Location aware

Paul Boag

The web is full of exciting innovations at the moment. However, it is geocoding that personally excites me the most. In this post I explain what it is and why I believe it offers so much potential.

I am definitely not an expert on geocoding but I have been aware of the idea for a long time. I first encountered the concept back in the late 90s. At the time it entirely passed me by and I couldn’t see why the person explaining it was so excited.

“Just imagine the possibilities if every file had a location stamp like it has a date stamp”

I obviously lacked imagination. It all felt too theoretical. Too far off.

Later the concept was reintroduced to me, but this time all I saw was a world of adverts being pushed to my mobile phone as I walk by the local starbuck. Who wanted that?

The lightbulb finally switched on when I heard Tom Coates speaking at d.construct last year (Download Tom’s talk: MP3). He talked about a project he was working on called Fire Eagle that allowed applications to pass your geo location back and forth.

Geocoding is a reality now

Nine months on and I have finally got to play with Fire Eagle. I no longer need imagination to see the potential, it is no longer far off. Geocoding is here and boy am I excited.

For me the real power of geocoding comes because of mobile devices. Once your mobile knows where you are the possibilities are endless. My iphone for example lacks GPS but it can work out my position based on cell towers and wifi networks. This enables me to do lots of things…

All of that I setup for myself in a couple of hours. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what is to come.

The website owners perspective

This is not just something consumers should be getting excited about. It offers huge potential to website owners as well, because it provides users with new ways to access their information.

Consider for a moment what information you hold that is location specific. Do you have physical outlets (or other points of interest) that could be geocoded so users can easily find them? Maybe the content on your site relates to a geographical location (for example a university website). Or would users find it useful to know where you wrote a particular page of content (maybe a travel blog)?

I am the first to admit that geotagging is still in its infancy. However, there is no doubt it is on the cusp of going mainstream. Consumers have adopted car navigation systems very quickly and are familiar with adding points of interest (at least where speed cameras are concerned)! It will not be long before that experience makes the leap to mobiles.

It maybe premature to add location information to your data. but it is certainly the time to start thinking about what information you have that could be geotagged.

For more on geotagging and fire eagle listen to our upcoming interview with Tom Coates on show 118.