like all wiki-type new products, getting the uptake by users will be the hardest part.

    Thanks for alerting me to them!

  • Larry Says:

    Bless those who create deep local. And blessed are those who get to geo-stack and slice it.

    Geography offers community and meaning in a way keywords can’t, so an increasingly mapped/geo axis for our info makes much sense.