Saturday, April 25, 2009

Google Latitude, Profiles, and “friends”

Google Latitude inherits ideas from Google’s abandoned “Dodgeball” product. It lets you use your cell phone or computer to track people who’ve agreed to share location information. It plays some sort of role in Google’s chaotic/emergent/incoherent/diabolical social networking anti-twitter anti-facebook strategy.

Like Gmail SMS and Google Voice SMS and Google Talk messaging SMS it includes some … SMS, this time bundled with iGoogle (which I thought was iDying).

Ohh, and Google Profiles are in there too … somewhere ( Profiles no longer have only numeric IDs like 113810027503326386174 [1], they can have vanity IDs too, like


Anyway, with Google Mobile | Latitude you can …

  • See where your friends are and what they are up to
  • Quickly contact them with SMS, IM, or a phone call
  • Control your location and who gets to see it

It’s designed for use on a mobile phone, but it can also work with an iGoogle gadget. I’m pretty sure it can be added to Gmail as well (where I’m more likely to use it) given the Gmail Lab widget insertion option.

On the computer I can manually specify my location ( the new IE Google toolbar will compute location for sites that have Wifi based on large databases of Wifi network locations [2]). On supported phones the location is dynamically update.

Emily and I share location now. Handy if her phone gets stolen! Her Blackberry Pearl doesn’t support GPS so it’s all cell tower triangulation.

On the other hand the iPhone still doesn’t support Latitude – months after we were told it was “coming soon”. Looks like the problem is a big one …

… Steve Lee, Product Manager for Google Latitude explained, "We have an iPhone version, working on that to make it available. One thing to note about iPhone version: The magical part of Latitude, even when it's in your pocket, it can report your location…It's not typical user behavior to pull out your phone out of your pocket and check in."

Lee continued, "On all those four platforms I mentioned, they allow applications from the background and multitask and report the location; and iPhone, that's not the case, and Apple just announced their 3.0 software and it appears that's still not the case. It's unfortunate for applications like Latitude…

I’ve no idea how this will all turn out. By the way, my money is on “incoherent” over “diabolical” for Google’s social strategy.

[1] Amazing how much stuff Google is breaking lately btw. The ID is still mine, but the original “sharing” URL is broken without even a polite error message. The current correct URL is vs. Now that I’ve enabled the latter option searches on my true name (not John Gordon) include a link to my profile at the bottom of the results page.

[2] If that doesn’t unnerve you then either you have no imagination or you’ve already accepted the transparent society.

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