April 26, 2010

Beginner's Guide to Geocoding


Hostway Team

By Joanna Fletcher
Geocoding is finding location coordinates, usually latitude and longitude, from street addresses or postal/zip codes. The most common use of the technology is to find that location on a digital map. Geocodes are also used in Geographic Information Systems like local search engines, and entered as links, or geotags, in an online image or text.

Geocode Accuracy

The accuracy of geocodes is only about 95% because street addresses are not always systematically predictable. For example, house numbers are usually even on one side, and odd on the other — but not always, especially in older towns and cities. This limitation means that while geocoding is useful to delivery firms, it is not good enough for emergency service dispatch.

Sharing Geocodes

Google Maps uses this method to display a map when someone types in a street address, and also when people are searching for resources within a defined area, for example within five miles of their home. Google has made this function available to other Web sites by publishing APIs, meaning any Web site can offer their customers Google's location-based services without forcing them to open another browser tab or window.

Google also provides Google Street View, currently only in major cities, but expanding all the time. This API can show a panoramic picture of the address entered. It is getting harder and harder to be lost if you have access to latest-generation technology.

Reverse Geocoding

Most cell phones have GPS these days which returns precise geographic coordinates without the need for address entry. These phones need reverse geocoding to find address or business information on the fly, and plenty of apps have been developed to do this successfully.

Making Money from Geocodes

Google has helped people monetize their apps by adding Google AdWords to many of its location based or toolbar services. Others have linked place names, Wikipedia articles, and Flickr photos to geographic coordinates. This increases the utility of geocoding for both businesses and individuals, and its popularity is rising fast.

The enormous power of sharing information from multiple database sources, from the government to corporations right down to the kid next door's holiday snaps, is only just beginning to be tapped. We are limited only by our creativity and imagination as we stare into a mind-boggling future of information possibilities.

About the Author

Joanna Fletcher is a netizen who has lived, worked, and played in virtual space for most of her life. Her entrepreneurial flair is topped only by her tolerance for failure.

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