Why Location Awareness Will Make the Web More Useful

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, 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.

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