A local search game of cat and mouse

If there is one persistent technological challenge, it is that of space and time. Over the past two centuries, innovators have attempted to bridge the gap between the two.

From boats to trains to airplanes, we physically moved both faster and further. Morse Code, the telephone, the radio, television and the Internet allowed for information to be sent at unprecedented speeds.

Danish physicists recently announced that they had made a breakthrough in quantum communication and computing by teleporting information from light to matter. Somewhere between the invention of the Internet and the future ability to “beam me up” is what we now label local search.

Rules of the game

As marketers, we loosely use the term “local search” to refer to what is really “local targeting.” Local search, after all, is a consumer’s action. Local targeting is the marketer’s response.

To further complicate taxonomy, local search can mean both searching for something close by, like a local doctor, or for something at a distance, with a specified location, such as a home clear across the country. Mobile search, while it may intersect with local search, is an entirely separate conversation to be revisited at a later time.

It is important to note that consumers were searching locally long before technologists were tracking them or marketers were targeting them. It is only recently that the local question has become a game of cat and mouse, and I must say that the mouse is very much in the lead.

Moving targets

David, a colleague, made sure his new office telephone number had a 212 prefix. Since his firm’s U.S. headquarters are located on Wall Street, nothing less would do. Of course, calls to this number are forwarded to David’s “real” number, with the classic Brooklyn prefix of 718, which are then forwarded to his office in Argentina, where he now resides.

Now that’s a fast mouse. Sometimes the more clues we have, the less we know.

David’s local searches probably aren’t much different. He has been looking to buy and sell various household items in both New York and Buenos Aires since his move. Given that most search engines track location by IP address, the cat is needs to be a bit faster to catch mice like David.

Come and get me

So while there is definitely an audience that evades the marketer, there is another that proudly wears location on its sleeve. In a recent presentation by RadiusIM, a Web service that lets users instant message other members in the vicinity, the theory that location will soon be an integral part of how we describe ourselves was set forth.

While I, being a fast mouse, question whether people will want to contact a colleague just because he is in the neighborhood, the concept of location as a basic identification marker is quite novel. In fact, it completely departs from previous Web psychographics where users relished in their ability to be completely anonymous.

For the marketer, an explicit statement of “here I am” is the cat’s fancy. Well, at least until every mouse has a firmly implanted GPS chip.

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