Mobile

Citymaps, an ambitious Google Maps competitor with a social twist, launches on the iPhone

Above: CityMaps' app for iPhone

Image Credit: CityMaps
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Taking on Google, Apple, or Nokia in the maps space as a small startup is a little crazy. But that isn’t stopping Citymaps, a high-reaching service that has mapped every city in the U.S. and includes a full-fledged social network that lets you share maps with friends.

Before today, Citymaps used to exist as an iPhone app that spanned only a few cities, including New York City, San Francisco, Austin, and Boston, and it showed detailed business locations in those cities. But the app has been completely redesigned and revamped so it has almost no resemblance to its prior “proof-of-concept” version.

The new Citymaps app is vector-based and includes details for more than 15 million businesses in the U.S. It also places on emphasis on social features so regular folks, brands, and publishers can easily create and share maps of the best places to go. So, for example, you (or a magazine) could make a list of the best bars in your neighborhood or a list of your favorite restaurants in your city. Once you do that, your friends (or followers) can see and even add to that map with their own suggestions.

There are also basic navigation features included in Citymaps, including driving, walking, and public transit directions — the sort of stuff people rely on from Google Maps. And when you just browse maps, you can see business locations in bubbles on the map. If the business is in a larger bubble, Citymaps has detected it to be actively talked about on social media. When you tap on a business, you see a detailed profile of it, including Instagram photos, Twitter posts, and other info.

Citymaps CEO and founder Elliot Cohen

Above: Citymaps CEO and founder Elliot Cohen

Image Credit: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Citymaps was founded by Elliot Cohen, a former product manager at AudioBase and an associate for development division of NYC realty investment trust Vornado Realty Trust.

“We’re probably one of the only maps startups in the world at this point that’s built their own experience and not just a mashup that’s built on top of Google Maps,” Cohen told us.

Cohen says he understands the challenges he faces. He’s been working on Citymaps for about four years and has a team of just 12 full-time employees. To fight the big dogs for underlying map data, Citymaps pulls from OpenStreetMap. Outside of that, however, Cohen’s team has been building a lot on top of OpenStreetMap data. It has been collecting and categorizing tons of business location data and trying to integrate a social networking layer with the map. Some business location data comes from Yext, while other data comes from social networks. All of that, plus the ability to create and share Maps, gives it enough muscle to fight the power, according to Cohen.

“Millions of maps are made on Google Maps,” Cohen said. “It’s a terrible experience. It’s not particularly attractive. It’s not social at all. And the maps go away. You can’t just search Google for a celebrity map on L.A., for example. So we want to own the notion of social map making.”

The next thing on Citymaps’ to-do list is to get an Android application up and running. Cohen says the Android app is “about eight weeks away” from being complete. He wants to see the app on desktop web browsers as well, but since the app is build on WebGL, he needed to wait until Internet Explorer supported it. Thankfully, WebGL support is coming to Internet Explorer later this year.

Cohen says the company is focusing just on the U.S. for now, but has plans for international mapping down the road.

New York City-based Citymaps has raised $5 million to date, including a $2.5 million round back in March 2012. Investors include Ashton Kutcher, Dave Leyrer, and Dave Levin.

Check out the video below for more on the app.

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