FEATURE13 April 2012

In the right place

Features News

Mobile apps can be used anywhere, but advertisers want to know where exactly. Placed’s David Shim tells Brian Tarran how he’s trying to help.

A TV advertiser knows that, by and large, their audience will be exposed to an ad within the comfort of their own home, but a mobile app user could be anywhere. ‘Where exactly?’ is the question David Shim is looking to answer, both for app developers and advertisers. His firm, Placed – formerly Sewichi – recently closed a $3.4m series A funding round, coinciding with the launch in private beta of its first product offering, Placed for Developers.

Research: Placed for Developers is a tool that allows mobile app developers to see where their apps are being used. But that’s just the start, right?
David Shim:
Yes, the broader picture is to take that location data – in aggregate form – and start building indices. So developers can look at that data and see that McDonald’s is near by 9% of the time when people are using their application, but is the norm 5%? Is it 20%? App developers don’t have a baseline to judge that yet so we are going to let them index themselves against US and international norms.

How do you pull together location data?
It is a combination of data points – GPS, wi-fi and cellphone triangulation, in descending order of accuracy. We’ll use all of those data points to infer someone’s location. Let’s say you are going in to a very large building which has a large parking lot. When you reach that parking lot, GPS can get a clear read on your location because the satellite has a direct line of sight. As you go into the building, GPS drops off and it falls to wi-fi or something more coarse like cellphone triangulation to tell us your location – but in most cases that would show you being in a location as many as two or three blocks away.

Our model uses the point at which a GPS signal goes bad to infer that you went into the building. We also tie that data in with any additional data points available within the handset, so that could be sensor data, accelerometer data, the compass.

And you are only reporting back aggregate data? You’re not telling developers that app user X went to McDonald’s then Starbucks or Walmart?
Right now, our reporting tells app developers what businesses are near by when people are using their app. We will have a feature further down the road that has a higher level of precision, but we are not in the ad targeting business. We won’t be providing one-to-one data.

We won’t know that user X went to Target. We will tell app developers that this is how many people went to Target; this is how many people went to Starbucks or Burger King. But we won’t say, “It was this specific person.” From a privacy standpoint we do a lot of things with the data on our side to obfuscate any individual data points.

But this information is meant to be used by developers to help them sell advertising.
Yes, absolutely. We’re able to give the app developer a starting point to say, “Here’s what the eco-system looks like for people who are using my app. Here are the top 50 business that people are nearby when they are using the application.” Imagine being able to go into a drugstore chain like Walgreens and saying, “Hey, 16% of my users are near one of your stores when they are using the app. Don’t you want to reach them in market, where you can potentially shift their behaviour or shift their movement into your store while they are interacting with my app?”

It’s very much a Nielsen or a ComScore approach, where you go in and give the media owner an idea of what the audience looks like and they can then use that to support media buying and selling decisions.

How will Placed make money?
During the beta period, Placed for Developers is completely free. We do expect to charge for additional features down the road, like the indices we talked about earlier and the additional level of location granularity.