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Geotargeted Search and E-Mail Indexing

  |  April 5, 2004   |  Comments

Google's geotargeted search and GMail offer lots of potential... and raise plenty of questions.

Have you searched for a pizza on Google yet? Go to http://local.google.com/, type in the word "pizza" and your address. You should get an instant listing of 10 pizza nearby shops. Click the little map button above the search results, and you'll see a MapQuest map with icons for each of the 10 search results, plus a small "home" icon for the address you entered. Click the "Next" button at the bottom, and you'll see the next 10 closest pizza shops.

The Web just became a whole lot smaller.

Every year, U.S. businesses spend over $12 billion advertising in the yellow pages. That's a lot of money to end up in a big yellow book. I don't know how many tons of paper are needed to print all those books, but it's formidable. An environmentally friendly and much more useful alternative would be to type a keyword and address into Google or Yahoo Advertisers only pay when users click their ads. Geotargeted search will be the proverbial giant sucking sound for the yellow pages.

While Google has been indexing the Web by location, it's also been quietly working on a project that will index your email.

Google engineering VP Wayne Rosing said in an interview, "The way we'd like to say it is that part of our mission is to organize and present all the world's information, and email's part of that information that currently is not well organized."

Google's GMail has two unique characteristics. First, it offers 1GB of storage, so users don't have to ever delete their mail. Second, it allows users to -- you guessed it -- search through all their mail. No more sorting email. Just searching. At deadline, I hadn't yet seen GMail, but I'd be very surprised if a keyword search through email content didn't summon contextual advertisements once the service goes live.

Will location and email be linked? I can't see why not. If a person I'm meeting with put her address in her email's footer, GMail will surely be able to show me where she's located on a map and tell me how to get there. If I'm trying to schedule a breakfast with someone, will Google take a look at my footer and "suggest" a couple of locations nearby? Combine this with Google's new personal search capabilities, and perhaps I can even tell it what kind of food I like in the morning. No carbs, please!

What does it all mean? Personal email is no longer safe from keyword matches and contextual advertising. The entire Web will soon be indexed by location. We must think about where we place our location information.

Salon.com shouldn't have its physical address on every page. There's no relationship between what it does and its location. It's different for a pizza chain or retail store. You want the search engines and email you send to contain location references so people can find you and buy your product. Perhaps you have several retail outlets and a corporate office. You don't want product searches linked to your corporate headquarters. Yet if you link each product to a location, you have to link it to every location.

Location-based search will enormously affect established industries, such as the yellow pages, as well as contextual advertising and email marketing. The potential is huge, but it raises many questions.

Next, I'll look at the other side of location-based search: privacy. Once, nobody knew you were a dog on the Internet. Now, not only is it more difficult to be a dog, soon we'll know where all the dogs live.

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Hans-Peter Brøndmo

Hans Peter BrØndmo has spent his career at the intersection of technological innovation and consumer empowerment. He is a successful serial entrepreneur and a recognized thought leader. His latest company, Plum, is a consumer service with big plans to make the Web easier to use. In 1996, he founded pioneering e-mail marketing company Post Communications. His recent book, "The Engaged Customer," is a national bestseller and widely recognized as the bible of e-mail relationship marketing. As a sought-after keynote speaker, he has addressed more than 50 conferences in the past three years, is often featured in national media, and has been invited to testify at two U.S. Senate hearings and an FCC hearing on Internet privacy and spam. Hans Peter is on the board of the online privacy certification and seal program of TRUSTe and several companies. He performed his undergraduate and graduate studies at MIT.

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