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Why Location Awareness Will Make the Web More Useful

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We are starting to experience the “problem of plenty” on the web, which is making it difficult to find information. It’s a problem being driven in large part by the availability of the vast number of tools that make publishing to the web a breeze.

At the same time, we are woefully lagging when it comes to creating tools that ease the consumption of content. For precisely those reasons, I believe that the web has to become more dynamic, more intelligent and will need a degree of serendipity. And that will give us the ability to find the content we like and want to consume without making much of an effort.

Location-aware services are perhaps the best way to provide that context. For the longest time, we have associated such location-services with automobile navigation devices and mobile phones. But recent efforts, most notably those of Yahoo (s YHOO), have brought location into the realm of the wired web. Here are some recent announcements that point to the emergence of a location-aware web.

Of the three recent developments, Yahoo’s is the most important.

Fire Eagle, which acts as a location broker that allows users to take their location to the Web. Now, with Placemaker, we can help developers and publishers make applications and data sets location-aware by determining the whereness of unstructured content. Once users share their location information using FireEagle, we help provide hyper-local information based on their geography, adding value to content that is delivered to them wherever they are.

You can send unstructured data to the Placemaker and it spits out such data in a location-aware format. Since most of the geo-data is available in the form of longitude and latitude coordinates, mapping them is essential. Placemaker instead goes one step further — it marries these coordinates to place names. So various versions of place names such as San Francisco, San Fran and even Frisco will be mapped to the coordinates.

When a publisher sends in the unstructured data, Placemaker finds these words and makes them location-aware. Paul Bonanos reported on Yahoo’s new search direction yesterday, which will essentially involve the search engine pivoting its search focus around “objects.” Marry those objects to location-aware content, and suddenly you have a platform for hyper-local advertising. Other applications will follow.

While the location-aware web isn’t going to show up tomorrow, at least we’ve started the journey toward it. Otherwise we’d find ourselves lost in what is going to be a massive data deluge.

21 Responses to “Why Location Awareness Will Make the Web More Useful”

  1. Careful! The internet (web) is a tremendous equalizer. Regardless of your background, social-economic status, color, profession, etc, everybody has access to basically the same types and number of resources. Location has the potential to change this dramatically. Location-based rules (redlining) has been used in the past at the expense of the poor. Is that what we really want for the internet? Even though advertisers may lust for it, is it really in the public interest?

  2. I have said it before, and I will say it again. The killer app, locatively speaking is marrying status updating with location, as this opens the door to all sorts of context-aware services, like: local friend finder/lookup and hookup; event-aligned social services; real-time hyper local news; hyper local advertising.

    For more fodder on the topic, here is a blog post that I wrote called:

    “Right Here Now” services: weaving a real-time web around status

    Check it out, if interested.


  3. I can see how that would be useful in some respects for local information–but big brother closes on in even tighter I fear. But it’s going to happen anyway–the ave person is on camera for a large part of the day anyway. We might as well get some hyper-relevant content and have some fun with it.

  4. Om,

    Where’s GPS enabled search inside the browser. Why can we not share our location via the browser with ANY web service out there. I mean how hard can it be to solve this problem. You keep writing about location and yet I never see any mention of it being used INSIDE the browser which is where everyone lives these days. Fire Eagle is fine – but what do the Enterprise use? Where are the tools that enable them to extend their current web services to mobile devices?