LBS Thoughts

LBS Are we there yet ?

Last week I presented at the “Location Business” summit in Amsterdam, and it was interesting to reflect on just how far the LBS market has developed over the years.

One of the points I made was that we are on familiar ground, it seems every year since about 2001 has been the “year of location”, so I posed the question – this year “are we there yet?”.

Well clearly a lot has changed in the last ten years, devices are now very powerful, despite what they may think the mobile networks operators are no longer major players (bottlenecks) in the value chain, and with hybrid location technology from the likes of Google and Skyhook location determination is straightforward and ubiquitous .

More than anything else this last point and the fact that location is exposed through simple operating system level functions or via modern browsers means that it is trivial to add location to any application almost for free. This has fuelled the massive interest in bringing location into social applications, from Facebook to Twitter, foursquare to yelp, people are at last central to location based services.

I tried to make the point that actually places only really exist as a reflection of society..

Place = Location (points of interest) + People

As Gary Gale pointed out in another one of his seminal presentations there is still a “lot of stuff” we need to better understand about managing places.

Surprisingly there was little focus on the years “hot topic” of Augmented Reality, other than an inspirational presentation from Claire of Local AR stars Layar.

Overall a very enjoyable conference, in many ways not so different to ten years ago but now with a few clear areas of areas of agreement.

  • Location is now mainstream – no really.
  • “social” is as an important contextual signal as location.
  • There is little money to be made with pure location outside a few niche vertical apps, it’s real value comes from it’s ability to better customise content specific to individual users.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

10 replies on “LBS Are we there yet ?”

Hi Ed,

Coincidently, Nielsen has just released in Australia results of a recent survey about mobile phone use habits (repored widely last week in local media). I haven’t seen the official report but one item that caught my attention was a notable drop in local searches – to 27% in 2009 from 33% in the previous year (percentages refer to those using mobile phones to access the Internet, not all mobile users). However, there was a big jump in use of maps and directions services (56 per cent, up 24 points) . That would indicate to me that we have a fair bit to go and maybe that some of LBS concepts need revision.

Additional details: Nielsen survey of mobile phones use habits


Ed: What’s happened in the 10 years since the first LBS “bubble” is that there has been more investment in location technology by the mainstream IT and mobile players: Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Apple, Nokia…the companies with the potential to change markets and awareness. While the innovation is with the smaller startups, the big boys have acquired and invested in technology to push location to the mainstream…and that’s why location is relevant today. Is it the data? Certainly that’s part of it but people never cared about the “precise” location of their house or what it looked like from a satellite image until Google Earth came along. It’s that sense of location awareness that has pushed the interest in LBS on a personal level and taken it to individual handsets.

I’m wondering if it’s fair to say that local LBS hasn’t found its feet yet, because it hasn’t found the definitive medium for it to be carried. Maybe that *is* AR, but it’s not carried through enough channels yet. By that I mean, we know that Social has found its home through Facebook, Twitter, Buzz and the others. But they became de facto leaders. However, LBS – unlike Social – depends upon the platform it’s on, much more than Social does. LBS provides benefits often when you’re moving (or stationery, but somewhere unfamiliar), whereas Social doesn’t care. If a ‘winner’ app a la Facebook (or even Facebook itself: ‘I’m here, come meet me’) comes through, that users develop hooks from, then that may be ‘it’.

At the minute I think truly local LBS has too much in the way of expectation, by way of (still) client-side locational inaccuracy vs. incomplete from vendors – or indeed, from people not yet wishing to publish their own location. Once people see the benefits in broadcasting location of self, it may reveal more benefits.

Have you seen this epic google maps fail? Go to click directions, then ask for directions from Nottingham to London.

The best google maps can do is “We could not calculate directions between Nottingham and london.”



So here is the problem for the perspective of driving directions, define where exactly is Nottingham or London ?, Is London Trafalgar Square ?, Charring Cross ?, is Nottingham Trent Bridge or the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem ?


Multimap manages to do it. Presumably a point is defined as the town centre and unless you are more specific, it uses that. What if you don’t know the specific location(s) at the moment but you want to get a rough idea of the journey time/route.

Perhaps Google could provide a more helpful error message, suggest a list of likely starting points at each location, or be a bit more flexible in the way it works.

It’s clearly a question of scale. If you want a rough idea of the journey time between say Nottingham and London then you won’t be too fussy about the exact points used to define both places, so there’s no reason why conventions such as central post office, rail station, centroid of city boundary etc wouldn’t work. At a national scale it’s appropriate to represent a city as a point: of course, on a printed map a point will cover a small area, whereas on digital maps a point must be stored as a zero dimensional object whose coordinates will suggest its location has been stored with perhaps greater precision than was intended.

But to defend a sloppy error on your site with a casual reference to the problem of multiple representation is hardly a justifiable excuse. Most likely is that Google’s coordinates for ‘Nottingham’ are out of date, perhaps they’re now in a pedestrianised area and no longer snap onto the road network. In which case they should be fixed.

I attended the “Location Business Summit” conference in Silicon Valley, sponsored by TheWhereBusiness, this week. It drew a crowd of about 100 executives from the LBS ecosystem including a great cast of speakers (see the list at

The focus seemed to be on network-based LBS. Carriers are in the game for sure! Rip Gerber, CEO of network-centric location enabler, LOC-AID Technologies, had a very interesting take on location and tracking. His messages were: LIFE, DEATH and the FUTURE. Network-based location info is breathing new life into LBS, location-based social networking companies will die and eventually evolve into just a handful, and the future is about predicting where people and devices are going. Not sure if I agree with it all but the guy is definitely an interesting speaker.

I think one word all in the conference agreed on was the word “monetization”. Network-based LBS is going to explode and enterprises that figure out how to
capitalize on this emerging trend are going to see huge profits. All in all — very focused and lively conversations which we will most likely see repeated over
the next year.

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