The Long Tail of Location

Brady Forrest asked in a recent post what kinds of applications people would most like to see working with Yahoo's new location-broking service Fire Eagle (currently in private beta).

It's clear that most of the shiny new web 2.0 sites and apps might be able to benefit from such personal location info:

  • photo sites that can do automagic geotagging

  • calendar apps that adapt to our current timezone

  • search engines that can take proximity into account when weighting results

  • social networks that can show us people in town when we're somewhere new

  • maps and mashups that start where you are, rather than with some static default


And such sites and apps will no doubt be early adopters of fire eagle and whatever other location brokers might bubble up in the next little while.

Two things struck me with this list though. First, that's a lot of sites and apps right there, and unless the friction of authorising new apps to have access to my location data is very low, the pain of micromanaging access is going to get old fast. Is there some kind of 'public' client level access in fire eagle that isn't going to require individual app approval?

Second, I can't help thinking that this still leaves most of the web out in the cold. Think about all the non-ajax sites that you interact with doing relatively simple stuff that could still benefit from access to your public location data:

  • the shipping address forms you fill out at every e-commerce site you buy from

  • store locators and hours pages that ask for a postcode to help you (every time!)

  • timetables that could start with nearby stations or routes or lines if they knew where you were

  • intelligent defaults or entry points for sites doing everything from movie listings to real estate to classifieds

This is the long tail of location: the 80% of the web that won't be using ajax or comet or OAuth or web service APIs anytime soon. I'd really like my location data to be useful on this end of the web as well, and it's just not going to happen if it requires sites to register api keys and use OAuth and make web service api calls. The bar is just too high for lots of casual web developers, and an awful lot of the web is still custom php or asp scripts written by relative newbies (or maybe that's just here in Australia!). If it's not almost trivially easy, it won't be used.

So I'm interested in how we do location at this end of the web. What do we need on top of fire eagle or similar services to make our location data ubiquitous and immediately useful to relatively non-sophisticated websites? How do we deal with the long tail?

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