En Fuego: Location Aware Services

I blogged about TripIt and Dopplr a while back; both services collect your travel plans, allow you to share them with people, and alert you when people in your network are nearby your stated location.

Until recently, you had to tell them both where you were. Then Yahoo released Fire Eagle into private beta in early March (coverage), and Dopplr became one of the first applications to use it. Fire Eagle is very simple at base. You tell it your current location. That is all.

The awesomesauce comes from applications built on Fire Eagle’s APIs and its privacy brokering. Some people, myself included, have paranoia about location tracking on the Interwebs. After all, one of the primary tenants of the Interwebs is its push model for privacy: “nobody knows you’re a dog” or where you live, unless you tell them. Remember the ongoing flap about Google Street View?

Fire Eagle collects your location from you, dodging the creepy bullet a bit, e.g. I can tell it I’m in a particular country, city, zip code or exact address, depending on how detailed I’d like to be.

So what?

By collecting and brokering your location, Fire Eagle provides a central, safeguarded place for your location data. Now for the awesomesauce.

Fire Eagle offers API kits in six different languages, C#/.NET, Javascript, PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby, which encourages developers of all language persuasions to try it. Once you build an application and have it approved by Fire Eagle, your users with Fire Eagle accounts can authorize your app to interact with Fire Eagle.

For example, when you authorize Dopplr’s Fire Eagle application, you tell it at what level it can read your location and whether it can update your location. So, if you’re a rabid Dopplr user, you probably want it to update your Fire Eagle location, since that’s your app of choice. If some other location-aware app comes along, you can modify your settings for Dopplr, or forget the authorization entirely and return to Dopplr’s standard functionality.

Fire Eagle App Privacy

So, Fire Eagle brokers your location privacy among apps you have approved. At Web 2.0 Expo last week, I found out about a couple new apps that also use Twitter, Fireball and Firebot.

By integrating with Twitter (and Upcoming in Fireball’s case), these services combine short messaging with location. Fireball is still in private beta, but I set up and used Firebot yesterday. All you do is follow Firebot, tweet an authorization command, authorize the app in Fire Eagle, and go. You use Twitter’s direct messages to update your location and query other people’s locations.

Firebot Messages

As you can see from the image, Rich isn’t using Firebot yet, but I was able to find someone who is. This request-response by commands is reminiscent of the mail list daemons that control subs/unsubs, and incidentally, yet another cool usage of Twitter. This time as a command line input.

Now for the big finish. I’m hoping to get some Fire Eagle invites and test out one or more of these Twitter integrations at OpenWorld this year. We have a good-sized community of Tweeters, and by adding location-awareness, we could find each other quickly and organize meetups while we wander around the massive conference. All without polluting our Twitter streams with “here I am” tweets.

I’m working on the invites now. If anyone can help, let me know in comments.

Even if you’re underwhelmed by the whole location aware thing, this is still a compelling case study for APIs. Check out the slides from a session at Web 2.0 Expo called, “Design Your API: Learnings from Twitter and Stamen“.

Fire Eagle represents an emerging trend in APIs, presenting niche data that can be easily and quickly integrated into larger apps. This gets at the Web 2.0 principle of “data as the next Intel Inside”, i.e. expose your data through useful APIs and let your consumers use these data as they want, in combination (OK, mashed) with other services they already use, like Twitter.

Cool stuff. We’ve had requests to do some location integrations with both Connect and Mix. Using Fire Eagle may be an easy way to accomplish this. If only we had more invites.

What do you think about all this? Sound off in comments.



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