Writing a web application is a lot like writing a story. You’re trying to communicate something to someone, somehow.. right? Who, what, when, where, and how are the common elements in any story. Most of the time the who in the Internet is pretty easy to identify, yourself, your friends, that stranger you met on facebook, etc. The what is still mostly clear. Sometimes cryptic messages can be used like “bff,” but the general idea is clear. When is the easier to know, you click the go button and the server knows within a few seconds when you did that. Next comes the where. For the most part sites have been limited to asking you your city/state/zip to identify your location.. but how often are you actually there? Right now my “location” on 99% of sites is South Hadley but I’m 2 hours away right now. They don’t know that, nor did they ask.
I was cruising the net not to long ago and found myself on pownce, a site I still don’t understand where I found a link to Fire Eagle. Fire Eagle is this thing run by Yahoo! that stores and distributes the location of a user to create “location aware” Internet services. A few weeks ago I was skeptical of this whole “location aware” idea. As a web developed I rarely care where users are. I actually prefer to not know where you are, the idea of running into users of a program of mine in public is a scary thought… but I digress. Tonight when I was looking at Fire Eagle I got excited about the idea about location aware services.
What form this data will be used in, I have no clue at all. I think I am out of ideas because I really had never imagined having the data of a user to be reliably accessible. I could see a potential application or two with Concerto, but that’s a ways off. There would have to be more than 1 Concerto install running in the world for your “location” to matter at all. Right now everyone is close to the RPI install.
Location aware data isn’t new by any means, its just newly accessible and newly in the hands of users. In the past location was determined by IP address. Thats one of the techniques used to serve ads where they have a city near you in the image. This data isn’t very accurate, nor is it being put to good use at all. I’ve seen some adds for “Hot Singles Available Tonight in Troy” where they have a few photo’s of females on webcams with their town posted as Troy or a surrounding area. I find that funny, because there is a 1% chance that the girl in the photo could locate Troy on a map, never mind live here. (Now that I think about it, I wonder what percentage of the Troy population could find it on a map…) But its crazy to think that by putting my local city into an ad you can get me to believe it. Yes, I’ll give you that it does make me look more than those “Shoot 10 ducks and win an Xbox*” ads, but that’s only because I enjoy seeing how accurate they’re getting lately. Clearly someone downstream is selling out the location for 128.113.x.x as Troy, NY.. and there are plenty of people interested in buying it up.
I do wish there was a strong, smoother way to update all this information about me online. Having to twitter, update my location, consider updating my facebook status, etc is a lot of separate programs to run. Things would be much easier if a background process on my iPhone could keep my location in check, or even a cron style job every 2 hours or so.
I look forward to playing around with the idea of knowing where I, and others, are in future web applications. Who knows what will come of it, but it might be neat.
Good night moon