The half-life of an LBS app..

Is around 5 years ??

Well I would estimate that is the case from the imminent closure of Plazes, one of the earliest Location Sharing applications developed back in 2004.

I used Plazes on and off for a few years starting on my first real smartphone the Nokia N95 and for a while it powered the Where Ed function on this blog. Plazes was acquired by Nokia in 2008 and it’s technology was rolled into the ovi platform, although continued as a stand-alone service.

This week Nokia announced the closure of the service, offering users the ability to download and export their location history. This is an important step and one which Nokia should be commended for, your location data is your data and in the spirit of data liberation you should be able to take it with you wherever you want to go..

So why is plazes closing, my personal view is that location sharing as a discrete service is just not that compelling, your location is a useful piece of contextual information whose real value comes from it’s integration with other personal data.

Knowing I’m currently in Calgary, Alberta is interesting..

Knowing I’m in Calgary, it’s 5pm, I’m flying out to San Francisco at 9pm, it’s raining and there is a Tim Hortons my favourite Coffee Shop on the quickest route based on the current traffic conditions is actually valuable.

Written and submitted from the GeoAlberta Conference (51.059N, 113.979W)

Discount for the LBS Summit Europe 2012

I am once again speaking at the LBS summit in Amsterdam this year.

The conference is the closest Europe gets to something like the Where conference, and is the must attend conference for the location and mobile marketing industry. There’ll be lots of in-depth discussion, interesting debate and great networking opportunities with over 150 senior execs from the LBS eco-system.

To get all the info on this event, get the brochure here –

As a speaker I am entitled to invite 5 of my friends, clients or colleagues along at exclusive discounted rates!  So, just quote my name when booking and get the exclusive discount, saving you an extra €100 on the current listed rates when you register.

The code is only good for 5 people, so be quick if you want to make use of it.

To qualify for this saving, simply quote LBS12SPKR when registering at

My Location Business Summit Slides

If your follow my twitter stream you may well have picked up on posts with the #locbiz tag, highlighting the Location Business Summit in Amsterdam. This I think is the closest Europe gets to the Where 2.0 conference and once again was an illuminating event, with some great talks by Nokia, Vodafone, SimpleGeo, Gowalla etc. Congratulations to Lucy for putting together a great agenda and Jonathan Raper (@MadProf) the excellent MC..

As always my slides are not that useful without commentary, but you might find something of interest !

Written and submitted from the Cape Town International Convention Centre (33.916S, 18.427W)

A smartphone without location is just not smart !

Last week location tracking almost hit the mainstream following Pete Walden’s presentation at the Where 2.0 conference, organised by O’Reilly who where also key in promoting the story..

Both Gary at and Peter at offer a more nuanced and thoughtful commentary than  the near hysterical reactions of the blogosphere and tech press.

At worst Apple is guilty of a lack of transparency, yes the collection of anonymised location data is mentioned in the ridiculously long terms of service and despite the fact there is a location services on/off switch in your iPhones preferences the fact that low accuracy location was collected came as a surprise to most users. I think Android is a little more explicit in the sign up process for your new Android phone you are asked to allow location date to be collected, however perhaps the industry as a whole needs to be even more clear and open in stating the benefits of collecting this data.

Location data is too important to become “ick” !

The only way we can stop it becoming so is by highlighting the benefits of the technology, so that people can make the informed decisions to opt in or not.

I’m not sure of Apples motivation although it sounds like they are trying to build their own location database rather than tracking people in the same way that Google and Skyhook have done in the past, but without wanting to sound glib in general terms any form of location based service needs to know where your device is..

Remember the old days when you used to have to type your postcode/zipcode into your phone to get a local map to be displayed, clearly we can’t go back to those days, we expect our smartphone to know where it is… is not really smart without that information !

That information comes through a number of technologies GPS being the most well known, but also databases of wifi and cell tower locations and ultimately if all else fails your devices IP address are used to provide device location. Most of us expect our location to be known nearly instantly when we want a map displayed or we want to geocode a photo we have just taken, for this to happen with any reasonable level of accuracy your location technology needs to be awake, running as a background process on your device.

Actually most of us if we think about it don’t have an issue with this other than perhaps the drain on device batteries, as the vast majority of location aware apps on our phones don’t share the location information, they are just used to establish the users context.

When however we start to share this information then we potentially do get to the point of “ick”, if there is not completely transparency and control over the process. Clearly if I chose to share my location derived by all this technology via Facebook or Twitter I have in theory made the conscious decision to tell my friends, follows and potentially the world world where I am at that point in time. For those who do share location in this way, there is a value in doing so, perhaps further developing their social networks for example, for users of the check-in services like foursuare there is additionally the potential of a financial incentives of discounts and offers from business owners.

Increasingly location based services are beginning to go beyond the manual checkin model to suggest location to check into automatically, Google Latitude for example has an option to do this, and in the near future many services may be customised based on your implicit location automatically derived. Again this has the potential to produce the “ick” response, but this ultimately is the most beneficial use of location technology.

Let me provide an example, just over a month ago I received this text message as I was getting up to go to work…

“Red Tsunami alert (8.8m, depth:24.4km) in Japan Yamagata 11/3 05:46UTC, Pop100km:31000, tsunami 860cm, Kamaishi – JRC”

This was an automatically generated SMS warning of the Sendai or Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami generated by the GDACS project of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. If you have not already done so I would strongly suggest you sign up to it. The GDACS system take feeds from a number of geological and meteorological agencies around the world and produces automatic warnings related to the occurrence of natural disasters that have the potential to impact human life.

My reason to sign-up and at least share my email address and mobile telephone number was clear, like any parent I don’t want to be one day sitting on a beach somewhere with my family wondering why the tide has gone out .. this is the sort of information you need pushed to your device without question. As it stands the GDACS system is very useful, but it could be much better. On the 11th March I was at home in London, so the Sendai quake and tsunami had no direct impact or need for any immediate action on my behalf. I have family in Tokyo however who we did immediately call, who had just got over the quake and wondering how we knew..

Imagine a development of GDACS which could offer much more specific warnings bassed on a knoweledge of the users location, that would offer a clear reason why you might want to share your location full time with a third party ?

Of course more mundane application which warned me if my travel plans where going to be impacted or if the camera lens I was looking for was actually in stock at a nearby store could also make use of this information.

There can be real value in sharing location, but unless as an industry we clearly state what these are, and we are transparent in how this information is collected we run the risk of scaring off users under an avalanche of media scare stories.

Of course it’s interesting that this data has been collected by mobile network operators for years and has been made available to law enforcement agencies and the security services when requested for years, and this data unlike most of the emerging location aware services is not anonymous !

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

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)