I’ve been waiting eagerly for FireEagle. It launched at ETech (video & Radar post). It’s Yahoo’s service for brokering locations. The app itself is very simple and clear; it’s the way it should be because it can be used to make some very big mistakes. As I’ve written before:
My location is important information — to me, my friends and many, many unknown-to-me third-parties. As it becomes possible to be located (through GPS, wi-fi, cell towers) sharing that information will become very, very easy. This can be a good thing or become one of the most annoying things that you’ve ever done to yourself (ads, spam, ex’s). Because of the high-risk of self-inflicted abuse having an easy way to set permissions on this information is going to become very important.
So when and why will you use FireEagle? My answer is Now. I already have tons of disparate services and contraptions that can know my location (my iPhone, my Loki toolbar, Dopplr, Tripit, DodgeBall… the list goes on); the problem is that my location is trapped within each one of them. I have different friends on different networks and I have different tools on different networks. Fire Eagle provides me a way to funnel all of the inputs together, compare them by date-stamp and then share out the appropriate levels of accuracy to applications.
This is all FireEagle does. It shares my location to directly other applications — not to friends. I used to think this was a limitation. Something that they would fix with a Fire Eagle social network that would allow my friends to query my location via their own calls. Then I realized, something that the team had realized long ago, that by giving my friend permission to access my location I was also letting my friend share my location without my permission with apps I didn’t necessarily trust. If they gave an app access to their Fire Eagle account and that permission extended to my location then a third-party would have access to my location without my explicit permission. The way it is set up now I use other apps to handle sharing with my friends, the way it should work and I can remove any app that plays fast and loose with my data very easily.
Upon signing into Fire Eagle you are asked your location and asked how long you want to share your information without being prompted again. You are now ready to share your location. To allow an app to update or access your location go to that app (such as Dopplr) and set its permissions (as seen below).
At any time I can take away Dopplr’s ability to read or update my location. I could also desensitize its permissions to only know what city I am in (as opposed to my neighborhood or exact location or state or country).
In time Fire Eagle will provide SMS updates, a Facebook badge, a badge and an Application Gallery, but right now it’s up to you to make Fire Eagle useful. To do this you’ll have to hunt down the 20+ external applications that are making good use of Fire Eagle. Amongst them you’ll find an iPhone app, Rummble, Presence Router (an interesting look desktop app for managing your presence on sites such as Jaiku and Fireeagle), and Simon Willison’s Wikinear (a mobile web app that shows you the Wikipedia pages near you). Fireeagle developer Seth Fitzsimmons’s delicious feed is a great way to find many of them.
You can also follow Firebot on Twitter to be alerted of new news. Firebot is actually an unaffiliated Twitter-bot for updating FireEagle — very cool!
Fire Eagle has taken care of a lot of the hard problems while still leaving a lot of room for developers. First they’ve taken on the issue of trust by being clear. Only the apps I allow can get my location. Yes a government could subpoena your location, but that could happen to any of the apps that already have your location.
Second, they handle syncing all of the feeds with a simple rule: The newest information wins; more specific, non-contradictory information updates. For example, currently Dopplr knows my schedule at a city level and it updates my FireEagle account once per day with my location at a city-level. If another app updates it to say I am in a neighborhood of that city (say the Mission District of the city of San Francisco)
I judge the the eventual mainstreaming location brokering, along with the geoindex, to be one of the most important issues we’ll cover at Where 2.0 this year. My location has been out there for a while, I am hoping that FireEagle will be able to make that information useful. I look forward to the apps that will be built on FireEagle.