Monday, July 21, 2008

Dawn of Location-Based Information

In the real estate business, there are three words that determine the value of a property: location, location, and location. In social networking circles, where user mobility has become a standard with cell phones and the new iPhone 3G coming equipped with GPS, the same words apply, with a little modification. In order words:
  • location-based micro-blogging: Blogging on the scene

  • location-based social networking: Presence awareness by friends

  • location-based information: Contextual information based on immediate surroundings

For the longest time, I have been a Map Geek. I love maps. Road maps, old maps, new maps, Google Maps, Live Maps, and even treasure maps (don't see too many of those nowadays, though). I guess I love maps because they provide their users with so much valuable information in a very clear and precise manner. A basic highway map, for example, which one buys in a pharmacy or orders online through a department of transportation office, are extremely valuable to the weekend traveller hitting the highways.

Navigation solution providers, such as Garmin and TomTom, whose street navigation products use global positioning satellites and digital maps to provide drivers with accurate driving directions and even in some models current traffic conditions, are very popular. Case in point: I recently took a taxi from the airport back to my home. Rather than providing the taxi driver with details on where to exit the highway or where to turn right or left, he simply punched in the destination address (or the closest match) and listened to a smooth female computer voice advise him on driving directions.

As usual, upon seeing this, my brain started thinking.

While these navigational devices target automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and boats, I want to focus on personal navigational systems in a social web context.

With the launch of the Apple iPhone 3G and its Assisted GPS technology, which connects the iPhone 3G to the closest orbiting global positioning satellite, I believe Apple will make GPS, mobile maps, and geographic information systems mainstream and consumer-friendly.

The Apple iPhone 3G (and other advanced phones to come) will be the device on which the following applications will take life.

In the location-based micro-blogging space (a term I made up that has yet to solidify until the A-list bloggers coin a better one), there is Brightkite, "a Denver startup, [that] gives users tools to post about what's going on at a location, meet up with friends, and even, if you want, meet new people in the same place," according to a news article on ars technica. So far, Brightkite is invite-only, so I can add no hands-on knowledge other than to say I like the concept of on the spot location blogging and connecting with friends in the immediate area, but I still would like absolute control over the dissemination of my location to others. For more information, read Brightkite's blog.

In the location-based social networking space, there is a piece of software called Loopt for mobile phones. I never heard of this before until Michael Stephens, the author behind the Tame the Web blog, twittered and eventually posted a screenshot of Loopt in action. Using his iPhone's location (longitude/latitude), the iPhone calulated how far away his friends were from him. Pretty neat. For more information, read Loopt's blog.

In the location-based information space, there is the little-known but impressive-sounding Fire Eagle by Yahoo. According to Yahoo, "Fire Eagle is the secure and stylish way to share your location with sites and services online while giving you unprecedented control over your data and privacy. We're here to make the whole web respond to your location and help you to discover more about the world around you." If Yahoo can deliver on this promise, this location-based web service would be a very interesting development. Like Brightkite, Fire Eagle is invite-only. There is more information available on the web, however. A blog called has an interesting post on Fire Eagle.

In the not so distant future, when all the above have matured, I envision the following scenario. I am walking downtown, in a big city, and I want to know information about my surroundings based on my immediate location. Using my cell phone (could be an iPhone or another advanced phone), I open a location-based application (software or web-based) that shows me a dynamic map. On this map, I see my avatar blinking at the exact street location where I find myself. I activate the map's shopping layer and, based upon my preferences, the map blooms with store locations dotting my surrounding area. The information would be tailored to my needs. I then activate the map's food layer and, based once again on my preferences, the closest restaurants appear on the map. I then I activate the map's friends layer, and lo and behold, I see that there are two people I know at a coffee shop two blocks away. Maybe we could meetup and have supper at a Thai restaurant. It's only a phone call away. And this would only be the tip of the iceberg.

It is clear we live in an increasingly mobile world. Laptops are outselling desktops; cell phones are becoming more advanced; communication among people on the move is proliferating. The next frontier is to deliver actionable information to people based on none other than those three magic words: location, location, location.


Anonymous said...

Did you know there's a Mapping Party taking place in Montreal and in Sherbrooke coming up in a couple of months? Septeber 20th 2008 in fact.

It will happen on Software Freedom Day, also the beginning of the Quebec Free Software Week for those interested in that as well.

dkemper said...

Hi millette,

Thanks for the heads-up. It certainly sounds like a cool event. I'll check out the site and hopefully attend the event.

about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.