Location Isn’t Just a Feature Anymore, It’s a Platform

The O'Reilly Where 2.0 Conference runs through Thursday in San Jose, California.

The O’Reilly Where 2.0 Conference runs through Thursday in San Jose, California.

Just when you thought the swell of popularity around location-based services has hit the high water mark, the tide keeps rising.

All of the major web search engines are location-aware. Twitter has its own geocoder and Facebook is including location data in status updates. The big photo-sharing services like Flickr and Picasa support geotagging. Social location apps from Foursquare and Yelp are all the rage, and augmented reality is being touted as the next big thing. The emerging HTML5 specification has its own geolocation controls that let webapps find a user’s location through the browser.

We’ve reached the point where the addition of location data inside an application isn’t a special “bells-and-whistles” add-on, an experimental feature or a layer that’s only useful to some users.

It’s a standard feature now, and it’s crept into every product we care about.

“Location is something that people are just going to expect from now on,” says Brady Forrest, program chair for the O’Reilly Where 2.0 conference, the three-day event about all things location-based taking place in San Jose, California this week.

The location revolution was fueled by the proliferation of geo-enabled devices, Forrest says. Since most of us are carrying GPS devices in our pockets (every iPhone and Android phone has one, and most notebooks, too), it’s created a whole new application platform on which companies from different sectors — search, mapping, gaming, social networking, location-sharing — can compete.

“The platform is here,” he says. “Now, people are finding new ways to exploit it.”

Behind the scenes, there’s also a vibrant new market around web services for location-based apps. Cloud-based services like SimpleGEO, GeoAPI, Yahoo GeoPlanet and Skyhook are powering the most popular of the location-based apps we’re running on our phones and on our desktops.

Several of these companies will be at Where 2.0, along with Google, Microsoft, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Twitter — a who’s who of location-aware players. The three-day schedule — which features break-out sessions for developers on Tuesday, then two days of plenary on Wednesday and Thursday — includes discussions, panels and presentations from all the big names.

One of the most exciting things we’ve seen emerge from Where 2.0 over the years is the increasing importance of open source mapping systems like OpenStreetMap and OpenGEO. Such factors as the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the emerging mobile markets in developing countries in Africa and Asia, and the recent data transparency movement within our own U.S. government has proven the need for such crowdsourced and community-driven geodata services. They give anyone, anywhere the ability to get accurate place data and build it into applications quickly and easily, either for free or at a low cost.

Webmonkey will be at Where 2.0 Wednesday, March 31 and Thursday, April 1. Look for our coverage right here on the blog under the Location category.

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