March 2nd, 2010
End of the road: Platial draws its social mapping pursuits to a close
It’s never easy to write a story about a Portland startup shutting down. But it’s especially hard when it was one of the first of the new generation of startups—and one that secured funding. But that’s the post I’m having to compose right now.
Platial was one of the first companies I covered here on Silicon Florist. But even at that time, they were among the “old guard” of a new crop of Portland startups. Startups that were focused on the promise of Web 2.0. And the social elements that were going to connect people in ways we couldn’t yet imagine.
They had funding. To the tune of more than $3 million. They used the money to build out their footprint. To promote. And to acquire technology like Frappr.
But the nascent market which they helped found rapidly attracted fervent competition. And companies like Google and Microsoft began playing in a space that had, heretofore, been rather underserved. Platial served those customers. And as more and more people came into the fold—and more competitors saw the opportunity—Platial continued to weather the storm.
But the path ahead was as clear as the maps they created. Given the competition, we were all pulling for Platial. But all curious as to how it was going to survive.
There was another breath of life—and anticipation—with the growing advent of mobile. Which seemed to fit Platial perfectly, by immersing people within the maps that were being created. They were even one of the first companies to produce an iPhone app, Nearby, heralding what would become a hot-bed of iPhone development here in Portland and the Silicon Forest.
Sometimes, the first mover doesn’t win. And that mythic “first mover advantage” gives way to “second or third but better.” And while Platial had a phenomenal vision for where social mapping could go—for the potential of the medium—they simply didn’t have the capital, time, and resources to get there.
But for all its effort, all its fans, and all of its vision, Platial never really found that sustainable business. And now, its users are working on a different kind of pursuit. Moving their data to other mapping services.
For other views on what Platial meant, Portland geogeek extraordinaire Adam DuVander wrote a wrap-up on the demise. And I know Marshall Kirkpatrick is working on a retrospective that I’ll link up when he posts.
As promised, here’s Marshall’s post on Platial:
It’s not every day that a business shuts down but declares itself a success in helping kick off an unstoppable movement to change the world…Just short of 5 years old, Platial raised some venture capital, bought other small companies and made a name for itself, but in the end wasn’t able to build a business. Co-founder Di Ann Eisnor defiantly says that Platial changed the world anyway. Cartography used to be an elite practice of drawing borders around resources and power. Platial helped transform it into an accessible practice for millions of people to share how they have experienced the world around them.
The end of Platial has also been covered by the following pubs:
I’m not saying we didn’t have our own executional issues, but we were pretty well in front. We all assumed that the location-based advertising market would heat up a lot faster than it has. We’ve worked with all of them over the years: ReachLocal, AT&T/Ingenio. Advertisers are still thinking that within a city means location-targeted, so all of the benefits we were providing around a specific location were not very real.
In the blog post announcing Platial’s demise, it wasn’t clear what the exact reason was for the site to close its doors but the startup said it would be updating its blog with details about the shutdown in the near future.
Because the company relied on mashups with Google maps, the company always faced an uphill battle. It soon became evident that there was little reason for people to visit it: Over time, Google has increasingly added ways for users to submit their own data directly to Google’s map product. Not only that, but Microsoft’s Bing has added similar map features recently (involving Bing Maps and Photosynth), and competition has only increased.
Oddly, the decision comes as investors have been rushing to put cash into location-based startups. To give just one specifically map-related example: CultureMap, which runs a local online magazine in Houston (and plans to launch others soon) has raised a “low seven figures” round for its site, which centers its news entries around maps.
It’s always sad to see a company like this go. Especially for Portland. And at a time when social mapping seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.
But it will be incredibly interesting to see where the thoughtful people behind the company go next.
For more from the company, see the Platial post on their self-imposed euthanasia.