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December 2011
iMapcharlotte.com
By Lauren Whitmore

     “Child’s play.”

     That’s how Brian Wrasman describes the iMap interactive Web application.

     In reality, it is anything but. What he and his team of coders have developed may be child-like genius. It is a location-based interactive mapping tool which might best be described as “not your father’s yellow pages” and “not your father’s map.” It is truly the best of both of those rolled up into one easy-to-use interface.

     With the increasing use of GPS making local maps especially hard to find, and “location-based searches” yielding plain vanilla results, Wrasman’s technology, referred to as the iMap, brings together the most essential results to a query, presented in an incredibly inviting and easy-to-use interface, with physical location including all the benefits of mapping technology like directions and choices of routes to travel.

     Combine that forward-thinking technology with a business plan that allows area attractions, restaurants, hotels, nightlife, health care, personal services, and commercial and residential products and services, to put their information on the map for the benefit of area visitors, consumers, other businesses, and even relocations, supported by the local media partners, and you have…well, you have one heck of a powerful portal called iMapCharlotte.

 

Why the iMap?

     Asked about the “i” in iMapCharlotte, Wrasman responds enthusiastically, “It stands for so many things…the fact that anyone can use iMap easily (‘I’ map) so that they are truly mapping it for themselves, that it is the most ‘intelligent’ way to map utilizing all of the benefits of our digital technology thus far, that it is ‘Internet’-based and always the most up-to-date and comprehensive ‘information’ available…you name it.

     “It is ‘I’-centric, showing you all of the community resources available for your queries in an engaging and dynamic fashion, helping you make choices by bringing otherwise disparate information together in one place. It turns ‘searching’ into a picture showing the user what they are looking for relative to other community resources—truly the way real people think and plan their activities. With the help and benefit of our community media sponsors, we like to think of it as a one-stop-shop for a true community-based discovery.”

     Wrasman explains, “In a world of digital consumption, businesses are searching for ways to move their advertising messages online. This new focus often brings the opportunity to target consumers in a way not previously available with traditional media ad buys. Add on top of that a need for relevancy, and the digital advertising landscape can become difficult to manage.

     “In the past, broadcast was the way to attract new clients. Broadcast your message to the masses and hope that your message sticks with enough consumers to justify your ad buy. This shotgun approach doesn’t seem to cut it in today’s online and mobile media consumption. Even traditional media outlets are finding themselves scrambling for a relevant platform to give their advertisers a connection with their audiences who are flocking to Web and mobile interfaces.

     “iMapCharlotte is a way to provide consumers with an interactive platform to explore, navigate and discover everything that Charlotte has to offer. Through its unique location-based marketing opportunity, local businesses have a new connection point with residents and visitors on a digital platform. Sponsored in part with local media partners, like Clear Channel, iMapCharlotte provides a user-friendly way to interact with the city.

     “Residents and visitors are able to find what they’re looking for through a map interface that gives the geographic reference points throughout the area. Whether they’ve lived here their entire life or are just visiting for the weekend, iMapCharlotte gives them the tools they need to discover shopping, area attractions, places to eat, local accommodations, and much more. And for local businesses, it’s a great way to show off your business.”

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

     Using the iMap could not be simpler. Users open the map by relevant category of what they are looking for, and explore by clicking on pinpoints and logos. When they click on a business logo, all of its information pops up.

     iMapCharlotte makes it possible to view area attractions, restaurants, hotels, nightlife, health care, personal services, and commercial and residential products and services—virtually any type of business—on the map of the community. Taking an afternoon to see a Discovery Place exhibit and want to investigate nearby attractions, restaurants and shopping? No problem. Click on the layers.

     Need to find that specialty meat shop for that more-important-than-average dinner party? No problem. You can see if the butcher himself has some choice words for you on a video. Even if the location is across town, you can figure out some other errands to combine it with.

     Looking for a plumber but want someone located near you (who may be more accountable) and someone who personally appeals to you to have in your house? No problem—there’s even a video of them to gain some familiarity.

     Once you access the map at www.iMapCharlotte.com, and choose what categories you would like to see, you are presented with a series of pinpoints and logos showing the locations of businesses in your search parameters. Pinpoints show location, name and phone number, and logos show the enhanced listings which bring up a popup box, an “iSite” (double entendre intended), which immediately displays detailed company information, and Web site or other link, video or image of their choosing, and provides click-throughs to driving directions, coupons, social media connections, and even direct communication with the business.

     The iMap is scalable; that is, you can even zoom into neighborhoods. View the city as a region or as a collection of communities. By scrolling into or out of a location, you can change your viewing sites pertinent to your search in that area. This allows infinite scalability to include as many businesses as want to be on the map.

     iMapCharlotte is free to users; businesses can currently be listed on the map free of charge with a pinpoint, but can upgrade to an enhanced presence (Web link, driving directions, social media sharing, info requests, dashboard analytics) at one of three annual levels. “Billboards,” or advertising icons created to look just like billboards, and banner and block advertisements on the iMap are also available.

 

The True Nut of the Experience

     It is one thing to be “wowed” by the iMap—but you don’t truly appreciate it as a “work of art” until you have experienced its other side—the user interface. So easy, so streamlined, so straightforward. Accessible by the individual user 24/7/365.

     It not only allows for direct uploads, but also coupon creation and campaign management, correspondence tracking, analytics tracking, etc. It even has a community coupon board bringing together all coupons on the site.

     Perhaps its most welcome feature are the step-by-step video instructions for all of its functionality.

     It almost feels like an infomercial…“But wait…There’s more…” iMap users can actually direct traffic to their iSite through the use of QR codes. Combining this feature and the information request email tracking, the iSite really amounts to a secondary website—or for smaller entities—a primary website. The QR code can be used on business cards, brochures and flyers, tee shirts and promotional items, shared by smartphone and posted absolutely anywhere to direct customers and potential customers directly to the company’s information.

     In a lot of ways, the business presentation is a lot like a website itself, bringing together the essential information about the business in one place, quickly and easily accessible, or as Wrasman says, “Bringing traffic to your door.”

     Wrasman touts the flexibility of the iMap product: “We can add whatever layers we want. We could, for example, add a layer for listings of garage sales on the map. After an early brunch, users could just access the iMap to find listings in areas they’d like to visit or the area they are in.

     “We could add layers for particular hospital or HMO-affiliated health clinics. That would be convenient for people with certain insurance coverage. We could add layers for particular events, like community monthly events such as charitable events and NASCAR-related events, or for special holiday events like haunted houses and pumpkin patches at Halloween, for example.”

     Wrasman and his team have contemplated one particularly special usage and that is the events of the DNC Committee’s convention here in Charlotte in August 2012. As a matter of fact, there’s even an www.iMapDNC2012.com map in the works for events and locations during the weeklong political caucus.

     In this way, the iMap lends itself to a true community experience, not an impersonal Internet experience. And it becomes truly supported by community resources pumping specific community information into it with a flavor that the Internet-at-large does not really allow.

     “This community aspect of the iMap product is extremely important to the business model. It’s where we really shine compared to 99 percent of ‘local search.’ It is important to us to be embraced by community media partners—those entities who already have a vested interest in the community and vehicle with which to promote it and who already have customers that could benefit from this type of mapping application,” explains Wrasman.

 

So How Does It All Work?

     The iMap product works by combining the best of search technology with the best of the geospatial technology in one cohesive platform.

     Says Wrasman, “We are single-tasked to keep up with the technology that enables us to bring this information together and think of even more information we can bring into the same interface. Combine that with a thorough knowledge of what works and doesn’t work on all different platforms and devices, and that is what consumes us.”

      The iMaps currently display in the Flash/Flex program, as that allows the most robust mixture of information to be presented on one platform—that is to say, that it is the most state-of-the-art programming to show the most types of files, bringing together the most lively full and engaging interface for the user. Wrasman says they are a little frustrated, though, since the iPhone and iPad refuse Flash applications, those users can only have a “pared down experience.”

     But those more computer programming literate out there might be wondering about the future of such technology given the fact that Adobe, the developer of Flash, has indicated that it is phasing out its support for it over time. Wrasman explains, “In this business, there are two certainties—one is that the state of technology is always changing, and I’m sure always will always be changing—and the other is that there is always another way to do things.”

     He and his team of coders are developing the same product in JavaScript, the programming language of the future, and that at the point that it can provide the user with at least as robust an experience and on the most devices, they will switch the native programming over.

     He also explains that while the iMap product currently functions with the Google Maps interface, the programming works alongside other mapping interfaces as well. So suppose, for example, Google Maps went down (alright—very unlikely!) or they decided to add advertisements to the sides of their maps, well then, the iMap product can display using Bing maps, or Yahoo maps, or ESRI maps, or any other type of mapping application. It’s that versatile.

 

Who Is This iMap?

     Appropriate you should ask, “Who is this iMap?”

     iMap is a team of developers well-versed in the various programming languages and coding interfaces, headed by Wrasman. Wrasman, himself, is point man for the user interface of the coding and the user experience. Although he is a native Hoosier, he chose Charlotte to launch the iMap product because of the wealth of intellect, opportunity, and “openness”—openness to using new technology.

     He is very amiable, charming, personable, down-to-earth—just what you’d expect of someone proficient in creating user interfaces. He prides himself on his group of coding compatriots: “We have a kick-ass team of expert coders and programmers that are cutting-edge in the industry. Andrew Westberg, who heads up the behind-the-scenes development, is one of the foremost Flash/Flex developers in the country. He regularly attends seminars around the world and has even obtained patents on some of his work. We are very fortunate to have such a tight-knit group and so anxious to engage on the forefront of technology.”

     Wrasman began developing the iMap product as a captive portal for member-based organizations. There are now over 40-some across the U.S. iMapCharlotte is enhanced with feature sets that are more robust and designed with larger geographic areas in mind.

     Wrasman and his team are also looking other markets like Indianapolis and St. Louis but Charlotte is the flagship product. Current iMapCharlotte media partners include Clear Channel Broadcasting’s five area radio stations and Galles Communications Group, which is also acting as exclusive reseller in the Charlotte area.

     “We have made great associations here in Charlotte already with both radio and business magazine media partners. The community has been very welcoming and hospitable—and helpful in streamlining the product for this community. With the upcoming DNC Convention, there are so many uses we can develop in the coming year!”

 

Lauren Whitmore is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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