After SXSW, we're lead to believe that location is the next big thing. I feel like I've been waiting for somebody to do for "I'm here" what Twitter did for "My thoughts" for at least 4 years. I can't really understand why its taking so long. And why it's definitely not here yet.

Right now I'm seeing a whole series of errors being made over and over again by players in this area. Here's a short list of facepalm comments. Is it really any surprise that location hasn't taken off yet?

- Desktop browsers that don't support geolocation using the HTML5 API.
- Almost no laptops with GPS or 3G built in.
- Apps that have a mobile UI but no equivalent desktop UI.
- Apps that only work on the iPhone and not other phones that have location support.
- Launching as USA Only.
- Launching using the city paradigm and then only for a small number of cities.
- Apps that default location to off.
- Apps that pay only the most cursory attention to privacy.
- Apps where you can only pick from a fixed list of nearby locations and not add your own or adjust your position.
- Apps that only allow you to check in where you are right here, right now.
- And most of all, Apps that take too many clicks, mouse movements or whatever to check in.
- Not everyone wants to play a game. Some people just want to tell their friends and business colleagues where they are.
- Apps that have an API but no UI. Or a write API but no read API.
- Apps that have location support but have no RSS-Atom feed that contains the location data.
- A lack of integration between systems via (say) RSS/atom.

So look at the current state of play.

Firefox and Chrome support HTML5 Geolocation. Great. IE only does it with Google Gears and that's on its way out. Safari on both Windows and Mac has no support. Now laptops are portable too and plenty of people use laptops on the road. That's what they're designed for. But with half the market excluded it's understandable if annoying that way too many applications have a phone UI but no web UI. Which leads to people using the phone web site in their desktop browser if they want to play and clicking through the "unsupported OS warnings. However, geolocation by Wifi and Firefox/Chrome works pretty damn well. So why make it so hard to check in using the web UI? Buzz, Foursquare, Gowalla all fail here.

As phones now have GPS and 3G by default, pretty soon, I hope that laptops will also come with GPS and 3G. Not so long ago, laptops didn't have cameras or wifi built in but now they're both built into even the cheapest laptops.

So you gave up on trying to support a desktop browser and made the bulk of the function phone only. Then you compounded the mistake by making the system iPhone only. The iPhone is not the only smart phone on the market and it won't be in the future either.

As a Brit, apps that are launched as USA only are intensely irritating. And only slightly less irritating than Apps that only work in a small set of cities. Why? Location is inherently global. Why would anyone build a system that deliberately limited their market?

Privacy at the moment is binary, your location is either public or not at all. That's not great, but it's pretty hard to get this right and leads to unfortunate but hard to predict problems. I may try and make my home invisible to location systems but will my guests? This then leads on to the issue of how you ask if the user wants to show their location and how often. And the easy answer is to have one checkbox buried in settings that is defaulted off. Sadly that's the answer that will guarantee failure. Well done, Twitter! But equally, I don't want to have to click through "This app wants to get your location" every single time I use an App who's whole job is to get location. Well done, Apple!

When I finally get to check-in, I don't necessarily want to checkin right here, right now. As an obsessive, I may be catching up with things that I did earlier in the day. So let me say "I was there, then" as well as "I'm here, now", oh, and "I will be there, then" as well. And what exactly is where. The system may not know about the coffee shop next to Starbucks but several systems really want you to say you're in that Starbucks and won't let you add or adjust your actual position. For years, Loki only worked off broadband IP address and had a bad database of Wifi Access points but they didn't provide any way for the public to crowd source more accurate information. Checkin and position adjustment needs to be very, very low hassle or people won't do it, no matter how much you dress it up in a game.

Games are fun. But I actually just want to let my business associates know where I am and to be able to find out where they are. I don't want to be mayor of anywhere or collect points. Can we please have an adult system for location as well as the teenage one?

APIs. Remember how Twitter grew so fast because the APIs were simple and a big 3rd party developer ecosystem grew up round it? Remember how they had RSS feeds from day one? Well we have to have the same around location. There's a trivially easy tag to add to RSS/Atom in georss: and generating RSS/Atom really isn't rocket science. So why does Foursquare have private RSS only; Gowalla have no RSS; Buzz have no georss in their feeds; Buzz not read Twitter's georss to set the location of Buzz entries; Google Reader not show location of items containing georss (I think). When an App does actually have an API for setting location why do most systems that use that API not use the location features?

There's special place in fail hell here for Twitter. They introduced the location API very nearly a year ago. They defaulted off a hidden checkbox. There's no UI for location. It's only now that the UI is introduced and it's USA Only. It's only this year that the most common 3rd party twitter readers support it and then only one of them has it available in their desktop version. So doesn't Adobe Air have any location support?

The location Emperor badly needs a sharp set of clothes. It's way past time the industry got round to building him some.

ps. This was posted in the mobile version of Buzz on a windows laptop. And all because there's no location support in the desktop version of Buzz. doh!

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[ 25-Mar-10 8:23pm ] [ , , ]