Many people think that Yahoo isn’t that good at putting new products infront of users and monetizing it, and they’re right. But, what they don’t realize is that Yahoo is way ahead of the curve in location based services and they don’t have to put it infront of users because other developers will.
The product is called Fire Eagle and what it does is allow developers to hook in and use location data to give information to users.
How it works is a user has an application that periodically updates to the most current location, the data is stored on Fire Eagle. The data can be grabbed by a GPS nav system, a cell phone, or even your laptop triangulating Wifi signals. The data is sent to Yahoo Fire Eagle and is stored.
The magic happens when you start to think about what that data can be used for. A Dashboard widget could use that information to give you weather information for the city you are in. An application on your cell phone could alert you when you are in a store with someone you know. Maybe even your GPS nav system will let you know that you are near a grocery store and give you a list of things that you need to buy.
Many of these application have not been built yet, but they can be with Fire Eagle.
Why Yahoo is doing this right is because it allows users the ability to control what applications are able to see what data. So let’s say I want a weather application to know what city I’m in, but I don’t want it to know my exact coordinates, Fire Eagle allows you to choose how close you want an app to see where you are, from exact coordinates, to zip code, to city, to state, and even country (I’m not sure how useful that last one is but it is still available).
I haven’t seen a single other developer platform out there that is doing this kind of thing, so from what I see Yahoo is way ahead (if anyone knows of any others please let me know). Obviously there are still some kinks that need to be worked out (that’s why it’s in beta), there isn’t anything that Fire Eagle does special when a location gets stale (other then offer a timestamp through their API) so the last time your location was updated could have been 2 weeks ago and it’s possible that you could still be there, but probably not. The other thing that the developers working on Fire Eagle need to think about is what happens with two updating applications get conflicting data at the same time or when a user is at a location that doesn’t have a city name.
So, there’s still a lot to be worked on, but Yahoo is farther then anyone else. The site is in beta so to get access you need to request an invitation code (I requested a few days ago and still haven’t recieved mine yet). But, this is really going places, I’ve read a few articles talking about it but I haven’t really seen any that bubbled to the top and became big news (and I think it should since everyone seems to think that location based services is going to be the next big thing).
Fire Eagle and the iPhone
The last thing I wanted to mention is the idea of Fire Eagle and the iPhone. One of the biggest problems with getting your current location with the iPhone is that it uses a lot of batter life, Apple has done a lot to keep that from becoming too much of a problem (like turing off GPS when it isn’t being used) but Fire Eagle could make this even better. What if every time you used a location based service on the iPhone, the application checked Fire Eagle for your latest location instead of going straight to the GPS? If the timestamp on that data was in the last (let’s just say) 5 minutes, they wouldn’t even need to fire up GPS to get your location. But, if the application did need to turn on GPS, it could push that information to Fire Eagle allowing other applications to use that data without turning on GPS. (Just a thought).