Posts Tagged ‘latitude’

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)

More Location Tracking; This Time From Foursquare

Back in March of this year I wrote about deliberately tracking my journey by using Google’s Latitude and unexpectedly tracking the same journey by looking at the history of my Foursquare and Gowalla check-ins.

By using the history function from Google Latitude I was able to put together a quick and dirty visualisation of the locations I’d been to but my check-in history added not only the location but also the place that was at each location.

During last week’s Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco, Fred Wilson (no, not the guy from the B-52’s) mentioned that you could feed your Foursquare check-in history into Google Maps and produce another quick and dirty visualisation of not only the places you’d checked into but also where those places were.

Simply login to your Foursquare account and visit your feeds page at and copy the RSS check-in history link but don’t click on the link. Open up Google Maps and paste in the link and add ?count=200 to the end of the URL to make Foursquare return a reasonable amount of check-ins. Hey presto, one instant map of your check-ins, which shows me that I’ve been checking in in the Bay Area in the USA, in and around London in the UK and in and around Berlin in Germany. Not that I didn’t know this already but it’s always good to see this visualised on a map.

Foursquare History - Global

Of course, Google Maps is a full slippy maps implementation, so I can click, drag and zoom in to see my check-ins from the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco in the Bay Area, south through Palo Alto to San Jose.

Foursquare History - Bay Area

I can also jump across the Atlantic Ocean, straight over the United Kingdom, to Berlin and see Berlin’s Tegel Airport in the west and the Nokia Gate5 office in the Mitte district of the city.

Foursquare History - Berlin

With a little bit of time, effort and GIS know-how I could have probably come up with a slick animated trail of my check-ins but sometimes a quick and dirty way of seeing where I’ve been on a map is all that’s needed.

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)

Near Instantaneous Trans Atlantic Travel

I’ve been tracking my journeys again and in doing so appear to have discovered the secret of near instantaneous trans Atlantic travel. Apart from the sporadic bad GPS locks, watch as I travel from home to the Yahoo! campus in Sunnyvale California and manage to travel from Heathrow to San Francisco in a blink of an eye.

It’s all an optical illusion of course, revealed if you watch the timer in the top left hand corner jump from around 11.30 AM to 3.00 PM; due to the lack of Latitude updates whilst I’m in the air.

Written and posted from Yahoo! campus, Sunnyvale, California (51.5143913, -0.1287317)

Deliberately (and Unexpectedly) Tracking My Journey

I’ve been tracking my journey and in doing so inadvertently uncovered a sea change in the way in which we view the whole thorny issue of location tracking.

Yesterday, Ed Parsons and I drove from London to Nottingham and back to attend the one day Supporting the Contextual Footprint event run by the Horizon Digital Economy Research institute at the University of Nottingham and I had Google Latitude running on my BlackBerry, with location history enabled, as I usually do.

Unofficial Google Latitude T-Shirt

Using the pre smartphone, pre GPS, pre Latitude method of writing it down, the journey went something like this:

  • On Thursday afternoon, leave the Yahoo! office in London.
  • Walk to Piccadilly Circus Tube station and catch the westbound Piccadilly Line.
  • Alight at Heathrow Terminals 1,2, 3 station.
  • Pick up a rental car at Avis.
  • Go home and sleep.
  • On Friday morning, wake up, and leave London.
  • Drive to Nottingham, stopping at Warwick Services on the M40 for coffee.
  • Attend the event in Nottingham.
  • Drive back to London, stopping at Warwick Services on the M40 for more coffee.
  • Drop rental car off at Heathrow.
  • Take car home and sleep.

Nothing too controversial there. Using the smartphone, with GPS and with Latitude method of using my BlackBerry, the journey becomes much more detailed and visual but also shows curious blips where I appear to dance around a location. All the more mysterious as they seem to happen when I know I’m in one place and not moving, until I realise they’re probably AGPS locks from wifi or cell tower triangulation, kicking in for when my GPS can’t get a satellite lock. Playing back the journey on the Google Latitude site looks like this:

Despite the fact that I i) explicitly installed Google Mobile Maps on my BlackBerry, ii) explicitly enabled Latitude in Google Mobile Maps and iii) explicitly enabled location history in my Google Latitude account, a little over 12 months ago, this would have been controversial enough to whip the tabloid media into a privacy infringing frenzy. Looking back to February 2009 in my Delicious bookmarks shows headlines such as Fears that new Google software will spy on workers and Google lets you stalk your friends (which are just plain factually wrong), together with the pointed MPs claim Google Latitude is a threat to privacy: Irony-meter explodes from cnet.

As I went about the events of the day, I checked into my accounts on both Foursquare and on Gowalla. Just take a look at where I checked in and the sequence of check ins.

Tracking my journey; Gowalla

To start with I check in at the Yahoo! UK office, followed by

  • Piccadilly Circus Tube Station
  • Terminal 1 (Heathrow)
  • Avis (Heathrow)
  • Warwick Services (M40)
  • Park Inn (Nottingham)

… which is pretty much a simplified version of the above two journeys. I’m tracking my journey here too but where location based social networks are concerned, the media is far more accommodating and enthusiastic; 12 months after Foursquare’s launch, 500,000 users, 1.4M venues and 15.5 checkins (with Gowalla either neck and neck, out in front or lagging behind according to differing sources) the most shrill piece of negative publicity that Foursquare was able to garner was a mashup which looked for people publicising check ins on Twitter and inferred that this was an open invitation to the criminal element.

The value proposition of Google Latitude has always been in getting the consumer comfortable with sharing their location with a third party and with your social graph, which isn’t good enough for most people to grasp. The value proposition of checking in, keeping tabs on your friends and seeing what they’re doing is far more palatable and easier for the consumer to grasp with media coverage pretty much limited to ohh, look at the funny people obsessively checking in sort of article.

As an aside, if I was at Foursquare or Gowalla I’d be looking to mine the rich vein of stealth data that their users are generating at each check in, as it’s producing a geotagged and categorised set of local business listings and points of interest. For now though, there’s no public sign that either company are doing this, choosing instead to continue to grow their user base and to roll out into new cities and countries.

In the space of a year and with a different face, location tracking has gone from being Big Brother to being one of the hottest pieces of social networking with people at the recent SXSW in Austin TX actively complaining about check-in fatigue because there’s so many of these services (FoursquareGowallaLooptWhrrlBrightkiteBurbn,MyTownCauseWorldHot PotatoPlancast) to choose from and trying to check into them all can take anything up to 10 minutes.

If all of this talk on location tracking sounds interesting and you’re in San Jose CA the week after next at O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 locationfest can I strongly recommend that you check out the founder of, fellow Brit John McKerrell‘s session on Why I Track My Location and You Should Too. As long as it doesn’t clash with my Where 2.0 session of course!

Photo Credit: moleitau on Flickr.
Written at the Park Inn, Nottingham (52.970538, -1.153335) and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Phi, Lambda and (Slightly Embarassing) Temporality

Longitude and latitude have been formally used as a geographic coordinate system offset from the Greenwich Meridian since the International Meridian Conference of 1884 in Washington D.C.

As a spatial coordinate system, longitude (abbreviated as φ, or phi) and latitude ( λ, or lambda) work very well in defining a point on the surface of the Earth. But to gain further meaning from a long/lat pair you either need some clever algorithmics or you need to plot the long/lat point on a map which even then will yield information only as good as that which is rendered on the map itself.

Astride The World

Which is why I think identifier systems, such as Yahoo’s WOEID, add so much value. A WOEID adds a linked web of rich metadata, describing not only a point with a long/lat centroid, but also reinforces the concept of a place, with neighbouring and hierarchical relationships.

Coordinates describe the where of a place, identifiers such as WOEIDs describe the how of a place but both conveniently (in a slight embarrassed, foot shuffling short of way) overlook the when of a place.

Former Flickr geo-hacker and current Stamen Design geo-hacker, Aaron Cope, posted a way around the temporality problem on his blog this evening, describing spacetimeid, a web app which encodes and decodes a 64-bit identifier combining x, y and z coordinates.

So far, so timely; a spacetimeid allows us to describe not only a point but also a time. The logical next step to this is to allow the encoding of a WOEID, that includes a long/lat centroid, with a time range. Two immediate use cases spring to mind.

Firstly, this allows us to represent places which have a small temporal range, such as festival or concert venues; this is frequently referred to as The Burning Man Problem, after the annual festival of the same name. During the duration of the festival Burning Man exists as a concrete place, outside of the festival timescales the site of the festival is empty land.

Burning Man 2007

Secondly, this allows us to represent changes in places over a large temporal range, which can be used to rectify historical maps and show the change in a place over a number of years.

I pinged Aaron a mail on this, saying “Encode temporal information in range format plus WOEIDs ? … Thinking a WOEID for Burning Man or similar here“. He replied a few minutes later with “Yes, that would be easy enough to do if the (x) is the WOEID and the (y) time. I can add that later“. Followed, in the time it’s taken me to write this post, with “Ask and all that …“.

Now all we need to do is get this used in the real world and the slightly embarassing problem of temporality will have been solved once and for all. Easy isn’t it?

Photo Credits: Foxgrrl and Kaptain Kobold on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

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