GeoLocation: A View from The Dublin Web Summit

The Dublin Web Summit held at the end of last month had six hundred attendees and over fifty speakers, many of them major players in their own fields. The Summit itself was not about specialism but about bringing people together and the range of talks combined with the degree of knowledge and experience as seen in both speakers and the attendees reflects how big the Web itself really is in terms of being an object that affects almost every part of our daily lives and as a subject deserving serious consideration.

It covered a wider field of subjects than any one article could hope to address. So to keep it simple we have focused this article on geolocation. We see more and more of this technology incorporated into our mobile phones and our Social Media services everyday and we think the best is yet to come and probably very soon.

Checking in is a very specific way of indicating your geographic location. Almost any app can use location in some shape or form making location a more contextual and relevant experience to the user.

In his talk at the Summit, Matt Galligan, the Co-founder and CEO of SimpleGeo talked about providing developers with an easy way to understand the coordinates supplied by devices so they can build geolocation functionality into their application. Essentially SimpleGeo is trying to enable a world where app developers do not have to worry about many of the complexities that surround handling geolocation data.

A coordinate is just a coordinate. While latitude and longitude coordinates are a good way to describe a location on Earth they don’t tell you much else. The coordinates could either the centre of a city or the centre of a desert. Translating a coordinate into something useful and meaningful, for example the weather for where an individual happens to be, is what makes geolocation technology useful. Matt spoke about several current apps:

  • Bump is an app that is used to swap contact information (much more environmentally friendly than business cards!) Two phones literally hit or bump each other and contact details are swapped.
  • ShopKick is another useful app by knowing where you are standing it can notify nearby stores of your presence. If those stores are running a promotion from inside the app the user may then receive a coupon or points if they then choose to enter the store.

    Best Buy and Macy’s in the US are currently using this app as a business to consumer experiment instore  to help personalize the shopping experience for the shopper with discounts appearing directly on their receipts at the till.

As we know, many consumer cameras are now being produced with geotagging features. You can now organise your photos by location on maps with geotagged photos. The same goes for music and sounds. These pieces of media can be geotagged and then layered over Google Maps. You can experience a place in the world from an entertainment and scientific perspective. We are able to know more and more about any given place in the world beyond the “this is where I went on my break” abilities we now have. School field trips will never be the same again.

Brad Fitzpatick of Livejournal created an Android App to open his garage door. He has a webserver connected to his garage door opener so he can open it over the network based on his geolocation. When riding his motorbike home as soon as he gets within a certain distance his garage door opens automatically. He can ride right in and park his motorbike in the garage without having to remove his helmet and gloves. Brad has also made this app available here.

Matt Galligan also uses geotechnology to control devices in his home as well. His iphone has an app that connects to his wifi network and then connects to a Control4 box. Control4 is a company that produces home automation control systems.These can control every electronically controllable item in the home. Matt has it connected to many of his devices; his Xbox, his heating and his television. Each individual light switch contains a wireless receiver and transmitter in a little box.

It uses a technology called Zigbee (802.15) which is designed for short range communications. However, the current range of smartphones don’t have this chip in them as of yet so none of the apps can communicate directly with the lights in a home but who knows what possibilities will be developed in the near future.

Privacy issues
With all this data available privacy is always going to be a concern. However, the responsibility of revealing your location comes down to:

  • The App
  • The user

The user is responsible for exposing the location and thankfully all the smartphones make this very clear. The iPhone, for instance, tells you when your location is being queried so you know about it.

One Step Further

How we view geolocation information may change redically in the sense that mobile devices may not always mean smartphones. Matt spoke about new glass panel overlays in his presentation. He showed the audience Graphene sheets. These are sheets of carbon just one atom thick. They have great strength, flexibility, transparency, and electrical conductivity.

The information surrounding you in your environment can be made available on the graphene sheets simply by holding them up and viewing objects in the environment through them. For example, you can see the value of houses in your locality by measn of making data and geolocation data on the web explicit in real time.

It seems by the very fact that we are physically somewhere and are always engaged with our environment these new tools offer us ways to enhance our geospatial awareness in ways we are only just starting to be able to grasp. It is clear that in the future geolocation is going to be a large part of everything we do. Geolocation technology is already blurring the edges between our offline and online worlds and the gap is becoming increasingly seamless.

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