Location Rosetta Stone Aids Interoperable Places Data

Data startup Factual has taken the largest step yet toward solving a problem of our modern, mobile, location-enabled lifestyle. With each restaurant-finding or check-in application, developers are building their own databases of places. Each has its own identifier and no connection to any other listing referencing the same place--a restaurant, park, office building or other landmark. Now Factual has added its "crosswalk" feature to the Factual Places API to address the problem and offer a solution that connects over 500 million web pages to specific venues. Included are the place pages from other directories of places, making Factual a Rosetta Stone for translating identifiers.

The Crosswalk API takes a URL or Factual ID and returns business information and a list of place pages on the web for that business. "We're using URLs as handles of real world things," Factual's Tyler Bell said. "Local business doesn't just exist as a record in a database anymore. They exist on hundreds of websites." Factual's new service provides a connection between these many websites. Crosswalk currently supports 28 sites/services with canonical place pages.

There's already at least one site using the new API. Tapl.io is a browser extension that shows other pages for other sites when viewing places on one of the supported sites. It's a perfect use case for Crosswalk. Here's how the Tapl.io page looks for my favorite mexican restaurant, La Bonita:

Location-sharing startup Foursquare made a similar announcement in March with its "venue project." We said at the time it appeared Foursquare was expanding its platform strategy. However, many of the databases were New York-centric at launch. And it does not appear many have been added during the last six months.

Bell said Factual aims to do what Foursquare did, but at scale. "We want to make this exhaustive, we want to make this inclusive," Bell said. Over half of the supported services were launch partners, meaning they worked directly with Factual to exchange data. Foursquare is not a data partner, but was included because it is a well-used service that also provides structured information with just a call to a URL.

When Factual first launched, founder Gil Elbaz called it "a Platform where anyone can share and mash open data on any subject." It followed a year later with a location-focused offering. The company views local content as a place to test out Factual's approach, but still doesn't consider local to be its endgame, according to Bell.

Nonetheless, Factual has hit upon a great need for developers using location data. On the web it seems there are many different versions of the same place, yet only one can exist in real life. Factual is helping us connect all those versions to the same physical place.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Yahoo Maps API: So Long, Old Friend