Friday, October 19, 2007

Social Map Roll-up: Will Platial + Frappr Be Strong Enough to Survive?

Picture%2032.pngPortland social mapping startup Platial has acquired old-school favorite Frapper, another social mapping service, it was announced today.

If the announcement had been made yesterday it would have warranted inclusion in Om Malik's post Startups Should Team Up to Grow. Is this a case of small companies merging for the sake of survival in the face of a crowded market and comparable features offered by Google? Platial says that's not a bad way to understand their announcement, but I don't think that tells the whole story here.

About the Players

Here's how I see it. Frapper has a healthy community of users. Its feature set was considered innovative several years ago and while that's less the case today - it's a solid little company with a loyal userbase. Its team knows how to build a community and the company is a good buy. Frappr was owned by a company called Rising Concepts, which was previously acquired by widget megalith Slide. Platial assures me there's not an interesting story behind all of those maneuvers and I'll accept that.

Platial is a social networking type of service layered on top of Google Maps. Its existing product let people map what goes on in places around the world (the company calls itself "the peoples' atlas") and now with Frappr that dataset will expand to include demographic and interest-based information tied to geographic locations as well. The company is doing interesting work with data extraction, social network widgets, mobile mapping and other cutting edge technologies. Platial is backed by a range of all-star investors including KeyNote Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Omidyar Network, Ram Shriram, Georges Harik, Jack Dangermon, and Ron Conway.

What About the Big G?

This plucky little VC-backed mapping startup may look like roadkill to-be in the path of Google Maps, but Platial CEO Dianne Eisner assures me that in the world of people paying attention to maps it's understood that's not the case. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all focused on search in maps, she says, and all have growing partnerships already formed with Platial. Platial is, more now than ever before, focused on social networking and maps.

Yesterday's announcement of profile pages for Google Maps users notwithstanding, Eisner says Google is not looking to engage in full scale social networking in its Maps and Earth products. Google Maps and Earth Director John Hanke even contributed a quote to the press release for today's announcement, citing Platial as a key innovator serving the growing community of map enthusiasts.

Map savvy Texas-based consultant Dean McCall says he doesn't buy it. He believes that there is more than enough integration already of other Google services with the company's My Maps product to pose a credible threat to Platial's future viability.

That's not an uncommon argument, but the newly expanded and always innovative Platial and its investors are unlikely to go down without a fight.

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