title: Mapping a way forward


by: Scott Bradner


I travel too much, far too much! (I got my "million mile flyer" card from United Airlines the other day - about 3 months seat time if everything had been on time - maybe twice that in reality.)  Most of the time I need to drive somewhere when I get to the destination airport.  Figuring out how to get from the airport to my actual destination (usually some generic hotel room) has often been quite a pain.  The Hertz computerized directions do help but too often I forget to stop and get them and anyway I'm one of those people who needs a picture to really be able to understand where things are.


I've come to depend on MapQuest (www.mapquest.com) as a basic travel tool.  ItŐs a remarkable service, made even more so with its access of aerial photos and world-wide coverage. But I do worry if it will be around for as long as I will need it.


MapQuest is better off than many Internet-based service sites because its part of a larger company with actual, real revenue.  A year ago MapQuest was purchased by AOL in a stock swap that is worth only a bit less now than it was when it was completed.  MapQuest also seems to have a little bit broader business model than the all too many Internet sites which totally depend on advertising.  Trying a pure advertising-based model is not a good thing to do in an environment where the advertisers can find out reasonably easily how well Internet advertising does not work.  MapQuest augments its advertising revenue by selling mapping related services such as click-on maps to businesses.  But with only 1800 customers I don't expect that these services bring in all that much in comparison to MapQuest's expenses.  Their ads can be a bit strange also - one of the ads I got in looking up a technology company in Texas included a way to look up nearby NesQuick retailers - not a connection I would have quickly come up with.  So I would not think that the ads bring in all that much either.  So what is a good way to get such a service paid for?


The MapQuest web page talks about what MapQuest brings to the AOL table. "Combining the AOL service and brands with MapQuest's online mapping products greatly increases the convenience and value of the AOL membership." As long as AOL thinks that, I would expect MapQuest to be around but banking on intangibles is a risky future proofing strategy.


MapQuest is not quite a representative of the average Internet service because it is a part of a bigger company but if it's hard to figure out a solid financial  basis for them what is the prognosis for the standalone sites?  I sure hope someone figures out how to do Internet micropayments soon, I'm quite willing to pay for services of this quality.  I do not see much other hope.


disclaimer:  Harvard and "micropayments" do not belong in the same concept so the above ramble is my own.