Where Else Can Local Search Take Us?

Online local commerce is seeping into nearly every facet of our lives. The latest: parking.

ABCNews.com reports on a start-up called SpotScout.com that wishes to create eBay-style auctions for parking spots. So in busy urban areas at specific times of the day or week, residents can treat their garages and driveways like remnant inventory. The system will allow these spots to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, which could be perfect for parking spots belonging to people on vacation or those that aren’t used at certain hours of the day or even at all.

The site will take a 15 percent cut of winning bids (similar to eBay). But such a model can only bear significant fruit if scaled to a considerable degree (like eBay). The real opportunity for SpotScout could be to integrate geographic and contextually relevant advertising for businesses near parking spots. Because the whole system is based on location, and because many users will be coming into an urban area to have dinner, go shopping or do other things while in spending mode, this is a good opportunity to serve ads, coupons and promotions.

Another opportunity is to layer on additional data such as mapping and directions from a point of origin to a parking spot. Knowing the exact time, day and route someone will be traveling also presents the chance to serve promotions for gas stations and other relevant businesses on a certain route, along with traffic conditions.

Given these opportunities, one possible scenario is that SpotScout could become an acquisition target for search giants that can integrate all these services  or more appropriately add this capability to their existing local search products. This seems to be a natural fit, in fact, for Microsoft’s Virtual Earth 3-D. Being able to virtually navigate throughout a city, and see bidding opportunities for parking spots, as well as directions, real-time traffic conditions (via Traffic.com) and nearby businesses of interest could be very compelling.

Given that Virtual Earth 3-D’s API is available for such development, I expect to see a mashup like this soon. Alex Daley, marketing manager for Virtual Earth, spoke on a mapping innovation panel at ILM:06 and stressed the new ways of thinking about search that Virtual Earth’s 3-D interface could ignite. Without getting too much into a blue-sky scenario, it seems this speculation of a parking auction mashup is just one possibility. Retail sale information, classified listings, even garage sales are a few more. All these are possible with 2-D mapping but could prove to be more compelling to users and advertisers in 3-D, not to mention that a third dimension opens up a great deal of map inventory, which helps alleviate one of the challenges in online mapping of cluttering the interface with ads.

Challenges will still exist in communicating the benefits of this type of advertising to local advertisers. As with paid search, this will likely be bundled with other forms of advertising to simplify the process and eliminate some of the pain points of interactive advertising for small businesses. This will continue to be an important challenge.

In the meantime, innovations like SpotScout point us in the direction of where we could go with local search. Look for more creative online products to emerge and for local search to be applied to more elements of our lives  both in and out of the mapping experience.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sebastien Provencher

    The city of Santa Monica offers a similar service here .

  2. Mike Boland

    Thanks for pointing that out Sebastien. That seems to be a vehicle for commercial garages to advertise themselves. I wonder if this is a free service from the city to encourage local commerce, or if they are monetizing it in any way with paid inclusion of these garages. Interesting nonetheless.

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