Geo-Targeting on the Web

One property of cyberspace is that location is pretty much irrelevant. You probably don’t care where I am located and I don’t care where you are located. If you found your way here by surfing to my site we are not likely to ever meet in person. But wouldn’t it be fun if you could look at web sites for people and places that are near you, just to see what’s up?

There are regional directories that attempt to do this, such as Yahoo or DMOZ (via their “Submit a URL” links). But most people with web sites either don’t know about directories or won’t bother to submit their site. (In the case of Yahoo, they probably won’t even list it unless you pay them over $200.) Similarly most web surfers don’t know about regional directories. They can be hard to find. I am certain that any sites listed this way represent only a tiny fraction of the web sites actually located in that region.

It would be much cooler to have a technology that identifies your location in a way that standard software (like your browser) could pick up and use automatically. Fortunately there is such a technology. GeoURL is a location-to-URL reverse directory. Like Yahoo or DMOZ, you have to take the initiative and list in their directory, but it is free. It’s pretty easy to fill out their web form. You tell them your city or zip code. It figures out your latitude and longitude and provides a snippet of HTML you can insert into your web pages that tells people surfing your site where you are located.

Local Feeds builds on top of this database and returns a list of recent news feeds that are within X miles of a zip code or a particular city. For example, this link shows recently updated news feeds near my zip code (20171) in a format suitable for the viewer. But Local Feeds can also return the same information in a RSS feed format that can be consumed by other systems. For example a news reader program installed on your computer could consume a news feed URL easily enough. Some web sites like Bloglines do the same thing and may even notify you when your favorite news feeds are updated.

Since Local Feeds is a fairly new service, my blog entries tend to show up a lot. I also see a lot of entries for my forum and for my friend Jim Goldbloom’s forum Access Denied. But there are other local newsfeeds that run the gamut from the ho-hum to the quite interesting. WizBang’s weblog is one interesting example. I likely would have never stumbled on it had not I learned about Local Feeds. It’s nice to know this guy is in my neighborhood somewhere.

Like with GeoURL, when you first use Local Feeds you can enter your zip code and it will return your latitude and longitude. But you also need to give Local Feeds the URL for your site’s news feed. With this web log this is not a problem. The Moveable Type software I use has a news feed URL that gets updated every time I add an entry.

I could have told Local Feeds that my zip code is close enough for geo targeting my site. But since I have a GPS I figured I’d get more localized. So I advertise coordinates that are accurate to within a hundred feet or so of where I live.

When all done I added these lines of HTML inside the <head> tags to my site’s web pages. It identifies my coordinates (second line), categorizes my web log as belonging to a regional listing (DC in this case, first line) and provides two means for other people or computers to syndicate my content (lines three and four):

<meta name=”DC.Title” content=”Occam’s Razor” />
<meta name=”ICBM” content=”38.922067,-77.400850″ />
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”RSS” href=”; />
<link rel=”EditURI” type=”application/rsd+xml” title=”RSD” href=”; />

Of course you would need to change the information in these tags to represent your own site, but hopefully you grasp the idea.

It would be neat if everyone with web sites used this technology. Imagine if all the restaurants in New York City had their menus on their web sites. Then imagine if they programmed their geographical coordinates into their web pages and listed with Local Feeds. Then imagine a time in the not too distant future when wireless internet access is cheap and readily available. It would be pretty easy with this technology to target restaurants within a couple blocks of me and read their menus. (Something close to this is available with the AvantGo service, but it represents only a fraction of New York’s available restaurants.)

Right now this process is still a bit daunting for the layman. But it would be straightforward for software like FrontPage, DreamWeaver or Moveable Type to simply ask if you want to geo-target your site, insert the code into your web pages for you and notify the proper directories. I hope business picks up on the idea. To me this is a no-brainer.

If you have a web site then why not be on the leading edge and geo-target it geographically? Encourage your friends who have web sites to do the same thing. It’s a simple idea whose time has come.

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