Fwix, the local information provider, has released its Fwix Location API at this week's Where 2.0 conference. But the company isn't looking to become just another source of location data in developers' toolboxes. Fwix founder Darian Shirazi explained to us that he hopes to "establish [Fwix] as the underlying platform for geodata" by providing rich, high-quality place information that meets a broad range of developer needs.
Fwix's bet is that developers are looking for location information that goes beyond basic business listings or popular check-in spots generated by users. To that end, Fwix's main product focus is on geo-tagging existing web content so that it can make it available through its API.
In practical terms that means crawling content sources and analyzing text in order to associate individual units of content with particular locations. In some cases, simple geocoding (turning a street address into map coordinates) is sufficient. But the "where" quality a piece of content usually isn't that explicit. Most of the time, Fwix uses its own natural language processing technology to pick out bits of text that go with a particular location. The individual content units come in all shapes and sizes—blog posts, consumer reviews, photos, real estate listings, activity on social sites, and more. It's on this front that Fwix is trying to differentiate itself from the increasing number of other players in the location space.
Geo-tagging content isn't the same as building a location database, and Fwix has partnered with a company focused on that goal—Factual—in order to seed its list of places. The post on the Fwix blog announcing the partnership explains that this decision will help the company avoid a common pitfall:
The main problem with any startup is lack of focus on a clear and defined vision. In the local space, there are so many unclear opportunities and the monetization opportunities are so fragmented across thousands of small local businesses, that money is quickly spent on initiatives that don’t fit into a core vision.
Fwix is committed to concentrating its efforts on three key aspects of its product. Having valuable content to offer based on location and a well-organized database of places are two of them. The third is a built-in monetization opportunity through an integrated location-based ad network. Shirazi says the major growth opportunities for Fwix are in the platform itself, so having a way to translate that growth into profitability is key. Rather than creating a barrier to adoption by charging for access in order to make money, Fwix is actually offering developers a share in revenue that its location network makes possible.
Other companies in this space have adopted similar tactics. Earlier in the year, CityGird announced that it was retooling its API to offer developers a reward for building apps that cause users to interact CityGrid's business information. That this sort of approach is catching on suggests that it's something of a buyer's market for location information APIs. Providers are competing to attract developers not just with quality product but added financial incentives. This should be good news for developers and probably application end-users, but it means service providers will probably confront increasing competition for titles like "underlying platform for geodata".