Will Factual Become the Go-to Location Database?

Adam DuVander
Sep. 22 2010, 06:06PM EDT

With 25 million business listings over nine countries, open data company Factual has taken a first step toward creating a place database to which anyone can contribute. With location-based applications now more popular than ever, the data is extremely valuable to developers. Factual is providing it via its API, currently for free.

We wrote about the open platform when Factual launched a year ago. Now it has launched a new site, as well as a number of local features that go live today. Among them are the business listings, the largest of which is U.S. data (13 million locations). However, according to founder Gil Elbaz, the company plans to add many more countries.

Without Factual, a developer looking to write location-based apps must buy expensive data or build off of someone else's database, such as a location-sharing service like Foursquare. Developers have been waiting for an open business listings database, where developers can share updates and easily get the latest listings. "We are working to be that ubiquitous place database," Elbaz said. "We feel we're working as hard as anyone on this, maybe harder. We have the ability to merge and clean this data."

Factual's machine learning technology is able to take multiple references to one place and create a single listing. Every piece of data, such as the hours of operation of Champion's Restaurant in Escondido, California, can be traced back to its sources. The source may be a user on Factual's site (which displays data in Excel-like tables), another developer or a site on the Internet. Factual's technology is able to decipher facts from web pages. Popular places have 50-100 citations, increasing the likelihood that you're dealing with good data.

The writeable portion of the Factual API is also important, both to the company and to its potential as a source of an open business listing database. Every piece of data can also be updated by an application. In fact, once Factual begins charging for its service (as it warns it will), those that contribute back will be charged less or even nothing, according to Elbaz.

Some may not consider Factual's database to be open, because it's controlled by a single entity. And, further, the entity has made it clear that one day the service will cost money. That said, this is the closest we've seen so far. And for any developer who has worked with location data, this is good news.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.

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