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Do People Really Want Geolocation?

Reading 2011: The Year the Check-in Died on ReadWriteWeb. Not too sure what to think of it. Of the people I know, only two people who live in the same city as I am have used any of the check-in services I've dealt with, and for neither was it often enough for the serendipity thing ("Hey! You're at the mall, too? How are you doing?!") to happen. I have yet to find another person who wants to share their lat and long via Google Latitude with me. And, I must admit, there's only a small set of people who I'd do that with.

The author lists four reasons why people check in to places — Finding people near you, Rewards, Remembering things and Personal Branding — then proceeds to explain why this is trivial and not lasting and nothing to base much on. There's just not much in it for people to tell others where they are.

But I want to know where I am. Or, rather, I want my desktop, home of my alerting crontabs, to know that I'm near my work, where it knows to alert me like this, or near my home, where it knows to alert me like that, or somewhere else, where it can alert me with a whiffleball bat. Or something. I don't need my friends to know where I am. I don't really want to tell advertisers or employers where I am. But it would be a great boon to me if I could tell where I am. Screen-based alerts are useless if nobody is at the screen.

Be aware that Xerox PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center for the Xerox Corporation, invented computing as we know it. One of the things they had were badges that could tell where you were in the facility, so if someone called for you, the telephone nearest to you would ring, no matter where. That's great and all, but today, everyone has their phone on their hip, so standard wired phones are more and more useless and less and less used.

When I used to work for the medical clinic, I tested badges that could unlock a computer when you got close, and unlock it when I walked away. It seems like it would be easy to write authentication modules that would allow the same thing with Bluetooth, but I'd rather have GPS rolling than Bluetooth most of the time.

There's a Latitude API, but I haven't done more than poke at it. But I suspect this sort of thing will be the real use of location-based computing.


  1. Every time I've heard government security wonks talking about the Next Internet, the one where we redesign it with security in it from the ground up, they talk about geolocation being an essential part of it-- you tell us where you are, or you don't get to play. I'm not sure exactly how they plan to get there technologically, but it's clearly a piece of the Big Plan. I understand the reasons, and the bigger need, but I think ultimately it's a cost-of-entry that the average consumer won't want to pay. It's an exchange of liberty for security, anyway.

  2. Also, you don't really want your computer to unlock when your badge is near it-- you want it to unlock when you are near it. That is fine if you assume you will never, ever, ever lose your badge (or get it stolen from you). Authentication is something you have (which can get stolen), something you know (which can be tricked/phished/beaten out of you) and something you are (which changes over time). In your environment, prox badge + facial recognition might be enough, but cameras are forbidden in many workplaces.

  3. I think geolocation is a bit like 3D, in that the Powers That Be want it much more than the users show an interest.

    And yeah, I am aware of the three factors of authentication. I am very specifically talking about what I'd like for my custom computing environment, not computing at large.