Is Location the Ultimate Context?

“Location is going everywhere,” or at least it was last week at the third annual O’Reilly Media Where 2.0 Conference in San Jose. This gathering of location-based services and application developers included the mapping big boys, like Tele Atlas; base map and service providers Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo; and networking and service sites Platial and Swivel.

Location-based services (LBSs) are picking up steam as devices become smarter and more integrated into our digital lifestyles. Car rental companies now offer GPS assistance in their vehicles; mobile manufacturers integrate GPS into cell phones; and companies like Garmin now offer GPS tracking in a variety of automotive and lifestyle devices. This proliferation of GPS devices will take advantage of the terabytes of data generated by social networking services to offer relevant content and information at the ultimate crossroads of context — your location.

What does this mean for advertisers? It’s hard to say at this early stage. But after the two-day event, it’s clear people want services to address common location- and direction-based needs. From that, the ad opportunities are sure to follow.

Where Am I?

Where 2.0 featured demos of map and media mashups in which users place photos and videos on geographical coordinates on a map. Want to share your journey across Route 66? Use Flickr to drag your images onto a map. For even more precision, wait until GPS technology is integrated into your camera (or likely soon in your camera phone) so your images can automatically be tagged and geocoded with the location in the photo.

Other companies, like GeoVector, have developed services for mobile phones that will identify locations based on the position of a compass-enabled phone. Not sure where you are? Point your phone at a location to find out where you are, what’s around you, and why it’s relevant. Think of it as pointing and clicking in the real world. GeoVector’s services are currently in use in Japan.

What’s Around Me?

Looking for a great restaurant? Services like Socialight and Tagzania offer users the ability to tag specific locations on a map with social recommendations. What about shopping? NearbyNow has developed applications that account for real-time mall inventory and prices so shoppers can search for products and find the closest store based on where they are at the moment.

Where Are My Friends?

Want to know where your friends are without having to subscribe to a mobile phone friend-finding service? Check out Hipoqih, where you can monitor your friends’ movements through a Web browser or your mobile phone.

If you don’t have the time for this, sign up for a proximity alert, set for when your friends reach a specific destination. Years ago, we talked about how the most popular text message was “where r u?” These companies are looking to answer it before you even ask. Dopplr (still in beta) launched a service to help frequent travelers locate fellow traveling friends on the road. Fill out your profile, add your friends, and update your travel plans. Perhaps someone you know will be in the same city when you are.

Where Should I Go, and How Do I Get There?

Google used the conference to officially launch its new “Street View” feature on its Maps service. Now users in select cities can navigate city streets with high-resolution photography that gets so close you can read license plates. Looking to plan a night out in New York City? Check out NYC-based startup UpNext (still in beta). Via a 3-D flythrough navigation system, users can fly through New York City to find places of interest, nightlife, and activities. By leveraging a variety of content provider APIs (define), UpNext is looking to bring city guides to the next level.

According to O’Reilly, location is everywhere. With the social media landscape growing at its current pace, expect to see rapid product development along with unique, first-time opportunities for marketing alliances.

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