API Strategy Lessons from Factual's Upgrade of its Mobile/Local APIs

This guest post comes from Dan Woods, CTO and Editor of CITOResearch.com and co-author of APIs: A Strategy Guide. He writes about API Strategy and related topics.

Factual Inc, a company founded by ex-Googler Gil Elbaz that is creating a collaborative data Platform, announced extensions to its Factual APIs today that are aimed at improving the ability to target advertising and provide other geo-based capabilities in mobile applications. The three new APIs, Geopulse, Reverse Geocoder, and World Geographies, fill gaps and extend the scope of Factual’s API portfolio. But the way that Factual thinks about its APIs also holds lessons for anyone who is mapping out an API strategy of their own.

Factual offers access to data sets for Global Places, U.S. Restaurants, U.S. Healthcare providers, and World Geographies. Factual’s first batch of APIs provided access to the foundational location data for 50 countries (the Core API), enabled entity resolution for a place (Resolve), and provided mappings to a place from dozens of sources such as Foursquare, Yelp, Eventful and so on (Crosswalk API). The new APIs help mobile app developers, advertising companies and demand side platforms target ads better in the mobile environment, and companies attempting to understand how to target ads:
Geopulse is an API that accepts a latitude and longitude and returns four different types of information, called pulses, related to that location:

  • Factual Commercial Density: the relative density of businesses nearby
  • Factual Commercial Profile: the types of businesses nearby
  • Nearest: the closest Place in the Factual database.
  • Demographics: Age, gender, race, and median income based on US census data (US only).
  • Reverse Geocoder is an API that converts a longitude and latitude into an address (US only) or region (49 other countries).

    World Geographies is an API that provides the names and interrelationships between the world's natural and administrative geographies -- countries, cities, states, continents, regions, and time zones -- enhancing the global 60 million businesses and landmarks Factual currently offers. The API provides approximately 6 million geographies and over 8 million place names in numerous languages.

    All of these APIs are being released in beta. The Reverse Geocoder and World Geographies APIs fill gaps that developers of mobile and web asked have asked for.

    The Geopulse API fills an emerging need to assemble as much information as possible related to a specific location. Instead of just knowing that you are at a specific location with a certain type of phone at a specifice time of day, the Geopulse API provides many more signals that can be used to improve the targeting of an ad.

    “The signals were are releasing in GeoPulse are just the beginning,” Factual's Eva Ho said. “In the future we will layer on top social signals and many other data sets that will further improve the amount of information that can be used by application developers or ad networks. Both groups are hungry for as much information as they can get.”

    The way that Factual is gradually extending its APIs reveals a pattern that should be useful to product managers and designers of APIs or portfolios of mobile apps. The operative principle: Follow the value chain.

    Often, when someone creates an API or a mobile app, the effort is a shot in the dark. Will anyone be interested? How will it make a difference? If the API or application takes hold, the next question is: What comes next?

    Following the value chain means looking at what the API or mobile app is being used for. Ask not only what more can be done but what are the adjacent activities that are related? How can these be supported? Is there an emerging API economy of the sort my co-authors and I described in “APIs: A Strategy Guide”? If so how must the existing APIs grow and what new APIs are required?

    The growth of Factual APIs follows the value chain created by mobile apps. First, the mobile and web apps needed information about places. This is where Factual APIs first took hold. The success of these apps lead to the need to offer better targeting of ads and other services. This is the mission of the APIs Factual announced today.

    “Our early customer wins were all around web and mobile developers,” Ho said. “Their next big worry was how were they going to monetize their applications, and we realized that we needed to provide more data to enable that. Going into local targeting makes complete sense given that we started with this rich dataset of locations.”

    While the first users of the APIs will likely companies who sell targeted ads, it is likely that companies who buy targeted ads will also use the APIs to figure out how to improve their rules for targeting.

    Ho said that many more data sets are on the way. As these data sets create new applications, Factual will undoubtedly follow the value chain with new sets of APIs.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: 146 Location APIs: Foursquare, Panoramio and Geocoder