Newsletter No.11 - Location


welcome to this my eleventh newsletter. 

I thought I would focus this edition on location and the issues raised by the increased mobility of our computing experiences.

The end of the PC era?

I promise not to rub it in but yes, I bought an iPad and the funny thing is it is all about location. I don’t mean being able to work in Starbucks but location within the house. It is only when you have one and get used to picking it up and doing things wherever you are that you come to realise just how constrained we have been by the physicality of computers, even laptops, thus far. Whether it is being able to watch live TV or iPlayer in high quality anywhere in the house, or being able to work out holiday plans when and where they come into conversation, the ease with which you can access increased capability is very subtle in the way it begins to change your behaviours. 

Location Services

There are a number of ways available on smart phones to let other people know where you are currently, wherever you are in the world. This ability raises a number of issues not least privacy. I covered privacy in more depth in the previous newsletter but it is also an issue with location services. At the worst extreme there is a legitimate concern about stalkers or burglars making use of the knowledge of where you are. Clearly if either of those are a real concern then don’t use these tools! 

I tend to be pretty open about my activities because for me the benefits outweigh the risks but I limit my use of location tools for a couple of reasons. Firstly not every client I work with wants the world knowing that they are getting involved in social media. Broadcasting that I am located in their corporate headquarters rather gives the game away. Secondly, even if I use Foursquare, I rarely use it to update my Twitter status. The reason for this is that if I update my location every time I move a couple of hundred yards I will start winding people up and apart from anything else I don’t always want to be interrupted by people others wanting to have a coffee with me!

So why do I use these tools? Because I love the serendipitous connections and benefits I get from using them. Often I get real business advantage from people knowing I am in the same area as them and asking to meet up with me. I have gained a number of pieces of work by being able to meet someone face to face and build on our online relationship. Sometimes it as simple as someone seeing that I am in a place that they know and offering me advice about the best restaurants to eat in or things to visit while I am there.

Google Latitude

Latitude was one of the earliest ways to broadcast your location when the iPhone first arrived. It was fun for a while but I eventually gave up on it as the integration with my Google contacts was so clunky. It never seemed to really take off in the way the other two tools have.


Foursquare is the tool I use the most because of the combination of numbers of friends using it and the ease of use. Not sure whether I can be bothered collecting badges or becoming Mayor of places but I have made several connections with people that wouldn't have happened without Foursquare.


Gowalla is very similar to Foursquare but with slightly different ways of categorising places and rewarding connections.

There is little doubt that the potential to use location data will become even more pervasive and even more useful. Matt Ball has a great post on how these services might develop over the next few years which is well worth reading.

Data Portability

 Another take on location is a more virtual one. I recently blogged about the importance of being able to move data from one system to another, either your own information, or user data stored in any business tools. Whether it is being able to get your photos out of Flickr or your addresses out of Google Contacts it is really important that you assume that some time you will need to up sticks and move. This is one of the issues with Facebook - that, although there are now third party tools to help, Facebook make it hard to get your stuff out of their walled garden. Equally if you are building social tools in your organisation the rate at which new options become available means that more then ever before it is important to be able to get user data out of one system and into another.

The Data Portability Project is an attempt to deal with some of these issues and Elias Barnes has an interesting article in TechCrunch on the topic

Fun tools to try


I have been using EveryTrail for a while to share my more significant walks. I record my movements on the walk using a Garmin GPS and then when I get back load the track details into the EveryTrail web site. It then plots my course on Google maps. If I upload my photos, even if they don't contain GPS metadata, EveryTrail knows what time they were taken and places them at the appropriate point on my walk. I don't get out as much as I used to but you can see the results of when I do here.

Live Tube Train Map

I am not sure how useful this actually is but someone has taken train movement data from London Underground and plotted it on Google maps to produce this strangely mesmeric map

Finally, talking of location, I am about to work in Sydney and Melbourne for the first couple of weeks of July so if either you, or someone you know, is in the area shout out and we can meet up.

Thanks again for reading and as ever let me know what you think of this newsletter and do pass it on to friends or people you think might enjoy it.