Using IP mapping software, a site can tell if a visitor got there
from a node at Columbia University, or rode in from Canada by way of
a router in Seattle. It can detect whether you used a 56K connection
or blazed in on a T3.
"We don't know who the user is, only the geographic location of
an IP address" for example, says Sjoerd van Gelderen, the CEO of
RealMapping, which recently opened a North American office in New
York. But by mapping the IP address data, the site gives
specific information that's useful for a surfer based in New York
that is logging into a travel site looking for flight information
and prices, for example. The idea behind the products is to help a
Web site make a better guess about you before you decide to buy
The company says the concept is no different than the way
regional newspapers deliver localized advertisements.
Unlike most of the personalization software products that build
user profiles after they buy products online, RealMapping's products
do some of the personalization legwork before the customer arrives.
"That's the opportunity, the idea that a site can show new
surfers something that's relevant to them."
Some of the products distinguish the country of origin as a
visitor logs in. RealMapping Student helps Web sites know when users
come in from a university or college. Logging in from Arizona? Real
Mapping's city products help sites know where you came in from,
specific company or government agency.
Want to know whether to serve up a Flash-enabled site or other
high-speed geegaws? RealMapping says its line speed detector helps a
site decide how quickly the viewer can view its products based on
whether the connection is ISDN, DSL, T1 or T3 for example.
Michael Drapkin, a technology consultant and author who teaches
Internet commerce-related topics at Columbia University, notes that
most U.S. sites start personalizing after a user has logged into a
site and given up some information.
That way the sites get some breathing room to figure out what to
offer the person the next time he or she logs in, he says. "The more
difficult customers are the ones in real time which you've never
seen before and to which you have to give all this personalization
Van Gelderen says the company has developed its own tracking
technique in order to build and update its current database of 4.25
billion IP addresses, which is updated automatically as well as
manually if need be.
Apparently, the product has been so successful helping European
companies geo-target their content that the two-year-old Real
Mapping won the Broos van Erp prize, a coveted award for the most
innovative and promising Netherlands-based new media venture.
Geo-targeting first-time visitors to Web sites is not considered
as commonplace with U.S.-based Web sites as in European countries.
But as Web usage among other regions of the world grows, more
European-based companies such as RealMapping are sensing their
opportunities with U.S. e-commerce sites.
"There is an acute necessity for customized service amongst U.S.
companies, which may endeavor to serve localized advertising,
provide digital rights management, or even block users from
countries with prohibitive legislation."
Van Gelderen points to French laws that forbid the marketing of
Nazi memorabilia as an example of the interest the company is
experiencing with its IP blocking service. "We've been talking with
a lot of companies who have to comply with local laws in the global
operations," even on the Web.
But he says the general pitch from the company boils to down to
targeted advertising. "Obviously, an advertiser wants to reduce
waste and target its message to the audience as specifically as
possible and would be willing to pay a higher price for that. We're
able to give that in the Internet world."
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