I want to know where you are … right?

You want to know where I am … right?

So now we know where each other is. Now what?

I am having a hard time trying to think about the future of location based services.  With the inclusion of GPS in most major cell phones, in addition to a significant improvement in cellular triangulation, we are now able to have a lot better idea of where we are at any given time.

There is no doubt that this new sense of location awareness has a lot of real benefits.  Want to see a movie nearby … done.  Want to figure out where the nearest fast food place to eat is and get some ratings on it … done.  Need directions to pick up your friend who is at a new store you have never heard of … done.  There are a slew of use cases where knowing where I am and what is around me is useful and helpful to me.

But now you have these push based location services (I haven’t thought of a good name to call them yet … so we’ll stick with push based since regular location services includes Google Maps).  I’m talking about Facebook Places, Foursquare, SCVNGR, Gowalla, Loopt, Twitter location (kind of …), etc.  I’m talking about services that allow you to “check-in” at a place and inform some central service or other people that you are somewhere.

But then what …

Really, I am trying to think of the true game changing value added benefit.  I am trying to think of what new thing I can do now that I can publish or share my location with others that wasn’t possible before … and will change my life.  There are some easy ones that come up.  Now I know that me and a friend are at the same mall and can meet for food.  I can see that out of all the bars in Adam’s Morgan in DC, that Tryst is trending because there are a lot of people there.  I can keep track of how often I go to the same coffee shop.

But is this a game changer?  Is this something that I will one day think “I couldn’t have lived without it”?  Will location services start to intertwine with other services to make more aware and unique offerings?

I don’t know …

I remain a bit skeptical of the current models out there.  The novelty of being mayor of your coffee shop wears off.  Announcing to all your friends that you are at a particular location is something that social networks alone can handle pretty well.  The act of checking in still remains kind of annoying in my opinion.  Companies are starting to think of location based services as a way to drum up some traffic and make some sales, but I don’t think the current offerings are super compelling.

I hate to criticize without having a solid way forward or a way to fix things, but not sure I have the magic solution just yet.  I do have some suggestions that hopefully pan out to be correct.  Ideally, I want:

Effortless Check-ins

Maybe I am just lazy, but I don’t want to check in everywhere I go.  I may purchase foods or goods from several places in a given day.  While I am buying my food from a lunch truck, it may not cross my mind to check-in and let everyone know that I am there at the current moment.  It would be great if I could just be checked-in there so any nearby friends could coordinate (I know Google Latitude offers this).

Better Control of Who Sees my location

This is a very basic issue with almost all social networks … right.  My mom and my frat brothers are both connected to me.  Some stuff mom can see … and some she shouldn’t.  It doesn’t seem that this is a major concern for location services at the moment, but I dare say it is more important that wall postings.  I don’t mind sharing my whereabouts with people, but not everyone that is a “friend” (all 800+ of my facebook friends aren’t real friends … right?).

Do something useful with the aggregate data

So Foursquare now has trending, which I like.  The scale isn’t there to make it super useful, but sometimes it does help to see that  a bunch of people are in one place.  But lets do more with it.  What restaurants are consistently packed, and what does that say about how good it is?  Are there trends in lines and business that I can use to minimize the amount of time I take to get lunch?  Isn’t there aggregate information that can be used to improve my life?

Clean it up

I can only speak on this for Foursquare, but I hate when there are two entries for the same place, or when I see places called “my house”.  I want some rhyme and reason in the list of locations around me … please.

Stop thinking so small

When I travel, sometimes I just want to check into a city, but I can’t.  There is utility in making things a little more vague.  Google allows this with latitude, but most of the major location services are specific to particular bars, restaurants, etc.

I am not saying this is an exhaustive list, and I can’t say that this list speaks about anyone besides me … but this is more of what I would like to see.  Maybe … one day …

– Damien Peters