Geofencing and keeping an eye on the future

Paul Boag

I keep running across Amber Case recently. I first encountered her via a TED talk where she introduced me to the fascinating topic of cyborg anthropology. This is the study of how culture (and ourselves) are shaped by the technology we use.

As a web designer I find this a fascinating subject. Reading more has made me reconsider some of my views about how we use and interact with technology and websites in particular.

More recently Amber’s name popped up again in an article on which talked about the potential of geofencing.

Probably the best way to explain geofencing is by giving an example that Amber shared with the guys at

Imagine a scenario in which you get off the subway or highway, and a text message is instantly generated to your roommate or spouse, indicating that you are five minutes away from home. Or how about an alert when you enter the grocery store as to what you need to buy, or an automatically-generated text message to your boss that you are going to be late when you’re not at your desk by 9 a.m., or even a hospital that’s instantly updated with a patient’s medical records and status report when that person passes through the front door of an emergency room.

You maybe wondering how this effects us as web designers and website owners. In the immediate it does not, but there are things we can start thinking about now.

Currently our web pages are tagged with basic meta data including most notably the date the page was created and edited. However you can quite easily tag web pages with a location too.

Not only can we tag individual web pages but we can tag pieces of data within a page too using various standards including microformats or schema.

Once our content has associated with location, the possibilities offered by geofencing apps becomes obvious.

For example Amber’s own geofencing service Geoloqi allows users to be notified on their smartphone when they are near a location that appears on Wikipedia.

Equally if your site lists locations of stores, events or provides other location specific content then these geofencing apps could make use of it.

Is this something you need to be considering today? Probably not. Geofencing is still in its infancy. However, this is going to become popular over the next few years because it is more useful than the current ‘check-in services’ such as foursquare. When it does happen we need to be ready to offer location tagged information.

And here in lies the problem. So many of us are reactionary when it comes to our web strategy. Suddenly we find ourselves in a new landscape where everybody has to have a social media strategy or mobile app. These things appear out of nowhere and leave us scrambling to catch up.

As web professionals we need to be keeping one eye on the future and listening to people like Amber who are working on emerging technologies that will become the next big thing.