Musings on Business and Tech

Category — location

Vancouver Olympics / Twitter Mashup

Cool map from UMapper that shows Olympics-related geocoded tweets from Vancouver. The synergy that arises out of the realtime “on-the-ground” nature of tweets with the geographical pinpointing of mobile GPS is really incredible. It represents a whole new way to experience shared events like the Olympics.

UMapper is a site that makes it really easy to create and share map mashups and map-based games.

See UMapper / Explore / Vancouver 2010 : Olympics.

February 15, 2010   2 Comments

The Buzz on Buzz

The web was all atwitter (pun intended, and regretted) yesterday after Google announced their Buzz platform, which integrates geo-located status updates and link / media sharing into Gmail. I’ve played around with it a little bit, and thought I’d add my little voice to the echo chamber with a list of pros and cons. Interestingly, a lot of the pros are also cons, as you’ll see below:


  • Integrated into Gmail – Unlike Wave, you automatically start following the people you “email and chat with the most.” Additionally, comments to your buzzes show up right in your Gmail inbox.
  • Granular privacy settings –  Not only can you choose to share your “buzzes” publicly or privately, but if choosing to share privately you can even specify which group/s to share with, given the ones set up in your contacts; this is hugely important for the next feature:
  • Geotagged buzzes – with the mobile app, you can “snap” a buzz to a location, which sort of places it somewhere between Twitter’s geotagged tweets and Foursquare’s check-in model; you can also view nearby buzzes as well as a “buzzes” map layer in Google maps; and snapped buzzes will also appear on a “Place Page” for that location, if it exists.
  • Rich media – shared photos appear as slideshows
  • Integration with other sites like Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr and Picasa
  • Realtime updates – don’t have to hit refresh in the browser to see new buzzes come in
  • Comments & Likes – this is something sorely needed in Twitter and is one of the only areas in which Facebook’s status update implementation beats Twitter’s


  • Gmail integration – I actually don’t use Gmail. I have a Gmail address but it just forwards to another email address I have hosted on my own server. I may use buzz via the mobile app, but I don’t have much reason to go to Gmail and use it, and I suspect neither do the millions of other people not on Gmail. Also, just because I email with someone doesn’t mean I want to follow their buzzes, or have them follow mine. I think the assumption is wrong that the people you email with are the same people you want to relate with on a social media site.
  • Yet another social network – Microsoft’s quick response to Buzz’s launch was one of defensive antagonism, but they actually made a good point: “Busy people don’t want another social network, what they want is the convenience of aggregation.”Granted it seems like you can pull your Twitter feed and other feeds into Buzz, but until you can post your buzzes to Twitter, Facebook, etc., I think people will be slow to adopt yet another tool like this.
  • Too Little Too Late – with Twitter and Facebook so thoroughly entrenched, is Buzz compelling enough to pull users away from those services? I don’t think so, not in its current state. To be sure there are numerous examples of meteoric rises and falls with social networks (Friendster, anyone?), and who’s to say that won’t happen with Twitter or Facebook, but I think in order for people to switch at this point, the new service, whatever it is, will have to be a revolution rather than an evolution.

So there you have it. I guess I’m being one of those infamous fence-sitters, but how could there not be two sides to the story for any new piece of technology?

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February 10, 2010   2 Comments

Marketers Are Drooling Over Your Location

With the ongoing boom in location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla, marketers are simply salivating at the possibility of knowing where you are at any given time. As I’ve said before here, location is the holy grail of online advertising.

Effective ads are all about context–hit people with the right ad at the right time, and you increase your chances of closing that sale tremendously. And now with more and more people willing to share their location online, marketers can send people ads while they are at or near the point of sale. This is huge, and marketers are rightfully drunk with the possibilities.

But will consumers go along with it? I think so. I actually think most people would welcome ads that were more relevant to them. It annoys us when we see an ad for something we’re completely uninterested in, but, go ahead, please do send me a coupon for something I’m about to buy anyway!

Google’s Adwords are more effective than banner ads, simply because they’re more targeted, and this accuracy will only increase with the proliferation of location data. I think as long as the social  networks continue to give users compelling reasons to ignore their privacy concerns and share their location with friends, users will not only tolerate any targeted ads sent their way, but they also might even welcome them.

February 9, 2010   No Comments

I Want an iPad in My Car

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the Apple iPad since it was announced a couple of weeks ago. From Apple’s promotional video it seems they think the typical user will use it lying down on his couch with his knees up. Maybe. But maybe there’s another place that would work well. I think a great place for an iPad is in your car, mounted on the passenger-side dashboard.

In this case it basically becomes the über PND–maps from Google, turn by turn directions from any number of 3rd party vendors, and a whole slew of “what’s nearby” apps like Geodelic, Aloqa, even plain old Google. And then of course you have the built in iPod app with music, audio books, podcasts and movies. Oh and you also have a web browser and email for anything else.

This is definitely not something you want to put anywhere near the driver, but for the rest of the passengers in the car it could be a great way to pass the time on long road trips. And with the bigger form factor than the iPhone, it would be a lot better-suited to the tasks above.

But don’t take my word for it. For some counter arguments, check out these articles from CNET and Jalopnik.

February 8, 2010   1 Comment

Apple to Devs: Don’t Use Location Just to Serve Ads

On Wednesday Apple posted a bulletin in their iPhone Dev Center regarding how (not) to use the Core Location module in the iPhone SDK. In short:

If you build your application with features based on a user’s location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user’s location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store.

Now I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to provide your users with useful information in addition to ads, but it’s kind of weird that Apple would make this a policy in their App Store review process. (Unless of course they’re doing it so as not to interfere with whatever they are working on from the acquisition of Quattro Wireless.)

However, I see it as yet another reason to bypass Apple’s heavy-handed review process and build your location-based service as a web app with the HTML5 Geolocation API.

Read News and Announcements – February 2010 – iPhone Developer Program.

February 5, 2010   No Comments

Scribble on Maps with, um, Scribble Maps

Even if the Apple iPad solves the problems of scale with digital maps, there is still the issue that annotating maps is far more difficult on a computer than on paper. But a handful of companies are creating applications that seek to alleviate this pain. One of the more interesting ones is Scribble Maps.

Scribble Maps lets you draw on Google Maps and publish your drawings as jpegs, embedded (interactive) maps on a web page, or as KML layers that can be imported into Google Earth. In their pro version (currently in beta) you can also import geospatial data from shapefiles or spreadsheets, and manage your drawings in layers a la Photoshop.

Scribble Maps recently released this video that gives you a quick preview of what can be done with the software. Pretty cool stuff.

Other companies in this space are Google’s My Maps, UMapper and Platial.

via How To Scribble And Share Customized Google Maps.

January 28, 2010   No Comments

A Virtual March on Google Maps

This is one of the more interesting uses of Google Maps I’ve seen. A group of Turkish activists, protesting their government’s censorship of websites such as YouTube, and, have organized a “virtual march” on Google Maps.

I think this concept could really take off here as well. What if instead of organizing a real March on Washington, an activist group organized something similar to this Turkish protest. Would it have the same impact? It certainly would be cheaper to organize and since the “cost” to any given protester of joining the march would be minimal, perhaps it would attract many more people. Or what about using something like this as an add-on feature to online petitions? Wouldn’t it be effective, for instance, to see millions of pushpins on the map of the U.S. for all the people who have signed a certain petition?

via Visualize Dissent: Turkish Users Protest Censorship Using Google Maps.

January 25, 2010   No Comments

Local Services and Google’s Mobile Strategy

Asked how local services tie into Google’s mobile vision, [Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan] Rosenberg touted the possibilities of location-based ads and commerce: “In mobile we are seeing that when phone numbers and coupons are offered people are much more likely to click on the mobile ad. Well, imagine if [a store’s] inventory information is there so they can actually consummate a transaction locally. As that information becomes available, local is going to be much, much more powerful.”

via Google calls local services ‘hugely important’ to mobile future – FierceMobileContent.

January 23, 2010   No Comments

Location, Privacy, and Stalkers

The privacy implications that arise out of the recent explosion of location-based services will prove to be one of the most important topics of the coming year (and beyond). Andrew Hyde, in a recent blog post titled, “Committing Location Based Service Suicide,” writes about why he quickly went from location zealot to frustrated recluse:

One specific interaction really bothered me to look at the benefits of these services. I had someone look up historical data on my checkins and put themselves in places so they would ‘run into me.’ Once I switched my habits, they did as well (that is when I figured it out). Their response: ‘well, you put it out there.’ I did.  I opted in to getting stalked.

As I’ve intimated at before, in order for location-based services to succeed they must do two things:

  • Give users an easy way to manage their privacy settings and to restrict the visibility of their location to certain subsets of friends
  • Make the service so valuable that it’s worth it to the users to reveal their locations

I had mentioned that the Foursquare model is pretty good because you only broadcast your location to your friends on the service (opt-in). But as Andrew rightly notes, “Foursquare…lists the picture and location of recently crowned mayors on their homepage.” This is akin to what Facebook does when they publicly expose parts of your profile. The problem with this “feature” on Foursquare is, as Andrew says, “Here is a picture of someone, with the address of the place they usually hang out. I find that troubling, especially for someone just wanting to share with friends.”

He also notes that it’s simply just not worth it. It’s not worth risking your privacy in return for getting a badge or becoming the “mayor” of your favorite bar. Nor is it worth a little coupon that place might send you. A location-based service has to have some other value proposition (other than just the novelty of bragging about where you are), so that users will accept the dip in privacy for whatever they receive in return.

I think we have yet to see a service that incorporates these two concepts successfully.

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January 22, 2010   No Comments

911 For the 21st Century

A couple days ago, ReadWriteWeb reported on a new Twitter hashtag syntax for people to use in emergencies, a syntax that would make it easier for computers to “automatically extract data about locations or the status of a road or person.”

For instance, a tweet requesting security at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince might look something like this: “#haiti #need security #loc General Hospital PAP #contact @thehatian”.

So what would be really cool (and I’m sure someone will do this before too long) would be to build a mobile web app that would, with a minimum of user input, build tweets for you using this syntax. The interface would contain only a handful of really large buttons, set against a very bright background (so the phone can double as a flashlight of course). The app could use the phone’s GPS to geotag the tweet. Sending out a mobile S.O.S. would be as easy as pushing a two or three buttons.

On the other end, of course, fire, police and emergency medical departments could monitor these tweets using Twitter’s search or some other Twitter search client (perhaps one that could plot these tweets realtime on a map). They would then be much better able to get help where it’s needed the most. It’s 911 for the 21st century!

I am continually amazed by the extent to which technology continues to improve our lives in so many ways.

Read Tweak the Tweet: New Twitter Hashtag Syntax for Sharing Information During Catastrophes.

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January 21, 2010   No Comments