It's now almost de rigueur for data publishers to offer some sort of mapping option within their online products. Nine times out of ten, this is a simple link to Google Maps based on the street address of the company whose listing information is being viewed. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, provided that publishers don't fool themselves about how much added value this provides to users, which is ... not much. At best, you're saving the user a few clicks. That's because basic street maps, like so many things online, are widely available for free.

But there is more to mapping than basic street maps, and there are real opportunities for data publishers to take their mapping capabilities beyond just an afterthought. What got me thinking about this was the announcement by MapQuest of a new mapping product complete with an API to make it easy to integrate into your own data product. What is offered in this premium product is several location-based datasets. Suddenly, mapping is more than where you are. It's now what's around you.Consider the possibilities. With this MapQuest product, you can overlay Census demographics, Congressional district boundaries, the name, SIC and location of over 13 million businesses, location of every U.S. public school, areas of traffic congestion and accidents, and a whole lot more. While every data product serves a different market and user need, I think the concept is clear: It's becoming a lot easier to integrate your data with third party data to develop very powerful and very valuable mapping applications. Don't underestimate the power of data visualization to set your data product apart.

Of course, the next logical step is then to allow your users to upload their own data, so their stores, sales offices, factories or whatever can be plotted alongside your data, as well as third party data. There are lots of different angles here, but they all start with a firm understanding of what kinds of data and applications your customers need.

Finally, because one of the beauties of the data business is that it's always a two-way street, you might want to consider whether your own location-based data might be something that MapQuest might want to license from you.

Right now, sophisticated mapping applications are the road less traveled by most data publishers, but for many, now's the time to chart a course to greater profits.