Who’s going to be making money from location data? That’s the question that got a lot of attention today at a breakout session in VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2010 conference.

None of the panelists — from small location-based players like Placecast and LikeList as well as giants like Nokia and Google — had a definitive answer. LikeList, a company that refers businesses to consumers based on peer recommendations, said the value of location-based services resides in the bond between the user and the business. “When I check in at a venue or ‘like’ it on a social network, I have a relationship with that business, based on my location [at the time] or something more durable,” said Tyler Bell, LikeList’s director of platform technology. “The consumer-business relationship is getting much more personal, it’s like getting a personalized Yellow Pages, and the value is there for the companies that can exploit that.”

Nokia’s Paul Bernard said we are still in the early stages of location-based services. Nokia, itself, stepped into the location business on the high-quality consumer product side when it acquired Navteq. While there are hot companies catering to consumers — Foursquare, for example, which seems to be on everyone’s lips these days — business offerings are still lagging behind. “There is no shortage of innovation in creating consumer experiences, but there has been very little innovation for instance in going for the long tail and making money from small and medium businesses,” said Bernard.

This may be due to the fact that location used to be the end, said Bell, meaning knowing a venue’s physical location was the goal with maps or navigation. “These days location and venue data is a means, instead. Location is now being used to deliver personalized, demographic content to the users. It’s a waypoint to monetization now, when it used to be the be-all and the end-all”, Bell explained. And while knowing location is important, it is the layers on top where value is added. And no one has a monopoly on that yet.

[Photo: JP Manninen. PIctured, from left to right: Tyler Bell, Paul Bernard, Blair Swedeen, Lior Ron, Greg Sterling]

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