Location, Location, Location.

The World Wide Web has never had it, because there was no ordinary way for advertisers to know where someone was sitting as they surfed. That has made it impossible for the local hardware store to advertise to its neighborhood, or for national advertisers to target their ads geographically. It has also meant that cities did not have the means to warn residents surfing the web of a broken water main, an approaching storm, a forest fire, or a flash flood.  That may be about to change.

Feeva, a Silicon Valley start-up, has invented a way for advertisers to pay for “geo-demographic” placement. In effect, that means advertisers can choose their own zip or postal code — just as they do for mailers.

“What you get in your mail is all based on zip code,” said Miten Sampat, Feeva’s chief architect. “Zip code defines your income level, whether you have kids, how urban your environment is. But you can’t do this on the web, because geography is tough to guess.”

Feeva is teaming up with with Internet service providers — such as phone and cable companies– to detect the zip code of any computer surfing the web. Others who have tried to pinpoint computers, such as Phorm, have stumbled over privacy issues and Feeva is determined not to make the same mistakes.

“It’s not about what you are doing. We track no activity. It’s about what type of consumer you are,” Sampat said.  “All we do is say ‘This user is making a request for a web site. We know his or her demography with a high level of accuracy.’” The demographic information is sent nearly instantly to companies that place ads on web sites, and they can serve appropriate ads — or government notices.