Google Latitude - the what, why and where next?

Google LatitudeImage by via Flickr

Many of you will have read elsewhere, including via mainstream media about the launch of Google's Latitude offering, which introduces location based information that can be shared with nominated friends at your discretion.

It means that if you choose to expose your location, a decision over which you have constant control, then you can choose who you share that info with.

Your location can be set manually via your browser, which involves typing your location or moving a "pin" around over a google map. However, if you have Google maps on your phone then you can choose to automatically update your location using either the phone GPS or base station information, which is far easier, albeit it will continually consume data on your phone plan, not to mention gobble up your phone battery [I’d like the ability to configure how often phone updates occur for that latter reason].

You can also define how much detail those chosen contacts get since Latitude settings mean you can publish at city-level, general area or actual location.

So, using this service now means you and your chosen friends can share locations updates with each other most of the time [exceptions being when you/they turn off details].

This is not a new concept. Latitude is similar to services such as Loopt, Brightkite, Whrrl, Buddyping [now defunct it seems], RadiusIM and Buddy Beacon, most of which focus upon the intersection of "social mapping" and communication. However, all of those services don't could close to touching the might of the Google Brand and its reach.

So now comes the "why" anyone would choose to opt into this, given that it immediately throws up privacy concerns/fear in a "big brother is watching you" sense to many people.


Well, most obviously this increases the likelihood of chance meetups because you can now see which of your friends happens to be in the neighbourhood. Hence, seeing I am nearby you may choose to avoid the area or call me if you are nearby to arrange to meet, which is actually something likely to be of interest to a wide range of people for business and social reasons alike. To that point, I'd actually like to be able to group Latitude contacts into categories which would give me the option to tailor the information I share with others e.g. friends, business, which isn't possible in this first incarnation.

Of course, some parents may hope to use the service to keep track on their kids as the newspapers suggested, but given that kids can turn-off location sharing, it may prove ineffective unless they are so desperate for their friends to also see the information that their parents see it by default. Sadly I was immediately entrapped yesterday when my wife was immediately able to spot on Day One of this service that I was near a shop she wanted me to call into!

Where Next?

This being Google one can easily speculate on how this service could evolve i.e. where next. It's not a unique insight but there is a clear route to the three way intersection of mobile, social, and local. The last of these quite simply refer to location aware or based services. Hence, similar to the famous scene from the Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, you could begin receive news, travel, announcements and adverts all related to your present location.

On its own, "local" probably isn't inspiring enough for large numbers of people to sign up to service which discloses one's location, since the benefits are less obvious. Hence, offering the social element first is a better "bait". Having attracted a large user base, it then becomes attractive for firms/services to participate in "local offerings" e.g. offering targeted ads and coupons to people in the vicinity of a store.

Here's a scenario that I put together with a business a couple of years ago, but have substituted Latitude's name

In this scenario, all parts of the market are satisfied, namely
Obviously, in my example, the service being marketed has a time-expiry element - an empty coffee shop can't recoup that revenue opportunity. Hence this scenario equally applies to empty cinemas, theatres, pubs and restaurants, or any leisure facility. Yet it could have much wider application including competitive advertising - based on being near Starbucks, I receive an advert from a nearby competitor attempting to lure me away. There are many other applications one could list.

Timeframe for this to become reality? Well, there are no technical limitations to what I've described, albeit Google need to build the "ad-words like" infrastructure and tie this into the Latitude user data. So I think its' about Google choosing its' optimum moment to launch the "local" element once enough consumers are on-board or trend evidence of wide-spread adoption exists.
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posted by John Wilson @ 11:09 AM Permanent Link newsvine reddit


At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 6:33 AM, Blogger John Wilson said...

Anonymous. Thanks for the comment. If you check the blog post date, you will see I wrote this in 2009. Hence it isn't a current snapshot but reading it again, it looks like firms are heading in this direction such as Groupon.


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