OpenBuildings.com, the crowd-sourced building directory I wrote about last month, is now available on multiple mobile devices. Just ahead of the launch of its Buildings Android app, I met up with the business’s two founders, COO Tom Mallory (left) and CEO Adel Zakout (right), in London last week.
As previously described, OpenBuildings is a social media application for sharing information and knowledge about architecture, and Adel outlined the three primary audiences for its services.
First, OpenBuildings is aimed at enthusiasts, providing a crowd-sourced wiki that can be progressively expanded and improved through the inputs of its users. To date, it has logged over 40,000 buildings and has 50,000 registered users, with approximately 8,000 unique visitors to the website each day. Take-up of the first GPS-enabled Buildings mobile application, for iPhone, was enthusiastic with almost 300,000 downloads, and Tom expects the Android version to be at least as popular. The company is also planning to develop audio guides to help, say, tourists find out more about buildings in places they were visiting, but there are no immediate plans to develop an augmented reality tool (we talked about Layar and its potential to overlay information from Wikipedia and other sources over a cameraphone image).
Second, Adel said OpenBuildings provides a forum for locals to provide structured feedback about building projects in their area, and to be alerted to new proposals. We discussed other online services doing similar tasks – the YouCanPlan consultatative tool from Slider Studio, and PlanningAlerts.com, for example – but Adel sought to differentiate OpenBuildings. As an architect (trained at the Architectural Association), he was wary of compromising the integrity of building design in response to local residents’ feedback; he was also hoping to provide a more reliable and more international alerts service than that provided by the MySociety volunteer-driven and UK-focused PlanningAlerts.com.
Third, OpenBuildings aims to provide a platform for professional firms. Architects, engineers and even suppliers of products and materials involved in the design and construction of a building can create site profiles which can be searched by website users. Basic profiles will initially be free, but OpenBuildings’ revenue model is based on getting firms to pay a modest monthly subscription ($20 was mentioned) to upgrade their profiles, incorporate more features and achieve greater prominence as they seek to win new business through the site. We also briefly talked about potential integration between OpenBuildings and the Woobius Showcase mobile portfolio toolset (they have been talking to Bob Leung apparently)
OpenBuildings’ strategy is to provide an excellent end-user experience underpinned by extensive information about buildings and their designers. By making use of existing crowd-sourced material from Wikipedia, it has already accumulated a large database (even if Wikipedia isn’t always clearly acknowledged or referenced), and its user-friendly interface should help this database grow. However, this is a competitive area with some established players including traditional publishers – for example, the day after I met Adel and Tom I was emailed about the Architects’ Journal Buildings Library – and online businesses such as TheConstructionIndex (see pwcom blog post) and ESI.info.
To help grow online awareness OpenBuildings is using social media and building partnerships with complementary online ventures such as the products-sourcing service DesignerPages and Archinect.com. I expect OpenBuildings will announce other partnerships as it grows its registered userbase and becomes more attractive as a marketing platform for AEC firms (and I am hoping Adel or Tom will use Be2camp events to increase its profile among some of the Web 2.0-savvy users already active in the industry).