I went to the Mashup* event for this month, all about location-based services. There was a team from TeleAtlas giving a talk, a lively panel debate and then some networking fuelled by a free bar.
Location-based services (LBS) are clearly broken down into the spam-type services that you might encounter walking past a Starbucks and the social-type services that might connect you with your friends when you’re nearby. My view is that the widespread use of LBS is going to be encouraged because Starbucks wants to spam me – and, actually, if that involves 50% off my coffee, I’m going to let them. There are too many issues around LBS that involve me knowing where my friends are (and vice-versa) for that to take off until we have become used to our location being published as just another bit of data that we give away about ourselves.
I was going to give a rundown of the TeleAtlas presentation, but it wasn’t really very interesting. Highlights are that we’re going to see a lot more 3D mapping and on-location photography, and that according to ComScore, 27% of Internet users are getting their kicks out of mapping sites.
Much more engaging was the panel debate. I’ve tried to present a summarised transcription below, but when we got onto privacy issues, the number of floor comments was rather overwhelming… goes to show what an important subject it is.
The most impressive demo that I saw was by widr. I’m really excited by what they’ve come up with. Essentially, they are creating a database of the location of wireless networks by driving around and through user-contributions. You download a little application and it scans for nearby networks and then just asks you where you are. The genius is that this works indoors, it works on laptops, and it is cheap because it doesn’t involve mobile network operators. They’ll be launching soon, so keep an eye out.
Panel Chair: Philip Sheldrake (MD @ OnOneMap) Panel members: Rik Temmink (EMEA Segment Marketing @ TeleAtlas), Ed Parsons (Geospatial Tech @ Google), Danny Bull (Co-founder @ myneighbourhoods), Ed Freyfogle (Nestoria), John Robinson (SMSCard), John Abbott (widr)
Q. What was the watershed moment when you realised LBS were important?
A. Ed P: Google maps… Lots of valuable data is still locked up…
John R: Sufficient quality of screens on mobiles and speed of WAP. A big challenge is in deciding on a standard way of pushing someone onto a mobile website.
Danny: API’s have been invaluable; RSS too.
Q. In Asia, there are a lot of phones but they are not all as high-tech – for instance they don’t have hi-res screens. Where do emerging markets fit in with LBS?
A. Ed P: There are other ways of getting a location-based service e.g. through voice.
John A: Dodgeball takes an SMS approach to social networking.
Q. What’s the big opportunity 3 years from now?
A. Ed P: access to more information… the Google maps API came about when someone hacked their app, now API’s are central to everything they do. Other people need to unlock their data with API’s.
John R: price-points are falling for commercially available data-sets, such as the electoral roll – there is a lot of information out there and it is becoming more realistic to get hold of it.
Q. Is there a wikipedia for location?
A. (floor) Yes – OpenStreetMap.org – user-contributed location data, active in UK & Europe at the moment
Q. (to floor) Would you publish your presence?
A. (floor) Wouldn’t want spam
(floor) I would to my friends – it’s analogous to a social network
(floor) I want to choose what I show
(floor) You don’t have a choice!
Q. (to floor) Would you publish your presence if it lowered your tariff?
Q. Anything you want to get off your chest?
A. Ed P: User expectation has gone through the roof!
(floor – Tony FIsh) Why do you think so?
(floor – Simon Grice) It’s Google’s fault…
Ed P: That’s nice… really Google is just democratizing what has been around for 10 years
John R: Broadband adoption has been central to this
Q. Do you have problems with regulation?
Ed P: This is a hard topic. Google is talking to the European Council about this. It’s much less of a concern in the US.
Q. (floor – Simon Grice) Would you give your location data to your partner?
(floor) it is important that I am getting some value in exchance for my location
(floor – Simon Grice) texting is so popular because of its geographical anonymity
Q. What is the most innovative service you’ve seen that takes advantage of location data?
A. Ed P: I want one that wakes me up just before my train station!
Ed F: I think it’s “Doppler” – put in your location for when you are going on a journey and it tells you which of your friends are there
(floor – Simon Grice) sorting out lift-sharing?
(floor) we’ll see handset mashup innovation when it is easy and cheap to get into operators
(floor) NavSpy.com is an application that monitors mobiles on the web
Q. Any last remarks?
A. (floor – Robin Howard, BT) LBS says where your phone, not where you are…
Ed P: Location is only important when it is; use the off switch if it’s not