The Monetization of Maps: Advertising Power in GIS and Google Earth

(written by Intro to GIS student, A. W.)

The advent of the online map has spelled a further expansion of advertising from the real world to the online world. Map users are increasingly using visual representations of geographic information (i.e., maps) and related software to, for example, find directions, familiarize themselves with an area, and navigate around areas. Now, users will need to face the reality that the online map is a great medium for marketing. Several GIS Marketing companies like Safarri and Lat49, plus search-engine powerhouses like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are taking advantage of what are excellent advertising platforms. When one thinks of the high costs of creating and displaying high quality online maps, most which are accessible to the public for free, it is logical that software companies would reserve the right to use those spaces for revenue. The use of text, banners, images, audio and video are all methods of advertising on electronic maps. Geocoded advertisements tie a particular message to a specific address or landmark based on its latitude and longitude. As a query response for information in a geographic region, ranked ads are plotted on or in association with a map or satellite photo (Google uses AdSense and AdWords). The number of ads either plotted or listed would vary as a function of the map type and image resolution. GIS Monitor Archive explains how ads are ranked or scored, with their attributes or features as a function of such a score or ranking.

Until recently, it was difficult to know at what map scale and extent to pitch a geocoded ad. This meant either insufficient information or an overcrowding of it depending on the map’s resolution. The user’s viewing area (i.e., map extent plus scale) may overlap multiple cities, regions or areas. This is unappealing to the advertiser who may want his/her ad to appear within a specific area. The solution would be to determine whether a map extent overlaps sufficiently with the advertiser-identified threshold area of a map. The inability of current mapping software to distinguish boundaries of geographical areas presents a problem. Even if an online electronic map was a copy of a printed map, the boundaries on the printed one would not necessarily be geocoded for the software’s use. The display issues haven’t been resolved.

Google has discovered a method to identify and locate these boundaries around geographic regions. This means it can build spatial indexes to service particular geographic areas related based on a geocoding principle. For instance, when the map user is doing a search at a city level, certain ads will appear to them that may not be visible at the state level. This is how it works, according to Google’s patent:

From a set of coordinates within the area (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates), a grid of relatively small cells of geographic data is overlaid upon those coordinates and associated with the area. Each initial cell is iteratively replaced with a larger cell that encompasses the initial cell, unless the replacement cell intersects a cell associated with some other geographical area, or until some other boundary condition is met (e.g., a threshold number of replacements is performed).

The reality is that online maps are increasingly being used for advertising, and advertising is not likely to quell its intense interest in the medium. However, digital earths like Google Earth, which are opening the possibility of geolocating advertisements, may decline in popularity if the digital earths become overcrowded, since they are not primary tools for navigation.

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