Risking Location Predictions at Mashup*’s Digital Trends 2011

Making predictions is not an easy thing. There are very few opportunities to get predictions right and a myriad of ways to get them wrong. At least if you make predictions in private then you’re able to keep the horrible realisation of just how wrong you were to yourself. But making predictions in public just increases the scope for public humiliation.

Bearing this in mind, it was with a not insignificant amount of trepidation that I set out to predict some location trends for 2011. The mashup* team had asked me to talk and be part of a panel on Digital Trends and there was really no way I could extricate myself from some public location prognostications. So along with Dan Howe, Steve Kennedy, Laurence John, Andrew Gerrard and James Poulter I threw caution to the wind and came up with how I see location panning out over the forthcoming 12 months.

Trend the first is that privacy will matter. Privacy is one of those things that no one really thinks about, until it’s too late. Most users of location based services either don’t know or don’t care about what the information they’re giving up is being used for. This is the current state of affairs and will continue until something happens. What that something will be is impossible to predict, but when it happens, it will end up being reported and sensationalised by the mass media. Far better if we as an industry make location privacy simple to understand and easy to control.

Trend the second is sensor convergence. Look how much gadgetry is crammed into today’s smartphones and in more and more feature phones. But A-GPS will only get us so far. Expect to see more sensor technology, such as NFC, appearing in our mobile and nomadic devices to help for those situations where A-GPS just doesn’t work.

Trend the third is location is a key feature, not a business. For all the startups and established companies that have jumped on the LBS bandwaggon, only a small handful will survive. Location on its own just isn’t enough, you need a solid business model and a way to give your user base what they crave the most … relevance.

Trend the fourth is a continuation of trend the third, more contextual relevance (and maybe less apps). The cliche of the Internet being an “information hosepipe” is more true today than it ever was; people are looking for ways of finding what they need, where the need it from the morass of data available over a ‘net connection. Location is but one of the key technologies that can help increase relevance. This probably means less apps but more useful work being undertaken by those apps.

Trend the fifth is geofencing and would have been seen as incredibly prescient if only Digital Trends 2011 had been 24 hours earlier. I was going to mention geo-fencing and automated check in and check out of Places. But then I woke up the morning of February the 2nd. only to discover that Google had beaten me to it and updated Latitude to do geo-fencing, automated check in and automated check out. Thanks Google!

Digital Trends was the fifth mashup* event I’d been asked to be part of. I like mashup* events, they always have a lively and engaged audience and tend to be beers and networking, followed by short talks and finishing up with a panel discussion. Yesterday’s event, hosted at the British Computer Society’s headquarters in London’s Covent Garden was more of the same, with the odd exception of a distinct lack of anything remotely beer or wine shaped, just lots of tea, coffee, fruit juice and biscuits. Luckily, usual service was resumed after the event with a visit to the Coal Hole on The Strand for a swift pint of London Pride, followed by that staple of any location related event, a visit to the local curry emporium.

There’s other coverage of the event courtesy of Eewei Chen, Stewart Townsend, and Dan Howe.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

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