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— urbantick

Tag "Google Latitude"

As Google introduced Google Buzz back in 2009 they simply delivered it straight past the existing location based service. Back then, the introduction came with a bang an Google put a lot of effort pushing into the location based application segment. Even though Google basically has a monopole on everything location based, one year on Buzz has been sleeping for most of its existence.

Services popping up, mainly Goala and Foursquare raised instead. With it a whole bunch of similar apps like Brightkite and later in 2010 also facebook managed to more or less successfully integrate the location feature into the platform.

Foresquare released some stats last month claiming a growth of 3400% in the past year! Not sure what exactly this means, but generally it can be said that this sort of application is currently very popular amongst smart phone users. What I haven’t seen so far are gender stats on how girls and boys compare in the usage of location based self tagging. From my experience, not at all empirical, when ever I check in at a facebook place, there seem to be a lot more boys already checked in at this place than girls. Maybe I am in the wrong place, but maybe its a boys thing.

foursquare stats
Graph taken from foursquare / Honestly, 2010 was just insane. The numbers tell the story better than we can, so we put together this little infographic. (Also, our 6,000,000th user signed up last week!) See similar twitter stats in this earlier post HERE.

Anyway, here comes Google and resurrects Latitude from the dead (see earlier post on the death of Latitude HERE) to play alongside these platforms letting users check in. This, for those who have missed the short earlier live of Latitude, is quite a development from what L was at the beginning. It was a location sharing platform based on location not venue. Al you coud see was the dots of your friends on the map. Of course this was a major inovation back then and it was one of the first large scale applications of this kind. It was cool, but noone understood it. There was just too much negative press and too many concerned voiced tearring it all back down for Google, only to make way for the ‘younger’ generation of app that are now this successful.

Privacy concerns were at the forefront of the discussion and one of the odd things that was introduced by Google was a reminder message, sent roughly every two weeks to respond to concerns about people knowing the where abouts of a person without his or her knowing. I still receive this message I guess.
Hopefully Google has now stopped sending them, this would clutter the mailboxes of the potentially now growing user group unnecessarily.

New Latitude New Latitude
Images taken from Google Lat Long Blog / See where your friends are on a map and where they’re checking in. Latitude check-ins are built right into Google Maps and Place pages.

The new service lets people check in at locations and also, this is new, check out. There are various options for automatic check in or reminders to check in and so on. I especially like the line in the promotion clip where it says “you can automatically check in, there is no need to interrupt the conversation to let your friends know that you have checked in.”

The new app has so far only been released for the new Android 1.6 and runs on the updated Google Maps 5.1 iPhone users can so far only use the updated Latitude version 2.01, where the locations of your friends are visible, but for yourself the check in function is not yet available. More details on the Google Blos Official Blog and Mobile Blog.

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Google seemed for a long time to kind of miss the upcoming social networking hype. They have actually paved the way for this development to happen, especially where it comes to location based services and now it looks like they miss the train.
This is not the first time though, already with the chat they could not catch up with msn or with voip, skype was the number one. Same here again with social networking, Google had to watch the rise of facebook and twitter for quite a while and similar with the location based social networking services. Here Brightkite or foursquare are small, but very agile and successful providers of location based services. Earlier these services were discussed HERE.
Google came up with the Google Latitude service. It offers the option to let a mobile device track its route and broadcast it on the web or share with invited friends. It was a very simple platform and did not offer anything in addition. Were Brightkite offered tools for networking, commenting and socializing, Latitude would only show a the location. This inability not to interact could be frustrating and this might be the reason why Latitude stayed a niche product.
But Google was determined to come up with some sort of service to mach the still growing social networking community. So earlier this month they launched Google buzz, sort of an extension to Gmail. Google buzz was introduced on their official blogs HERE or HERE or on googlemobile.
It is kind of a cross between a chat and micro blogging tool that can be used directly from within Gmail. It combines elements of Gmail, Wave and Latitude, looks a bit like facebook (in the way it displays the activities) and works a bit like twitter (the way you can sign up and follow other users). There are however also differences. It is tied to the Gmail account, which means no strange names or funny images. It automatically links to everyone you have ever emailed through Gmail, your identity is set. Also the fact that it is embedded in Gmail means you have to be inside your mailbox to use it and follow your friends (for now, there will be for sure other clients pop up – depending how it develops).
I have to say for me is the Gmail integration at the moment not the most interesting part, but rather a bit annoying. I very seldom log in to check my email. In fact I basically have only joined buzz because I am logging in to the Gmail service at the moment due to a faulty machine and I don’t have access to my regular mail client. But lucky me, the real deal with the Google buzz is the way it works on mobile clients such as the iPhone. Blogs, for example the next web, have this week described the service, what twitter should be, or what the next generation facebook with integrated location awareness must be! And really this is it, buzz mobile, in this case one could say it is an extended Google Latitude, gives you the service you’d expect. In a list or on the map you see the buzz’s around you and you can interact with them. Nothing new, yes we know, Brightkite or Foursquare do this for a year already, but twitter doesn’t yet properly do this.
THe main problem really is the graphical interface. I know this is a tricky one, but I really can’t get warm with this Google style. This was already one of my main complaints with Google Wave and now it is again with Google buzz. It is simply ugly and unfriendly. It might work properly, but if it aint good looking you don’t want to use it. Compared to twitter or facebook , similar complaints apply there too and the boring design of facebook is one of the reasons I hesitated long before starting to use it. Twitter is a different case. It took me a while to get used to it, but they managed to develop their own stile and invented a format for micro blogging.
To come back to the actual functions of the buzzing buzz, it is integrated with Gmail as mentioned above, so direct buzzing is easy, even more Google has integrated the buzz button on the search page too. So as you have found something while searching, simply click the buzz button and your very personal news go out to the world. Similar with the location based integration, Google makes the most of the services they already have and are successful. They have added a buzz layer to Google Maps for example, where you can see what is buzzed around a certain location. For a more complete list on the features and how to use them see mashtrends. The map feature is great and you get quick and simple an impression of what is going on in an area. This, however, creates an interesting problem of how to represent the aspect of time. At the moment this is not really a question, but soon certain places will become very buzzy and it will become impossible to decide which buzz you actually want to see. It was similar with the user generated KML files that would be automatically be integrated into the general Google Earth layer in the early days of Google Earth. It obviously quickly grew to be too much user generated information and Google started selecting. By now the have established ‘official’ layer contributors, such as Panoramio or Discovery Channel. But here, with Google buzz, the aim is different n so should be the solution. How can Google simplify the growing content without losing the important content you are looking for? There are aspects of time involved, beside possible categories or tags. A feature like the timeline in Google Earth would be a good start, to see how this location developed and where the information lies that one is looking for.
Anyway, if other clients start picking up the format it might all change, at least this is what was the promise with Google Wave, we’ll see. For now there is a new Google buzz button with each post here on the blog, so keep buzzing away, it could develop into something.

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As promised with the last post on Google’s Latitude, I spend some more time on other options. And actually it can be said up front; Latitude is boring whereas other applications can be very exciting.
Sorry, I had to mention this.As discussed in a comment last week Latitude is probably not meant to be cool. I now understand it more as an additional data service Google provides. A service that especially targets a new market of location based information. I assume Google plans to get people to use it, but then to involve third party companies to “use” the location data to target them specifically. This will most probably include Google itself, for ad placements forexample.
Any way this is only speculation and others might be more of experts in this field. There is a huge discussion on this topic, including some horrific stories about privacy and stuff.
But this was about other options for location based interaction. From the iPhone based tracking, the step towards a web based tracking is not far and the set of additional options is enormous. Only starting from a simple message or chat tool right up to location based tags and content such as photographs. The limitations of gadget based tracking are obvious, it is as if you are talking to your self, a rather introverted and singular recording of spatial movement. The web based option on the other hand offers instant updated and interaction.
I have been testing Brightkite and MapMe the last few days and I am just blown away. Not necessarily with the interface, the options or the features, but more by what a location based social networking tool could be. Facebook is so 1957 compared to this. The exciting thing is probably that you can take it with you and that where you are actually influences what you see, on the little screen of course. On the other end the information you ad to the network has this same dimension too. So you get actually quite easily in touch with new people, if used on a mobile device, because you constantly come across in real space other peoples digital junk (positive).

Image by UrbanTick – Screenshot history page with timeline on the top

But to start from the beginning, how does it work, what can you do on how does it feel? First we look at the MapMe application. It is developed by John McKerrell. It is a place to store your location and share it with friends. Like Latitude it has a main page on which it shows your location on a map. This map is based on Open Street Map data. A big awful yellow marker has written on it “I am here”. Maybe “ME” would do it as the service is called mapME? The big problem is the colour full approach of the open street map. It makes it really hard, if not impossible to actually see the location dots other than the big yellow box. Have a try on the image above, can you spot the greenish-brown dots? At least in London this is the case, because it is so dense. Somehow the colours on MapMe appear brighter than on the original OSM page.
A number of sources can be used to feed the location into the application. Through email with FireEagle, Twitter, Latitude, RSS feed or InstaMapper. This variety is great, although some seem rather crude. Like email, but then you think, there might be some devices that update positions via SMS or email, if they are not based on the rather new concept of free unlimited data access, so yes, great option.
The second cool add-on here is the timeline, hidden in the history tab. It makes the past locations accessible in a timeline. It is based on the Smile timeline code on Google Code. It is an interface based on horizontal bands that each are based on time units. One is the year, then the month and then the day, even the hour can be added. By pulling the bands one can navigate in time. The location points are then displayed on both, the band (as dots or lines) and on the map. The two stay in sync while moving through time. Brilliant feature. This is probably the first feature you will miss on Latitude!

Image by UrbanTick – Screenshot MapMe

That’s about it on MapMe. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any of my friends on this network, as it only allows you to search by username and if you don’t know, you don’t know. So if you are on MapMe please ad me as a contact! Was just looking for a direct link to my profile, but could not find anything so search for UrbanTick.
The link page is actually the history page. So here is my link then – UrbanTick.
It is really not so much of a socializing tool as a personal recorder, for witch it works brilliantly. It actually offers and developer API to add to the existing application and also lets you access the recorded data. Information about this is on the mapme blog.

If we move over to Brightkite this is completely different. It is a fully grown social networking tool. It is like facebook having attached a different design. Surprisingly there is no map! Not that facebook would have one, but if the service is location based the first thing to think about probably is a map. In the discussion board, what a surprise, there is a tread about this and the reply by Martin May one year ago was “That’s coming…the map is kinda clunky right now. We have great plans for it, but it will take us some time to get everything in…it’s beta, after all.” So there is still no map and it is still Beta, but it is still cool. You know maybe not having a map makes it more interesting. On the iPhone I have to say, there is the option to click on things and it would open the location in the maps application. There is actually the same button for the webtool. A map can be accessed through an individual post or location. It even embeds Google Street View to give you an image of the location beside the post.
Having said that there is one really cool feature that almost makes up for the missing map. It is possible to export the posted contents as a kml file to Google Earth or link it as a RSS feed. An it includes not only your stuff, but your friend’s posts as well, great. Guess you could simply put that feed into the yahoo pipes and have it on a map.
The really big thing here is it the location based information that you can access contend through. You can literally run into a comment or an image! The information filter is not only based on your friend network but also on the location, close 920m), block (200m), neighborhood (2km), area (4km), city (10km), metro (50km), region (100km).

Image by UrbanTick – Screenshot Brightkite web app distance filter

This becomes really interesting if we take the aspect of time into account. I thought about this when I posted a random picture of something I simply had in front of my lens, a construction site on the road. Now I am able to look at images other people have posted in the same location from before the construction started and people will pas by this location in the future and see my image of the building site even though the construction has long finished. Meaning that it builds op an immensely rich database of location based everyday information over location and time. A similar thing is the mobile flickr “around me” service. If you use flickr on a mobile device it will give you the option to filter contend based on your location, it is cool, but does not offer the control of Brightkite.
A specification of this is the save a location tool, where you can mark a location as special. It is a place mark and can be used to tag a restaurant for example. If you write a review or only leave a note how the meal was others can pick it up.
The iPhone app can be downloaded for free and is a must have. It is simple but offers a lot of features. There seems to be an issue with the bottom line links. On my phone the first instance shows two icons on top of each other but only one can be accessed. The “request“ button is somehow behind the ”I am …“ button after I clicked on the ”more” tab.
So again if you are on Brightkite give me a shout!

Image by UrbanTick – Brightkite for iPhone application screen shorts

The only problem with these tools, applications and software really is the real space experience. I found myself in the last few days sunken into my iPhone and being kind of absent from the environment around me. Although I was in a way deeply involved in the here and now, the past and other users experience of the same place I would have sensed. My experience was not too different as looking at Google Street View from a remote location. A rather dull and emotion less consumption of something that is being sold to me as a real location while being a bunch of pixels.
It has a lot of qualities and interesting aspects hat are not yet explored to the limit, but there is a down side to it as that the mobile use takes you out of the real world into the pixel world and vie versa while the benefit is not quite clear.

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Google officially started a new Location based service today called Google Latitude. It is kind of a location based social network and capable of showing the location of friends and family members. “See where your friends are in real time!” is the phrase Google uses to introduce it.

Users need to download software to their mobile device. From the mobile browser, one has to visit google.com/latitude and follow the instructions.
There is a list of devices that work with the new service, but basically it is the Android powered T-Mobile G1, Blackberry, Windows 5.0 and Symbian S60 devices. IPhone and iPod touch will be coming soon and so will Java-enabled phones.
The network can also be accessed through the Google page. In case you are not on the go you can still follow your friends location updates from the computer after login in to your Google account. It is also possible to share the computers (presumably laptop) location trough the Wi-Fi access point.
The service is said to work in 27 Countries and will be free but most likely involve some cost from your mobile phone provider.

Picking up from the online discussion going on about these kinds of services, there are privacy concerns regarding this type of service/information. An other similar project called Loopt has introduced an “override“ feature that allows users to put in their location manually and basically ”lie“ about the location they are at. A similar option should be in Google Latitude. (from www.ft.com, by Richard Waters in San Francisco, Published: February 4 2009 06:19)

Other companies that offer location bas social networking services are Brightkite, Loopt or Pocket Life by Vodafone. They all seem to be in their beta stage, but are fairly busy as it looks like. The devices they work with vary a lot. So if your device is not supported by one service just try an other one. Particularly Brightkite seems to accept basically any mobile phone.

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