Geotagged at British Airways Lounge, Heathrow (51.47286,-0.48726)

Geo-Loco; Where The Geo-Wonks Meet The Geo-Clueless And All Points Inbetween

Last week I was in San Francisco, ostensibly to meet with fellow Nokians in Mountain View and Palo Alto, the homes of Google and Stanford University respectively. But I was also there to take part in a panel on the topic of "is geo loco a business or a feature?" at the Geo-Loco conference, chaired by geo-eminence grise Marc Prioleau.

With the explosion of interest in all things geo recently (and for once I think the hyperbole is justified) and thus a large amount of new conferences on the topic, I was somewhat skeptical of how Geo-Loco would pan out. But the presence of Marc Prioleau and other geo-rati such as LikeList's Tyler Bell, Urban Mapping's Ian White, Tom Coates, the man behind Yahoo's Fire Eagle and Waze's Di-Ann Eisnor, to name but a few, swayed me to participate.

I was interested to hear how Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures would keynote but was sadly disappointed; it was a rambling and somewhat disjointed affair with little structure or insight; the sole exception of which was an interesting technique to quickly mashup your Foursquare check-ins on Google Maps. Thankfully Fred fared much better when interviewed one-on-one later in the day by John Batelle of Federated Media, which produced an engaging discussion on the state of the geo market; some of which I even agreed with.

Geo-Loco Conference 2010

Proof that Geo-Loco was a fully fledged geoconference was evident in the Twitter back channel which was, by turns, witty, informed, damning, sarcastic, enlightening and downright funny. I may have contributed to this part of the proceedings. A bit. Here's a brief sampler of some of the comments the speakers and panels contributed to, albeit inadvertently.

One of the braver panels was chaired by Phil Hendrix of IMMR who asked the audience and a panel consisting of the Institute for the Future's Michael Liebhold, GigaOm's Liz Gannes, the aforementioned Di-Ann Eisnor, Rackspace's Robert Scoble and Google's Lior Ron (who I'm not sure uttered a single word during the entire panel) to pontificate on the futures of location based services.

Now, making predictions of any sort is a risky business at best, even more so when those predictions are on an industry moving as rapidly as geo, a fact I noted last month in an article for Coordinates Magazine ...

Attempts to predict the growth, success and uptake of technology are rife. Accurate predictions, less so. “There’s no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home“, said Ken Olsen, then founder and CEO of DEC in 1977. “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers” is apocryphally attributed to Thomas Watson of IBM in 1943.

... but the panel gamely attempted to agree, disagree or abstain on 5 statements. Geo-data will be free, with OpenStreetMap and other crowd-driven open-source data eclipsing commercial vendors.

Oh dear. Not this one again. Quite correctly the panel were split on this. Whilst I'm a big fan and supported of OpenStreetMap, this will not sweep all pretenders to the throne to one side and reign supreme. There is no one sole authoritative source of geographical data in the world for very good reasons; differences in use, in scope, in language support, in coverage, in acquisition methods; the list goes on and on. Even with the success of OSM, I'd still feel safer if the emergency services route their vehicles to where they're needed by using official national geo data. It's also worth noting that whilst people don't seem to want to pay for geographic data any more, both Navteq and Teleatlas were acquired by Nokia and TomTom respectively precisely because of the value inherent in their authoritative views of the world, albeit one tempered by the Personal Navigation Device view of the world. Location-awareness will be integral to any mobile app.

There was pretty much widespread agreement from the panel on this one. My take, whilst in general agreement, is tempered with the fact that we don't all live in the Silicon Valley bubble, where there's 3G coverage everywhere and everyone has a smartphone capable of location awareness. Will location be integral to smartphone apps? Undoubtedly. Will location be integral to all forms of app running on any nomadic device, be it tablet, laptop, phone or otherwise? Only if there's an infrastructure to support it already in place, which gives the developing nations a disadvantage. More than half of all mobile advertising in 2014 will be location based.

Not much agreement on this point from the panel and I'm in accord with them; advertising is notoriously difficult to predict at the best of times and to put a 50% figure on all mobile ads being location based in 4 years time should be viewed with extreme cynicism. Virtually all user-generated content will be geo-tagged.

The panel were enthusiastically with this point and I'm also with them. But again, not everywhere in the world has the networking infrastructure to support geo-tagging so this statement needed to be viewed with cautious agreement. We're also long overdue a highly publicised event which brings the topic of location privacy to the general public's attention; the result of which may cause a significant turn off of location services. When, and not if, that happens, the prediction for location based advertising looks on even shakier ground than it is right now. Proximity will become a critical filter for content.

Well yes, duuh, but isn't this already happening? Either through our own efforts to obtain relevancy, through constraining search queries to locations or through localised services. The question should really be "automatic, meaningful, proximity will become a key context for content" as there's no relevancy obtained by automatically constraining results to a local area when what you're really looking for is information on your next vacation destination.

Photo Credits: Ken Yeung on Flickr.

Gary Gale

I'm Gary ... a Husband, Father, CTO at Kamma, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user