I've been thinking about Yahoo's new fire eagle location-broking service over the last few days. I think it is a really exciting service - potentially a game changer - and has the potential to move publishing and using location data from a niche product to something really mainstream. Really good stuff.
But as I posted here, I also think fire eagle (at least as it's currently formulated) is probably only usable by a relatively small section of the web - roughly the relatively sophisticated "web 2.0" sites who are comfortable with web services and api keys and protocols like OAuth.
For the rest of the web - the long web 1.0 tail - the technical bar is simply too high for fire eagle as it stands to be useful and usable.
In addition, fire eagle as it currently stands is unicast, acting as a mediator between you some particular app acting as a producer or a consumer of your location data. But, at least on the consumer side, I want some kind of broadcast service, not just a per-app unicast one. I want to be able to say "here's my current location for consumption by anyone", and allow that to be effectively broadcast to anyone I'm interacting with.
Clearly my granularity/privacy settings might be different for my public location, and I might want to be able to blacklist certain sites or parties if they prove to be abusers of my data, but for lots of uses a broadcast public location is exactly what I want.
How might this work in the web context? Say I'm interacting with an e-commerce site, and if they some broad idea of my location (say, postcode, state, country) they could default shipping addresses for me, and show me shipping costs earlier in the transaction (subject to change, of course, if I want to ship somewhere else). How can I communicate my public location data to this site?
So here's a crazy super-simple proposal: use Microformat HTTP Request Headers.
HTTP Request Headers are the only way the browser can pass information to a website (unless you consider cookies a separate mechanism, and they aren't really useful here because they're domain specific). The HTTP spec even carries over the "From" header from email, to allow browsers to communicate who the user is to the website, so there's some kind of precedent for using HTTP headers for user info.
So how about (for example) we define a couple of custom HTTP request headers for public location data, and use some kind of microformat-inspired serialisation (like e.g. key-value pairs) for the location data? For instance:
X-Adr-Current: locality=Sydney; region=NSW; postal-code=2000; country-name=Australia
X-Geo-Current: latitude=33.717718; longitude=151.117158
For websites, the usage is then about as trivial as possible: check for the existence of the HTTP header, do some very simple parsing, and use the data to personalise the user experience in whatever ways are appropriate for the site.
On the browser side we'd need some kind of simple fire eagle client that would pull location updates from fire eagle and then publish them via these HTTP headers. A firefox plugin would probably be a good proof of concept.
I think this is simple, interesting and useful, though it obviously requires websites to make use of it before it's of much value in the real world.
So is this crazy, or interesting?