Nokia acquired location-based services company MetaCarta on Friday, a service with two distinct focuses: geosearch and geotagging. With MetaCarta's geosearch technology, the service finds content, data and information about a place and then presents it in a single mapped-based view using any map server, whether one from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, ESRI or another company. The geotagging technology, on the other hand, lets MetaCarta pull geographic references from online content and then allow that information to be used in other applications.
One of the more notable examples of MetaCarta technology is the NewsMap application, a hosted mashup that extracts the geographic information found in news articles and displays those locations as icons on a digital map. Users can then zoom in and out on the map to see where the news is happening and what stories correspond to the map icons.
For a real-world example of how Newsmap works, you can visit DailyRecord, a news site which features an embedded "news map" at the bottom of their homepage. For another example of a similar technology, see Bing Maps's Local Lens application, a map layer that identifies news stories by city and neighborhood and maps them out using the Bing Maps service. (Bing Maps does not use MetaCarta's technology, it's just similar.)
Although news maps like those above are somewhat interesting, the most intriguing thing about this new acquisition is not the map app, but the technology behind it. Basically, the geotagging aspect to the MetaCarta service can add location data to existing information that previously had none. In doing so, a company could build up a geo-database that could function as the backend for all sorts of location-based services from social apps to local search tools and more. And the need to have an accurate, rich and complete geo-database is going to be a key component to winning a top position in the emerging location-based services market.
Nokia hasn't specified exactly how it plans to use the newly acquired company's technology, only saying that "MetaCarta's technology will be used in the area of local search in location and other services." It's not a leap, though, to assume that MetaCarta's technology could be integrated into Nokia's free Ovi Maps mobile application.
Nokia has had a clear focus on location-based services as of late. The company acquired the social travel service Dopplr in September of last year and later launched turn-by-turn navigation for Ovi Maps in January. However, the company's largest mapping-related acquisition to date is still the $8.1 billion purchase of digital map provider Navteq in 2007.