Foursquare is combing through the venues in its location database, which contains at least 15 million user entries, sifting for duplicate venues and places like “random mountain in New Jersey” or “cab to Kenmare.”
But besides making the data more accurate, Foursquare is making its location database more comprehensive and inexpensive by assigning every place a unique ID number that can be used to find the place in any location database–meaning the Foursquare ID for Balthazar will be attached to its listing on nymag.com, Thrillist and MenuPages, so that developers can easily pull data about the same place from different sources. Today, Foursquare announced the first Canadian partner in this “Venue Harmonization Project“–Yellow Pages is opening up 1.5 million Canadian business listings and information through YellowAPI.com.
The project is pretty revolutionary. Databases of place information are fragmented, incomplete, inaccurate and expensive to license, early employees of Foursquare found, with good reason–collecting location data is hard. Things change a lot, it has to be done manually, and the world is a really big place. Google paid for vans with cameras to drive down every street and take a picture to create a comprehensive street map. Before the effort was done, much of it was out of date.
The answer? Collaboration and user submitted data, of course. But Foursquare’s database currently suffers from repetitive and erroneous listings. Part of the Great Harmonization is to clean out those listings, as most tech blogs reported today. But the really exciting stuff is the idea that Foursquare is building the first truly universal database of places across the world, and they’re making it available to smaller-scale developers for free.