The Mozilla Hacks blog has posted a nice screencast overview of the HTML5 Geolocation API. The video is designed to help anyone competing in Mozilla’s September developer derby (which involves building something with the Geolocation API), but it also makes a great overview for anyone wanting to get started with Geolocation.
The HTML5 Geolocation API enables web developers to discover a user’s location via the browser (with the user’s permission of course). There’s no need to install any apps or do anything else at all, provided your user has a modern web browser. Despite pretty good browser support for the HTML5 Geolocation API, geolocation tools have become associated with native mobile apps, not web apps. Mozilla’s September developer derby is hoping to inspire web developers to change that.
Facebook has jumped on the location check-in bandwagon with a new feature known as Places. Facebook Places has launched with four partners, all services that already offer check-in services — Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Booyah.
If you use Foursquare, Brightkite or other location check-in services there isn’t much to see in Facebook Places. The only real difference is the scale that Facebook brings to the table.
Places is already available to most in the U.S. in their desktop browsers on Thursday. To use Places on your mobile, you’ll either need to download the new Facebook iPhone app (version 3.2, which is available now), or you can head to the Facebook mobile site with a web browser that supports the Geolocation API (basically anything but IE).
While Facebook isn’t doing much with location that hasn’t already been done at least half a dozen other services, it does of course bring location sharing to Facebook’s massive user base of 500 million people around the world. Eventually, all of them will get access to Places once it rolls out in other countries. In the past that user base hasn’t been very welcoming of new features, especially features that involve privacy changes. While Places will be activated for all accounts, by default your location won’t be broadcast to everyone — just your friends.
To use the new feature, you can actively check in to a location, or you can let your friends check you in to a location without doing anything. While this may ruffle your feathers, if you don’t want people knowing where you are, it’s pretty simple to disable your friends’ ability to check you in, and to just ignore the check-in button.
According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Places has three goals: helping people share where they are, seeing which of your friends are close by, and seeing what other places of interest are near you.
The biggest social network on the web — that’s Facebook, by the way — is getting ready to unveil a location sharing service of its own, according to a report Tuesday.
Citing unnamed sources, The New York Times’ Bits blog says there will be two components, “a service offered directly by Facebook that will allow users to share their location information with friends,” and a set of APIs other location-sharing services can employ to allow Facebookers to update their location info using outside services.
NYT‘s Nick Bilton says Facebook will shed light on the new service at the company’s upcoming f8 developer conference in April.
Facebook has certainly taken its sweet time getting in on the location-sharing game — services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude and Yahoo Fire Eagle have been blowing up over the last year. But the whole idea of “check-ins” raise new privacy concerns for many social network users. Some view it as over-sharing, others have concerns about invasion of privacy or cyberstalking — which is why all of the most popular location-sharing apps have extensive privacy controls built in to their opt-in services.
Google has announced a new geocoding web service app authors can use to better plot locations on a map.
The new Google Geocoding Web Service includes some enhanced capabilities that not only make it possible for app developers to provide more accurate and granular locations in their apps, but it also lets them increase the performance of their apps through precaching.
Second, the new service lets apps precache data. From the announcement on the Geo Developers blog:
The Geocoding Web Service is intended to enable precaching of geocoder results that you know your application will need in future. For example, if your application displays property listings, you can geocode the address of each property, cache the results on your server, and serve these locations to your API application. This ensures that your application does not need to geocode the address of a property every time it is viewed by a user. However we do ask that you regularly refresh your cache of geocoder results.
It’s important to note that the new service must be used in conjunction with a Google Map, generated either by the Google Maps API or the Google Earth API.
EveryBlock, the local news aggregator that shows you block-level details about your city, has added a new feature dubbed, “Notify your neighbors,” which allows anyone in your neighborhood to post news on the site.
EveryBlock, which launched in 2008, touts itself as “a geographic filter” for your city or your neighborhood. The site crawls local newspapers, radio and television stations as well as local blogs, independent media sources and government data feeds to show you what’s happening on your block. At the moment EveryBlock serves fifteen U.S. cities, though the site is always taking suggestions for more.
While EveryBlock pulls in an impressive amount of data, it can’t hope to find everything about your block — for example, a private neighborhood listserv or other very small, self-organized neighborhood websites are either off limits or simply too numerous to crawl.
The new Notify feature is, in part, designed to overcome that by allowing you to post your own events, news and, well, anything really.
The EveryBlock blog calls the new feature “intentionally open-ended,” and is hoping that users will come up with novel ways to use it. Early beta previews were made available to select users who used Notify to do everything from post lost pet messages to chatting about howling cats and missing mailboxes (damn kids!).
The new feature is also part of the EveryBlock iPhone app, so you can post announcements as you walk down the street.
Within the site, user-generated posts are labeled as “announcements” and link back to the poster’s profile (so yes, you need to sign up before you can post).
So far the feature looks very useful and gives EveryBlock a human touch that sometimes felt missing in early incarnations. Whether or not it will help build a community or end up being overrun with spam remains to be seen.