Skip to main content
July 14, 2008

Location based services still do not measure up? Or do they?

SOMEWHERE – The term, Location Based Services, or LBS, has been kicking around for a long time. Like many terms full of baggage (WAP comes to mind), there are lots to like and lots to dislike. A comment by Alfie Dennen a week or two back has been bouncing in my head. So, today I did a perusal of some posts on LBS to see what the sentiment is.

Overall, LBS is still viewed as a failed promise. But I get a feeling that, unlike many years ago, we seem to have a better grasp of what we want (or not) out of it. Also it has faded into the background as an enabler, hence we don’t see it for what it is (‘LBS is dead. Long live LBS’?). Read my take in the post below.

Same old same old?

One of the long-reigning location services described is being able to walk the streets and receiving on your phone advertisements relevant to a store nearby. Obviously, there’s something wrong with this service, since it really hasn’t take hold. Why?

Most recently, folks have been trying to tie location information with a social network – meet a buddy nearby, connect with folks who match your profile, and so on. It’s not hard to find round-ups of social services that use location information. To be fair, while automating it through GPS or what not, is what folks want, there are other ways to declare your location, such as sharing your travel plans or just shouting out on a service like Twitter.

Anywhere but here?

The good thing is that we seem to be entering a resurgence in the development of services that use location in some way. We’ve covered a few, such as trash collection in Estonia and Glastonbury, or home-grown tools for tracking location. Tarek Abu-Esber at Mobile Messaging 2.0 stepped back and noted, in a great review, how in many developer challenges location based services are a huge chunk of the entries. He’s optimistic and claims that 2009 with be ‘The Year of LBS’.

What with Google, Apple, and Nokia increasing opportunities to develop these service, let’s hope that all this innovation isn’t trampled on by platform locks, poor tools, or constrained distribution channels. Writing apps is just one step in all this. The user still needs to be able to use them on their mobile devices.

Will users care?

Alfie Dennen, who triggered this post, was involved in mixing location, mobile, and the Web with his Moblog service during the Glastonbury music festival. He muses, rightly so, that the bad baggage of LBS is mostly due to technocrats jumbling up the tech without asking the relevance to users. He makes a distinction between proposition and value-add, or, whether we use location as a service or as something that enhances a service. Alfie is still more on the enhancement (and so am I).

Rory Cellan-Jones, from BBC’s, takes us through his experience with a new-ish service, coming out disenchanted. My favorite quote is that location services are “like personal jet-packs and the internet fridge, are the future that didn’t happen”. While he knows his techie friends just _know_ that mixing social networking services with location will be big, he’ll pass on the services until they are easy to use, relevant, and have enough critical mass to be useful.

Spot on.

Or does someone disagree with these assessments?

Image from chokola