Geolocation Edges Closer for Me

If you read here, you probably know I’m a fan of geolocation and its possibilities.

Yeah, it’s creepy and risky, but then again, broadcasting your location is always risky, whether you do it via geolocation or Twitter, just ask Israel Hyman.

In fact, if you tweet from an iPhone Twitter client that uses the location feature, Twitter magically updates your profile location with the lat/long coordinates.

Fire Eagle settings for Clarke

Since Twitter profiles are indexed, anyone (follower or not, Twitter user or not) could divine your location, if your updates are public.

I’ve been trying to figure out which iPhone app did that to my profile, unsuccessfully so far. FYI, you can reset your iPhone location settings by following this tutorial.

I’d argue that using a geolocation service like Shizzow or Brightkite is much safer because they build in privacy controls, but it’s yet another network you have to build. That also could be a good thing, since you can control who’s in the network and what each person can see.

My main complaint with most geolocation services is that I have to do work to update my location.I added the “most” to that gripe because on smart phones, you don’t have to do work, which is nice. Still, I’d like better up front access controls. The work part applies to my laptop.

I actually find geolocation more useful when I’m out and about with my machine, for co-working, hanging out, etc.

Google Latitude does the updating for you, but it’s not fully baked yet. Plus, it’s another network, and I’m not at all happy with the iGoogle gadget implementation. So, I don’t use it.

I’m a big fan of Yahoo’s Fire Eagle location broker, which aims to be the central storage place and access manager for your location. The approach is smart: centralize location, add fine-grained privacy controls, and provide an API in bunch of flavors so app developers can uptake it to bake in geolocation goodness.

The biggest problem with Fire Eagle is that the apps integrating with it don’t do full integration, e.g. Brightkite updates my location and is allowed to read it, but doesn’t. So, if I update Fire Eagle manually or automatically (more on that in a minute), Brightkite will never know.

I just checked now, and Brightkite hasn’t updated my location in five months, probably since I fiddled with their iPhone app.

That’s a huge bummer and not likely to go away any time soon, since sites want to drive traffic to their services.

Anyway, returning to the automatic update bit, I read about Clarke this week. Clarke is a little background app for OS X that updates my location to Fire Eagle every five minutes. Easy, peezy.

As with all Fire Eagle apps, Clarke uses OAuth, and when you authorize it, you get a big old warning about the vulnerability. Once you’ve authorized Clarke, it just works in the background, using Skyhook to triangulate your approximate location.

There are precious few options for Clarke, e.g. it would be nice to turn it on/off based on times, as Brady notes, also nice would be the ability to skip an update if you’ve remained stationary since the last one. Still, I like it so far.

Over the next few months, Firefox 3.5 will roll out geo updates by browser. This is the Geode project, fully integrated. Frankly, I’m curious to see how automated it will be. I’ve been underwhelmed by the Geode so far, since the location it provides for me is always wrong. Maybe I’m doin it rong.

I expect location services to stay hot over the next year, but they will always run into adoption problems. Location is an area where enterprises can do better.

Why? Because there’s trust behind the firewall.

A few months ago, we added location to Connect (it’s not working after the latest redesign), and I’m still hoping to find the golden use cases that will prove my theory.

Anyway, stay tuned for more on geo. I’m determined to make it work.

Coincidentally, as I mulled over this post, John pointed me to today’s xkcd strip. Enjoy.

Latitude by xkcd

What do you think? Is geo-location too creepy? Do you find it useful?

Sound off in the comments.



One comment

  1. Commenter Rob Woodward pointed out Centrl, which appears to be a cross-platform mobile app, as well as web app. Not sure how it's pulling my location, can't find any settings for that.

    Sorry Rob, your comment got marked as spam, and I can't find it now. Thanks for the tip.

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