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article imageGPS social networking service growing, making maps cool again Special

By David Silverberg     Apr 12, 2009 in Internet
POIFriend launched last year to give GPS users a tool to list their favourite locations and plot those hot spots on readable maps. The social networking-like service for GPS users is seeing incredible growth, as corporations jump on board to help.
When POIFriend.com first debuted, the website attracted monumental attention for its intriguing angle: it lets users create a profile and list their favourite "points of interest", anything from an oft-frequented club to a gym. Those users can create maps or lists of those POIs, and then download that content to their mobile devices. POIFriend gave busy socializers a chance to list where they went and gave them the opportunity to find out how to get there easily.
But a year after its launch, Toronto-based POIFriend is expanding its business model. Sure, the free service has attracted more than 50,000 members and eight million pageviews. Plus, more than 80 million locations have been downloaded.
Never happy to rest on its traffic laurels, POIFriend co-founder Bill McLean is hungry to give the site's community more bang. How? McLean says more organizations are taking part in building POIFriend, from Shoppers Drug Mart to Best Western to Royal Bank. Most intriguingly for users, these companies aren't plugging their corporate biz-speak but instead introducing maps and social interaction that distance themselves from the brand's products.
Take Scotiabank, a Canadian financial institution: Rather than taking the boring traditional route of creating a map of every ATM in Canada, the company partnered with POIFriend to create a list of every hockey rink in Canada. POIFriend users can download that list, or visitors can check out scotiahockey.com and play around with the API map. Punch in an area code or city and the tool instantly provides of list of nearby rinks.
"Scotiabank saw a perfect fit," McLean tells DigitalJournal.com. "Their customers might be families looking for participation in hockey arenas. And from our perspective, this is another mechanism to derive revenue."
POIFriend.com map showing hockey rinks
Scotiabank sponsored a POIFriend-powered map showing hockey rinks across Canada
Courtesy of POIFriend.com
McLean refused to admit the amount of money to cement a partnership with a company such as Scotiabank, because the company is "in the development stage of its business." But these kind of groups are blossoming to create not only a new revenue arm for POIFriend but also another feature for the site's users.
It's been quite some time since anything sexy happened to GPS devices, but POIfriend is looking to change that. It's not about driving from A to B, but rather finding the points in between and engaging with them.
Driving from home to work, for example, users can spot small icons on the map that tell them when their nearing or passing a point of interest. A favourite for Canucks has been finding that cup o' Joe; Tim Horton's teamed up with POIFriend to create a group owned by Timmy's, so no matter where you are in Canada, a small Tim Horton's logo shows up on-screen so you don't have to try and find a location if you need a caffeine hit. And when the community requests new stores to be geo-located, the Tim Horton's staffers respond quickly. The "aggregated community," as McLean describes it, acts as both watchdog and audience.
McLean is also happy to see various groups give voice to users who want to share their favourite locales. In fact, more than 10,000 POI groups have launched. Some of those groups are private, McLean notes, saying some users prefer to keep a list of venues confidential. Why? Someone might want to create a group listing the best parking lots downtown, so they can access the list on their next trip. Or for wedding plans, a bride-to-be may want to find the top photographers in her area when she decides to spend an afternoon shopping for the right shutterbug.
What lessons could McLeaon offer entrepreneurs during the recession? It's not like POIFriend is perfect -- it still need to update its geo-location search feature using landline phone numbers -- but it recognizes the challenges it faces. "Develop community and stay true to your course of action," he advises. It's tempting to do many things at once, he says, but a smart company will prioritize the needs of the community first."
More about Poifriend, Gps, Scotiabank, Tomtom, Social Networking