We’ve reached the point where the addition of location data inside an application isn’t a special “bells-and-whistles” add-on, an experimental feature or a layer that’s only useful to some users.
It’s a standard feature now, and it’s crept into every product we care about.
“Location is something that people are just going to expect from now on,” says Brady Forrest, program chair for the O’Reilly Where 2.0 conference, the three-day event about all things location-based taking place in San Jose, California this week.
The location revolution was fueled by the proliferation of geo-enabled devices, Forrest says. Since most of us are carrying GPS devices in our pockets (every iPhone and Android phone has one, and most notebooks, too), it’s created a whole new application platform on which companies from different sectors — search, mapping, gaming, social networking, location-sharing — can compete.
“The platform is here,” he says. “Now, people are finding new ways to exploit it.”
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.
The mobile web is here. The iPhone and Android are going to duke it out, and the end result will be more users. Facebook’s mobile visitors have tripled in the last year. That’s a lot of mobile browsing.
If the location-aware services are going to be as disruptive as everyone has said, these devices need to get better at sharing the information available within them. Yes, Android and iPhone both have apps. But we shouldn’t need to wrap our web projects in an app just to access the coordinates.
The Geode plugin for Firefox and its presence as a full feature in the browser’s most recent beta have proven it’s reasonable to include it even on a non-mobile machine. Despite the flakiness of WiFi-based geolocation, innovative sites have incorporated the technology. You can shout your whereabouts or tie files to a location all with the help of browser-based geolocation. Of course, we have a Geode/Gears geolocation tutorial so you can incorporate it, too.
But we really want it incorporated in mobile devices, so we’d be able to see some real innovation. Location-based services are at the horse and buggy stage right now. Let’s give it an engine.
Shizzow is a new location-based social service, most similar to BrightKite. The bootstrapped startup is also a side project. The four team members have full-time jobs outside of Shizzow.
Webmonkey got together with Shizzow CEO-by-night Ryan Snyder. Read on to find out why he won’t make an iPhone app, Shizzow’s relation to Google Calendar, and that the original name rhymed with “kazoo.”
Webmonkey: How does Shizzow compare to other location-based social networking sites like BrightKite, or a platform like FireEagle?
Ryan Snyder: We think of Shizzow as much more of a social service than a location-based service. The primary action on Shizzow is to “shout out” your location, but to us declaring your location means nothing unless doing so enables you to get together with people for a face-to-face conversation. While other services have added photo sharing or restaurant reviews to their service, we’re maintaining a philosophy of simplicity – if a certain feature doesn’t help you meet new people or get together with friends, we won’t implement that feature.
Webmonkey: Many successful web applications start with developers scratching their own itch. How was Shizzow born?
Snyder: Shizzow is definitely one of those projects that came out of us developers scratching our own itch. In September 2007, a number of developers here in Portland were using a shared Google calendar to coordinate meetups for coding sessions, and we found it too cumbersome to notify each of the group members when we’d arrived at that place. Mark Wallaert approached me and said, “So… Ryan, I’ve got this idea…”, then sketched out the Shizzow concept on my markerboard. When he told me how it would solve our communication problems, I was sold.
Webmonkey: Why are you opening in only a few cities?
Snyder: One of the difficulties of unveiling a new site or service is that of building community. Rather than inviting random people from all over the world, we felt it would be better to invite people to use Shizzow city-by-city so that when we roll out to your city, all of your friends will hopefully be Shizzow users within the first day or two instead of straggling in over the coming weeks or months.
Webmonkey: How have the four of you balanced this large side project with day jobs?
Snyder: Whew, this has not been easy! I’d probably call it “burnout prevention” before I’d call it anything resembling balance! Each of us has our own methods of meeting Shizzow’s needs on top of our day jobs. I personally dedicate the first 2-3 hours of my day to Shizzow before heading into cubicleville for my 9 to 5′er, as well as dedicating one or both weekend days to whatever tasks may be at hand. But the real reason we’ve been able to persevere over the last year has been the patience and understanding of our friends and loved ones. We simply could not have done this without their support.
Webmonkey: BrightKite got a lot of attention for its iPhone app. When can I expect to see a beta version of Shizzow’s?
Snyder: Since we’re a small team, we’re trying to remain as focused as possible on Shizzow’s core functionality. We feel that developing platform-specific applications will actually scatter our attention by having to support multiple UIs and platforms. We’re currently working on an API to allow other developers to build applications for Shizzow. Besides, there are some rockstar mobile developers that will probably build something cooler than we’d imagined possible using our API.
Webmonkey: My projects always have a list of alternate names. Can you share anything Shizzow was almost called?
Snyder: All of our original names for the project were either taken or they were just lame! Our first interface for Shizzow actually had a spelling variation, where we ended Shizzow with “ou” instead of “ow”. People kept calling it “Shizzoo” so we quickly realized that we needed to grab the “ow” domain name before that name stuck!