Friday, September 20, 2019

Location Based Services Part 5: Where are Location services going?

February 10, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

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Revolutions rarely happen over night. Most of the time they are a series of events that culminate with some drastic change to the status quo that is only really understood after the fact as analyzed by subsequent generations.

An easy example, technologically, is how mobile phones changed our lives in the context of one decade. I can remember my life prior to mobile phones… it usually involved the careful planning of events so that you knew when someone would be where. If someone dropped the ball during this process, it usually meant that you’d go home to find a voicemail with an explanation. Lo an behold, the mobile phone took hold amongst the general population, and all of a sudden, ad hoc planning became the norm.

Looking beyond where we are now in the mobile world is hard, not only because we don’t have a crystal ball, but also because the foundation of what may end up being a revolutionary change in how we communicate, may be something totally different today than what it will evolve into 5 years from now. When SMS was rolled out originally, it was never conceived to become the medium it is today. Today it is used for reminders, bill payments, and broadcasts to name a few. In a similar spirit, I feel that location services will be the foundation for the next step in communication evolution. From where we are today, to where we could be still leaves a lot of room for improvement.

If sci-fi can teach us anything about where we may be headed, perhaps the Borg collective isn’t a bad place to start. From what I understand, the Borg, a fictitious race of cyborgs in Star Trek are perpetually linked by a sub-space channel. This link enables them to know, feel, and think as a collective and not as an individual. They know where they are, how they are, and what’s going on.

The beginnings of this ‘collective’ are with us now. Looking at services like Twitter under the microscope you see similar behaviour. Facebook is not too disimilar. However, Twitter, more than Facebook, is uniquely enabled to transition from personal report to mobile status updates.

In my previous posts of what I feel needs to happen with phones at the OS level to push location services to the next level, I never mentioned my thoughts that services like Twitter may beat OS developers to the punch. Necessity is the mother of invention, and today’s youth effectively behaves like a collective and the desire to consume services that enable this evolving culture may outpace any pre-fabricated communication protocols, particularly if they come too late.

Take location sharing, for example, it could be something that is shared via a message (embedded), shared via a contained application (Google Latitude), or something that is an add-on to a communication network (Twitter). I increasingly see more of the latter, usually as a bit.ly or tinyurl link to a map. The application that generated this location is also capable of posting to the location field of the user, which then other applications can use this data to sort user proximity. The permutations of this are endless, but the point is that people are effectively getting what they want via the only means they currently have.

Where I can see this going is towards a multicast medium similar to Twitter, but one that doesn’t require a discrete userID, rather your SIM is effectively your persona in the ether, perhaps with different identities, but still using your SIM as a starting point. You then message on top of a similar service to Twitter owned by a carrier or by another provider, but upon which you share not only text messages, but also metadata that add color to your message across ALL similar networks. Where you were before the message you just sent, where you are most likely headed, what does it look like where you are, how close you are to me. Your address book is effectively your followers, and you circumvent privacy issues on a global or per-message basis. Services like Google’s Latitude will attempt to be one of those platforms upon which all this happens, but in reality, it needn’t be
that rich an application, similar to how SMS STILL gets you by 95% of the time in spite of its limiations.

To take this one step further, I can see a future where everyone communicates with friends and strangers in a totally transparent way. Strangers, similar to Twitter, can follow you, because of a common interest, but can also contribute to your local experience because of what you share. If my location-broadcast states that I am walking past a place that one of my followers/strangers thinks may be relevant to me, I may get a ping to check it out. The data is valid because we have a common interest, even if I don’t know this follower personally. Friends, with a little more access to your exact whereabouts and history, may self-organize into meetings that would otherwise have to be pre-determined. I hate to say the cliche “the possibilities are endless” but just try to think of how I would have told you the mobile phone would have changed your life back in 1982. You wouldn’t have fathomed what life with a constant communication device would be like in terms of how others interact with you.

In conclusion, I feel there is a revolution ocurring right now, but I can’t pin point what phase it’s in, nor will I be able to until a few years from now when I can look back and see how ‘alone’ I felt by not having my collective with me to suggest, guide, and interact with me wherever I went.

“Appendix”

A couple of more examples:

Regarding Privacy – I remember people when they first got mobile phones saying “I don’t like always being reachable”. I was always amused by these people, for perhaps their phones didn’t have the ‘off’ feature mine did. Seriously though, this issue will sort itself out, and people will get used to turning off location just like you turn off the ringer on your phone. As a matter of fact, location may actually help you turn your phone on silent. As a you walk into a theatre you get a text saying, put your phone on silent.

Regarding a stranger sharing information with you – The idea of a stranger in the internet having access to where you are is scary, but frankly not that different than when you are in a town and you ask a local for help to find the nearest pharmacy. Yes, there could be all sorts of profiling that could be done on your whereabouts by stalkers, but you’ll also miss out on random acts of helpfulness by strangers, similar to when you go to an internet forum and ask for help on something. You’ll just have to be more careful on how and when you share information and at what granularity.

Regarding mass market adoption – My grandmother will probably not care too much for location enabled services similar to how she doesn’t need to use a mobile phone since people call her at home and that is good enough for her. Habits die hard and sometimes it take generations to change things. I can’t see myself ever wanting to go back to the days of no mobile phones, and likewise, I can’t imagine the current generation of kids growing up on Facebook will ever want to go back to the days of interacting with friends just via unicast (one to one) communications. Protocols, services like Facebooks, and networks will come and go, but the need to communicate via one to one, one to many, and one to all will live on.

Location Based Services Part 1: The iPhone 3G experience

Location Based Services Part 2: Privacy Concerns & Other Hurdles to Adoption

Location Based Services Part 3: Chromewalker’s Four Cardinal Points of Location 

Location Based Services Part 4: Location Enabling All Phone Applications

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