File Under: APIs, Location, Web Services

Where 2.0: Geomena Launches API to Feed its Open Location Database

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SAN JOSE, California — A new web service called Geomena is trying to build a geolocation database practically from scratch, and it’s taking a page from Wikipedia’s playbook to do it.

Geomena is an open wi-fi geo database — using a method similar to services from Skyhook and Google, any app plugged in to Geomena can use nearby wi-fi access points to determine your location.

The database is tiny right now. It has around 3,400 geo-tagged access points in the system, most of them around the project’s home base in Portland, Oregon. So, to grow the database as quickly as possible, the Geomena team has launched a new API that lets developers build apps that can enter new wi-fi access point locations.

So, if you’re making a location-based game, a location-sharing Firefox plug-in, or a web-app that relies on geodata, you can rig it up to write new wi-fi location points directly to Geomena’s database, helping it grow through good, old-fashioned crowdsourcing.

The emergence of location as an application platform has led to a bevy of new web services, each of them eager to provide developers with geodata to fuel the current flood of mobile and web-based apps. Most of the buzz at the all-things-location Where 2.0 conference, taking place here this week, has centered around SimpleGeo, a new web data store that just launched its “iTunes for geodata” — a pay-as-you-go solution for developers building location-based apps.

But iTunes isn’t the only model for building a powerful geodata store. Geomena is instead following the Wikipedia model. They’ve made their database entirely open and editable, and they’re licensing all of the data under the Creative Commons.

You could always just add points manually, but with Geomena’s new API, the system is open for developers to create new ways for users to plug in new access points.

Geomena’s Adam DuVander, who announced the API here at Where 2.0, imagines that most developers will build wi-fi access point discovery features into mobile clients or browser plug-ins. He also envisions various games that reward the user for feeding the system with points or badges. [Full disclosure, DuVander used to write for Webmonkey and is still an occasional freelance contributor to Wired.com].

We could even see war-driving apps being built that would log location data into Geomena for each sniffable wi-fi access point it comes across.

You may be wondering what the need is for wi-fi location sensing when so many smartphones and laptops have GPS built in. But consider how unreliable GPS becomes once you move indoors — it isn’t always an option in an office building, inside an apartment, or in highly congested urban areas. Also, for the near future at least, there will be a class of mobile and tablet devices that don’t have GPS. They will continue to rely solely on wi-fi for location sensing. The cheapest iPad (which will probably be the biggest seller) falls into this category.

If you live in Portland, you can make Geomena your location provider in Firefox right now. If you live outside of Portland, that won’t do you much good. So build an app that adds your local wi-fi nodes to the system. Water the garden, see what grows.

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