POI APIs: Why They’re Used and What to Use as Alternatives

A complex of office buildings with location markers on them, with a database concept faintly superimposed

POI (point of interest) data can be quite useful in a number of different business scenarios. These include adding mapping functionality to an application, providing waypoints to assist with routing and navigation software, or conducting an analysis of the business mix in a local area. But not every company has the resources to collect and manage this data on its own, so many choose to access it through an API.

There are pros and cons to this approach, which we’ll briefly look at as an extension of explaining how an API works. We’ll also outline some business use cases for POI data that have spurred companies to make use of a POI API. Finally, we’ll talk about how getting POI data from SafeGraph can give you information that’s more comprehensive and less expensive than what you can call from an API.

Here’s a summary of what’s in store:

  • What is a POI API?
  • What can POI data be used for?
  • How to get high quality, affordable POI data

We’ll lead off with a refresher on what POI data is, and thus what a POI API is used for.

What is a POI API?

A POI (“point of interest”) API is a service that allows a mobile or web app to search a database for information on points of interest, then retrieve and display this information for a user. This saves the developer from needing their own database to store, search for, and retrieve this data.

For the sake of context, a point of interest is a geographic location that holds some importance to humans. This could be a building that helps people perform a useful function, such as a restaurant (for eating), an airport (for traveling), a hospital (for receiving medical care), an office building (for working), or a gym (for exercising). It could also be a place that people find aesthetically pleasing or sentimentally significant. This could be a natural phenomenon (e.g. a mountain, canyon, forest, geyser, waterfall, or exceptionally large tree), or it could be a man-made construct (e.g. a statue, a memorial, or ruins).

A POI API example is this one from IBM used for in-vehicle navigation.

What can POI data be used for?

POI data is almost essential for mapping because it provides reference points as to where places are in the world. Think about how people usually don’t navigate to places using exact coordinates or addresses (unless it’s a private residence they’ve never been to before). Instead, they often describe how to get to places by relating them to where other places are.

In this way, POI data is important for giving context to numerous other types of geospatial data. It helps people read maps by indicating places they may be familiar with. It can also give information on what goes on at those places. And, as we mentioned, it helps people navigate by showing where certain places are relative to each other.

The following are some common use cases for POI data.

1. Lay a foundation for consumer-facing mapping applications

An increasing number of consumer-facing mobile and web applications require geospatial data and technology. People need to know where places are and what’s going on there for numerous purposes: navigating in their cars, determining which nearby stores have the products they want in stock, seeing which local restaurants serve the kinds of food they like, or simply finding a place to rest for the night.

Companies like Mapbox rely on having precise and accurate POI data from us so they can build mapping applications for these kinds of use cases. Businesses in logistics, automotives, outdoors, retail, travel, real estate, and more count on Mapbox’s maps having the POI data they need – and that data being correct – so customers can make informed decisions on where they can go and what they can do.

2. Give context to routing and navigation systems

When looking to get from one place to another, it’s helpful to know not only where the departure and destination points are, but also what is there so a person can recognize them. It can also be useful to point out places and other landmarks along a route that people can use for reference.

That’s why having quality POI data from us is essential for companies like Telenav in building in-vehicle infotainment systems. Telenav doesn’t just need to get people where they need to go quickly, efficiently, and safely. It needs to let them know what’s nearby when they’re in their vehicles so they can find and purchase what they need, when they need it – fuel, food, or anything else.

3. Build retail analytics tools

Retail consulting companies also need reliable POI data to help their client businesses plan and execute their business strategies. They may want to ask questions like these:

  • Trade area analysis – What is the proportion of different types of businesses in an area, and is there room for our client’s business to be competitive there?
  • Site selection – If our client’s business does decide to set up a location in an area, where exactly should it go? How accessible will it be through various transportation methods? Will it be near places where people tend to congregate anyways? How close will it be to complementary or competing businesses?
  • Competitive intelligence – Where are locations for competing businesses? Which neighborhoods do they control market share for? How can our client’s business position its locations and advertising to compete for this market share? Are there complementary businesses nearby that may be able to help our client’s company via partnerships?

It’s important to emphasize that consultants not only need the right data to make these decisions, but they also need it at the right time. The world of commercial real estate can move pretty quickly, and POI data that is out-of-date – or that takes too long to complete, clean, and analyze – can lead to ill-advised choices and missed opportunities. That’s why Avison Young depends on our data to help its clients make timely site selection decisions that drive economic, social, and environmental progress for their neighborhoods.

4. Develop visit attribution modeling applications

One of the big challenges for businesses with brick and mortar stores is to measure how effective their site selection is, for both stores and advertisements. One way to do this is with visit attribution. This involves comparing the amount of foot traffic in one or more areas against how many people crossed into one or more designated spaces within those areas.

For consulting firms that offer this service, an obvious strategy is to monitor a client’s own store locations to see how many people actually visited. However, they may also want to keep an eye on places where a client has posted out-of-home advertising, to both measure impressions and estimate how many of them are turning into conversions. They may even want to attribute visits to clients’ competitors to assess how the regional industry market share is shifting.

Of course, visit attribution depends on having accurate data of what places are and where they are. Stale data showing rival stores that have long since closed can throw competitive analysis off right from the start. Likewise, if your business is using building footprint data that doesn’t accurately match where the bounds of a building truly are, it can be difficult to confidently count how many unique visits that building gets over a period of time. The latter problem is what caused Olvin to switch to SafeGraph’s data for performing more reliable retail analysis.

5. Add location context to products

Many places are associated with one or more brands. This can be important information for consumers who are loyal to certain brands, including if they need service for a specific product. It can also be useful for services like Dosh that offer rewards systems for buying from particular groups of brands.

These companies need correct, detailed, and fresh POI data to know which stores are still operational, and to which brands they correspond. This makes it easier for them to onboard merchants to the program, direct consumers to eligible merchants, and avoid having to manually register missed transactions through customer service.

6. Power internal analysis tools

POI data can also be a useful tool for internal business intelligence. Having the right data leads to faster and deeper insights into processes such as site selection, competitive analysis, or trade area assessment. And having the right data infrastructure means that key decision-makers within your company get those insights and start acting on them sooner.

Take, for example, the case of Volta Charging. By using a combination of SafeGraph data and the Snowflake data management platform, Volta was able to not just optimize its EV charging station site selection to balance the needs of motorists and advertisers. It was also able to streamline data delivery to its analysts, so the company could spend less time on processing work and more time scaling up its scope and capabilities.

How to get high-quality, affordable POI data

A POI API is one option for getting place data to use in your company’s applications. The upside of it is that your business doesn’t have to collect, manage, and update this information using its own resources; it can draw from a pre-existing database. But there are drawbacks to this convenience.

The individual HTTP requests that APIs work through usually have fees associated with them. So using an API means getting the data your organization needs piece-by-piece, which can simultaneously add up to an expensive bill. Furthermore, the data APIs call is still largely controlled by the database creator. This often results in strict licensing terms that limit the types of use cases the data can be used in. It can also cause a lack of transparency if data is incomplete or inaccurate, and a POI API’s documentation fails to explain why.

In contrast, SafeGraph works with your organization to decide on a flat price for our Places POI data (based on exactly how much data you need) so you get better value for money. You also get all the data you purchase at once, so there’s no need to call it little-by-little through an API. We can also deliver the data to several common GIS or data management platforms, or even as a CSV file. So once your organization has the data, it’s yours, and you can do (almost) anything you want with it. Finally, our extensive documentation explains how our data works, and why there may be some gaps or inconsistencies in it.

If you want to learn more about how our data can be a more complete and affordable solution than using an API to get POI information, contact us today.


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