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Company Profile: Europe's RealMapping Brings IP Tracking to US

By Erin Joyce

Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, those unique numbers assigned to Internet-connected devices, can tell Web sites a lot about us before we hand over any personal information.

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.

Sound nefarious? Real Mapping, an Amsterdam-based company whose products help sites make these distinctions in real time and more, would beg to differ.

"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 something.

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 stuff."

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."

*Got tips or comments? E-mail

March 19, 2001

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