Posts Tagged ‘fireeagle’

RIP FireEagle. You Shall Share Location No More

Back in 2010, when I left Yahoo! to go and join Nokia, I wrote some words that at the time seemed full of hope for the future of the Geotechnologies group I’d left.

I’ll continue to use my core set of Yahoo! products, tools and APIs … YQL, Placemaker, GeoPlanet, WOEIDs, YUI, Flickr and Delicious. Not because I used to work for Yahoo! but because they’re superb products.

Time and changes of corporate heart have not been kind here. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the state of the geo union.

YQL. The Yahoo! Query Language. Still here although I haven’t used it in anger for several years as the service was frequently down.

Yahoo! Maps and the Yahoo! Maps API. RIP. Yahoo! Maps is now run by the back-end services of Nokia, my current employer and the Yahoo! Maps API finally got switched off in November 2012.

Placemaker and PlaceFinder. Still here. Sort of. Placemaker is now Placespotter and while PlaceFinder keeps its name they’re both part of Yahoo! BOSS Geo, which means if you want to use them it’s time to dig into your wallet for your credit card as they’re no longer free to use.

GeoPlanet. Still here. Still free. You have to ask the question for how long though.

WOEIDs. Still here and although you can still use WOEIDs through the GeoPlanet and Flickr APIs, the GeoPlanet Data download remains offline, although see also the fact that there’s no delete button for the Internet. WOEIDs are probably not going to go anywhere soon as Yahoo’s geotargeting platform depends on them. For now.

YUI. Still here and open sourced on GitHub.

Flickr. Still here, used on a regular basis by me and even flourishing with a renewed iPhone app and a horde of refugees from Instagram after that service’s on, off, on again change of licensing terms in December 2012.

Delicious. Still here and still used on a relatively regular basis by me but no longer owned or operated by Yahoo! who sold it to AVOS in 2011.

Did I mention that the old Yahoo! Geo Technologies blog, after years of being down, now redirects to the Yahoo! corporate blog? No? Well it does.

And now it seems that another of Yahoo’s geo products has finally done to the deadpool as FireEagle finally stops sharing people’s locations and Tom Coates, who I remember discussing what would become FireEagle over coffee back when we both worked at Yahoo, was in a sanguine mood on Twitter.

Tom Coates - FireEagle

The fate of FireEagle has long been been in the balance since it was mentioned as one of the products due to be sunsetted or merged with another product in 2010. The merging never happened and now FireEagle is no more.

Which is a great shame as FireEagle was way ahead of its time and in today’s age of location based services and social media sharing, the need for a way to share your location that makes sense for both the privacy of individuals and for businesses is needed more than ever.

If anyone’s looking to resurrect the notion of FireEagle, hopefully you’ll be the first to let me know.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The Opposite Of Geolocation Is … Relocation?

First a disclaimer; there’s one elsewhere on this blog but this post merits another. I used to work for Yahoo! as part of the Geo Technologies group. I now work for Nokia as part of their Location group. The opinions and ideas expressed in this post are absolutely just my own, and should not be confused with, or taken for, those of my current or past employers. It’s just me here.

You may not have realised it but Friday May 27th. was a sad day for the Geo industry in London. Even without the benefit of knowing what was going on from ex-colleagues inside the company, the signs were there if you knew where to look for them and how to read them.

Before the Internet, companies, teams and projects could fade quietly into anonymity and into oblivion. But on the Internet, everything is in public and it’s much harder to hide the tell tale signs. API updates and bug fixes cease. A web site or blog stops being updated or goes down altogether. A Twitter feed stops being an active living thing and becomes merely a historical record. Ex-colleagues start following you on Twitter or you start getting connection requests on LinkedIn whilst other colleagues start polishing and updating their LinkedIn profiles.

And May 27th. 2011? That was the day that the last of the remaining members of my old team at Yahoo! Geo Technologies left the Yahoo! office in London and that was the day that Yahoo! ceased to have a Geo presence in the UK.

Sad Yahoo! Smiley

I joined Yahoo! in 2006 as Engineering Manager for Geo Location Targeting, also known as GLT (and not standing for Gay, Lesbian and Transgender, a mistake once made by someone at a conference with hilarious consequences), a group formed from the acquisition of a year earlier in 2005. As the name suggests, GLT was formed to use WhereOnEarth’s technology to build Panama, Yahoo’s geotargeting ad platform, a task which the technology was well suited to and a task at which the team succeeded.

But post Panama, we faced the challenge that most acquisitions face … “we’ve done what we were acquired for … now what“? In 2008 we started to answer the “now what?” question. With Tom Coates and the Yahoo! Brickhouse team, we provided the back-end geo platform for Fire Eagle. With Aaron Cope and Dan Catt, we provided the back-end geo platform for geotagging photos on Flickr. And with Martin Barnes, Tyler Bell and Mark Law we launched the GeoPlanet geodata gazetter API and the Placemaker geoparsing API. These were heady days for geo; GPS was reaching critical mass in consumer devices and web service mashups were ready to take advantage of powerful geo APIs and with Chris Heilmann evangelising furiously as part of YDN, the Yahoo! Developer Network, we were well placed to take the lead in the explosion of interest in all things geo that was starting then and continues to this day.


Yet the company didn’t seem to know what to do with their Geo Technologies group. We were reorganised more times that I can remember, starting again with another Vice President and another group. The promising lead in this area started to loose ground and the long promised investment never seemed to materialise. In May 2010, Nokia made me an offer to be part of the their location group that I couldn’t refuse and I jumped ship. TechCrunch seemed to like this; twice to be exact. Over the next 12 months the group in London continued to shrink and continued to lack investment. The signs were all there for anyone to read … the YahooGeo Twitter feed was last updated in January 2011 with a total of 5 Tweets since I handed over the reins on May 28th. 2010. The blog at has been down for almost a year as well.

And on Friday May 27th. 2011, the last of the London team left the office in London’s Covent Garden for the final time as the Geo Technologies group transitioned and relocated to the Yahoo! corporate headquarters in Sunnyvale, California and to Bangalore; a sad day for the team in London and a sad day for the Geo industry overall. Hopefully the future will yield more developments of the YDN Geo APIs and the WOEID geoidentifier and while Geo Technologies in the company continues to live and to power the successor to the Panama geotargeting platform, the London presence where the technology grew and was developed is over.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Facebook Places; Haven’t We Been Here Before?

A week and a half ago Facebook finally launched their Places feature to a predictable media furore over location privacy, regardless of whether it’s justified or not and, to location industry watchers at least, a strong sense of deja vu. Haven’t we been here before?

Let’s look at the key issues that seem to be getting people hot, bothered and generally up in arms.

Deja vu the first. According to Facebook, at the time of writing they have 500M users. But how many of them will actually use the service, regardless of whether they’ve updated their privacy settings?

Deja vu the second. So you decide you want to use Facebook Places? Only on an iPhone I’m afraid or from Facebook’s HTML5 mobile web site. Want an Android or Nokia app? You’re out of luck, for now. Want to use it outside the US? You’re even more out of luck, for now.

Facebook Places. The UK Version

Deja vu the third. So you decide you don’t want to use Facebook Places? It’s a location app so there’s bound to be privacy implications. Granted, Facebook have chosen to go down the opt-out route for location privacy, though you still have to physically use the service, but even the most cursory of web searches for “disable facebook places” yields loads of different takes on the same basic set of actions. Cult of Mac and ReadWriteWeb have great write ups, in non threatening, non technical language for how to ensure Facebook Places never sullies your Facebook stream.

Now take a step back, re-read the three points above and substitute, in order, Google’s Latitude, Foursquare’s, err, Foursquare and Yahoo’s Fire Eagle for Facebook Places. Granted the opt-out vs. opt-in approach to location sharing differs substantially (for Latitude, Foursquare and Fire Eagle it’s implicitly opt-in) but we’ve been here before. Many times. A new location sharing service is launched, people get worried due to media coverage and eventually the status quo is restored and everyone gets on with their lives as before, maybe with an additional bit of location richness added, maybe not. It’s worth bearing this in mind before you buy into the latest media coverage which over-uses the phrase “sparks privacy concerns“.

Update 1/9/10 – turns out I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. After I originally posted this, my daily trawl through my RSS feeds uncovered a post from Jonathan Crowe over at The Map Room blog that draws pretty much the same conclusions over Facebook Places as I do.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Latitude Inconsistitude

In the midst of yesterday’s I/O event, Google announced the launch of the long rumoured API for their Latitude location sharing platform; there’s ample coverage and commentary on ReadWriteWeb and on TechCrunch and that’s just fine because that’s not what I want to write about.

When it was launched in early 2009, Latitude was the receipt of some fairly harsh press from the informed tech media and from the uninformed traditional media and I argued for some latitude in the discussions on, err, Latitude.

Latitude kept on getting compared to Yahoo’s Fire Eagle and the main gripes seemed to be:

  1. Latitude is a consumer application built into Google Maps, not a platform
  2. Latitude doesn’t have an API
  3. Latitide’s privacy model is opt-in but all or nothing

So now Latitude has an API and everyone’s happy. Right?

Unofficial Google Latitude T-Shirt

Wrong. The previous gripes have been done away with and replaced with three more gripes.

  1. Latitude needs to run in the background and so will either drain battery life or won’t run in the background on an iPhone at all.
  2. Latitude now has granular privacy controls but these are on the back-end so Google will know your location prior to federating it to location consumers via the API.
  3. Latitude needs a Google account to use.

There’s a lot of inconsistency here.

  1. Latitude, as part of Google Maps, already runs in the background on handsets that support that. The iPhone doesn’t, yet, but that’s an iPhone OS issue not a Latitude issue. Short battery life is a feature of almost all smartphone class handsets, Latitude or not.
  2. Latitude gains granular privacy controls but they’re on the back-end so this is a bad thing. Fire Eagle has granular privacy controls and they’re on the back-end but this has never been a source of complaint.
  3. Latitude needs a Google account to use. Correction. Latitude has always needed a Google account to use, so this is a bad thing. Fire Eagle has always needed a Yahoo! Id to use, and yet this is something not seen as a contentious issue.

One of the criticisms that was levelled at Fire Eagle was lack of a definitive consumer application at launch; a not unfair criticism. Latitude’s taken the inverse approach, launching with a consumer application and then opening up an API almost a year later.

Time will tell which of these two location sharing platforms will dominate or whether they will be usurped by another unseen contender.

Photo Credits: moleitau on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

Location Privacy Issue? I See No Location Privacy Issue

Telematics, the use of GPS and mobile technology within the automotive business, and the Web 2.0, neo and paleo aspects of location have traditionally carved parallel paths, always looking at if they would converge but somehow never quite making enough contact to cross over.

But not any more.

The combination of 3G mobile communications and GPS enabled smart-phones such as the iPhone and the BlackBerry means that one way or another, the Internet and the Web are coming into the car, either in your pocket or into the car itself.

With this in mind, last week I was at the Telematics Munich 2009 conference, which was coincidentally in Munich, giving a talk on some of the challenges we face with location and how the world of telematics can benefit by starting to look at location technologies on the Web.

One of the sessions I sat in on prior to my talk was on the eCall initiative. This is a pan European project to help motorists involved in a collision. A combination of onboard sensors, a GPS unit and a cellular unit detect when an accident has occured and sends this information to the local emergency services. The idea is that in circumstances where a vehicle’s occupants are unable to call for help, the car can do it for them.

So far, so public spirited and well meaning. But several things immediately stood out.

Firstly, while pitched as a pan European initiative, each member state has an opt out and naturally not all states have signed up to the initiative, including the United Kingdom.

Secondly, eCall is designed to be a secure black box system, but all the talk in Munich was of “monetize eCall offerings by integrating contactless card transactions like road-tolling, eco-tax and easy parking payment” or “how to geo-locate data messages to offer ubiquitous solutions“. In other words, adding value added services on top of a system which is actively able to track you at all times and which you, as the vehicle owner, has limited access to or control over.

But what really stood out was that there was not a single mention of location tracking and of the privacy aspects that this carries with it. Not a single mention. Not from the panel, not from the chair and not from the audience. Once rolled out, eCall as currently designed is pretty much mandatory in all new vehicles. Compare and contrast this with the outraged Daily Mail style diatribe that other, opt in, systems such as Yahoo’s Fire Eagle and Google’s Latitude have attracted.

The convergence of the internet, the web and telematics hasn’t yet happened but it will. It’s also evident that when this happens, the telematics industry may have a painful awakening as the impact of location technologies and the privacy issues they carry pervade into an industry which hasn’t needed to deal with this historically.

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

NYC Beware : The Trinity of Geo Is Coming

Ever noticed how you never see some people in the same room together? Various conspiracy theories abound on this theme; that they’re really the same person or that they’re mortal enemies. All complete rubbish of course but maybe there’s some truth in this after all … I’ve never been publicly seen in the same room as Aaron Cope and Tom Coates before.

Benedictus de Spinoza said that nature abhors a vaccum and Heisenberg calculated the critical mass needed for a nuclear reaction so maybe there’s a halfway stage between these two extremes, a geocritical mass if you will.

I really should explain …

When people ask me what it is that I do for Yahoo!, I explain that I help use geography to describe people, places and things.

A rather jovial looking Tom.

People are knowing where users are and the things that are important to them. Fire Eagle, Yahoo’s location brokerage platform allows users to share their location on the web, to update anywhere and to choose what you share and don’t share. Tom is the man behind the creation of Fire Eagle and was responsible for leading the (now defunct) Yahoo! Brickhouse team to produce the best location service there is on the ‘net.

Wherecamp ’09 in Palo Alto; that’s “geotechnologist and ATM user” Tyler Bell on the left, myself in the middle and  Aaron on the right.

Places are knowing geographic locations and the names of places. That’s the remit of Geo Technologies, my group at Yahoo! and you can see this in the public web service platforms we produce such as GeoPlanet and Placemaker, all linked using the geoidentifier we call WOEIDs.

Things are knowing the geographic context of content. Flickr allows you to geotag your photos, using my group’s technology and in February of this year broke the amazing 100 million geotagged photo mark. If you’ve seen him speak at Where 2.0, Wherecamp or previous Hack Days, you’ll know that Aaron knows the power of geo and has used it to produce something rather unique and special at Flickr.

Geocritical mass (which doesn’t currently show us in any search engine, so you saw it first here) may well be reached next week in the Millennium Broadway hotel in Times Square, New York when all three of us will be in the same place, at the same time for Open Hack NYC, 48 hours of hacking goodness with a generous helping of geo. Who knows what will happen, all I can say is that a trinity of geopeople are coming to NYC and that it’ll be geotastic.

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous