May 3, 2011

Location-based services and existing software

I was at Where 2.0 two weeks ago. You can read two posts (Wednesday and Thursday) summing up my first impressions. What's in it for the other software companies out there? It's a first mover advantage play right now, so all new names. After some more time to think on it, here are the thoughts that stayed with me.

Location more than a money grab

Right now, it's difficult to contemplate location-based services as anything but a mere way to get the consumer to spend more money. The whole concept is based on your history with a given venue, your actual location and what the analysts can tell us about your habits. It then gives you an incentive to spend some more dough.

So how we had Julia Grace talking about data gathered about us today is just a big puzzle because there is not enough data about gathered. I know - scary stuff. If we follow her train of thought we should aim to gather much more information about what we do and how. It's the only way the recommendations are going to start making sense. I'm not comfortable with the gathering of more information. But at the same time she is right. We're asking applications right now to give us recommendations based on too few data points and too few dimensions.

Is location only a physical concept? The words of Genevieve Bell still resonate in my head here. The answer to where you are from or where you come from varies from culture to culture. It's way out there for me to see how this can apply to the customers we help in the creation of their new products. Still I can't help but think there is something around those two questions about location.

In context, location is much more than two coordinates

The Aha! moment for me here is:
  • Location is more than a longitude and a latitude. It's what has happened before and it's what I agree to share to help my application make sense of the context I'm in. For any given application, it can be access to my to-do list, my agenda, my fridge content etc.
  • A corollary is location value over time diminishes rapidly over a short time frame and gains a whole lot more value in a long time frame.
  • Our phones are making us walking sensors.
What to think about in building mobile software

How does an existing software product make use of the enhanced location definition? i.e. putting:
  • where you are (now) in the context of,
  • who you are (history) and,
  • what you are doing (now) or should be doing (recommendation).
Location baked in or bolted on

Our clients already have software products and lots of legacy software installed. How can they make the jump to location? Are there guidelines that can be used in designing the next generation with location baked in as opposed to bolted on?

The immediate thing is this is a gold rush right now. It's easy to think that everything has to have a location component. Location is only one part of the offering and will not offer value on its own.

You have to ask if there is a real value to link location to the workflow of your application in relation to your workforce or the workforce of your customers. Let's say you're in the logistic or fleet management business; the answer is most probably a resounding YES. For a business creating gfx products for the desktop, it's clear to me it is at the other end of the spectrum; that being if it should contemplate location-based services.

I'm here!

Since location is not only physical, I would strongly suggest making sense of how to connect your users in a social way, i.e. through status update or some kind of presence. It might help a user to know someone else is doing the same thing and they could leverage each other in the performance of that task or get help faster. You see it's not location per se because it's not physical location; it's location because it tells where you are in the workflow itself.

I can see lots of usage.

Wrapping up

So in conclusion, location is so much more than two coordinates. Linking your users through their physical location may make sense. Linking them so they understand where each other is in the workflow might make a lot of sense for them and it has nothing to do with physical location; yet it is exactly telling people something about where they are!

We need to keep an open mind about what location really is and how context dependent it can be!

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