The mapping industry is full of buzzwords. Each month, MapQuest University will help explore these terms and how you can improve your user experience through better understanding. The buzzword for this month is "geofence." What is a geofence? How can you use a geofence? We sat down with Arthur May, Product Manager on our Location Intelligence team, and asked him to give us the rundown on geofencing.

What is a geofence?

Quite simply, it’s a virtually-defined area and a device’s movement relative to that area. Geofences are typically situated around a defined point. For example, let’s say you set up a 700-foot geofence around your house. Geofencing allows you to track when a person or device is approaching within 700' of your house, or when a person or device is leaving that defined space. In addition to tracking and alerting, geofencing can also tell you the time associated with these actions; it takes two minutes to get 700’ away from your house.


What can you do with it?

You’re probably thinking “That’s all well and good, but what can I do with it,” right? We’re glad you asked. The application possibilities for a geofence are nigh limitless. Maybe you own a small business, Pete’s World of Fish. As a small business owner, you’re probably in a constant state of luring in new customers. Geofencing allows you to alert a user, from an app, within a defined block-radius of your location. Go ahead, invite them in, offer a coupon, and make new friends and customers. Maybe you work on a large construction site and need some digital help herding all of the cats, making sure everyone on the job is where they’re supposed to be. Set up a geofence around the site and receive a ping when workers enter and leave the geofence so that you know, for certain, when your ducks are in a row. Or maybe you want a device that you can put in your suitcase, thus creating a geofence around the suitcase. Receive peace of mind that your luggage is following you to and from your destination. Or know, in advance, if your luggage hasn’t left your origin spot, and know when to start panicking. (This is one of those fears, ya know?)

What is MapQuest Working On?

Right now, MapQuest is exploring ways in which we can empower businesses to leverage geofences to provide a balance between client-side and server-side relations. That’s fancy talk for saying that we want businesses -- of any size -- to make better decisions and improve their user relationship, all through the power of geofencing. The other morning, Arthur stumbled upon a fantastic use case. While jogging at 6 a.m., he approached a drug store chain, and he received an alert suggesting he visit the store and use his rewards card. Of course, the drug store isn’t open at 6am, so that’s a pretty silly alert, isn’t it? What if, instead, the drug store chain could set a geofence that not only included a proximity alert -- alerting customers who are within two or three blocks of the store -- but also included open/close hours? That way, you wouldn’t get an alert at 6 a.m., but you might get one at 9 a.m., on the same trail, thus actively encouraging you to visit the store. Isn’t that a better business-owner and customer relationship? That is the power of geofencing, and MapQuest’s Location Intelligence team.