Google has added location sharing to its suite of products. Google Latitude was launched as a Google Maps for Mobile (Symbian, Blackberry, Android, WinMo; the iPhone and iPod Touch will be coming soon) and as an iGoogle widget. It will allow you to share your location with a set group of friends. You can determine the level of your location-sharing and easily turn it off. It’s a simple but effective tool. This is the beginning of the age of continuous location-sharing and Google is helping to validate the market (as have other tools I’ve written about before). I am really glad that they have released this product.
Google’s Latitude is not tied to a social network site (Orkut is out in the cold). Instead it’s focused solely around showing your location on map and it relies on your GMail/GTalk contacts to find and share with people (Note: these contacts are not added automatically, they must be invited). This will make it very easy for Google to explain the value of the feature (share your location with selected friends), but it also means that to add more social-location functionality (pics, events) they’ll have to really build out the Maps product. Is that their desire?
Google is being quite diligent about explaining privacy — a necessary step for any location-sharing service. From their Privacy Settings help page the menu of the Latitude app you can:
Detect your location. (Let the app get and share your location as accurately and often as your client will allow.)
Set your location. (This lets you manually set your location, which means you can lie. If you are going somewhere you don’t want people to know about you can just share the neighborhood. It’s like incognito mode on Chrome)
Hide your location. (This lets you just turn off the sharing functionality altogether)
Sign out of Latitude (The ultimate control, but as long you have your cell phone turned on it can still be tracked. Face it you are being tracked constantly you just have to decide what features make it worth it)
Surprisingly Latitude beats the two companies who should be pioneering this space: Facebook and MySpace. Latitude will not fill the same functionality that I would expect the two lumbering giants of social networking to (eventually) include. If there other features you want add suggest and vote for them.
Google has actually had many of the tools for building Latitude available to third-parties for a while now. At Where 2.0 last year they announced their intention to release Geolocation Gears API. The other tools needed are Google Maps API and the Google Contacts Data API. Anyone could have built Latitude (and many have built services like it, but without the same amount of blogger attention).
Given that the building blocks have been out there for a while is it obvious that Google would build Latitude? Yes and No.
I do not think of Google as a social company. Though many of their products have a social component doing something with other people, being social is not usually the main focus of a product (GChat and GMail are noticeable exceptions). Instead I read feeds by myself and share selected posts. I make a map for myself and share it. I organize my photos and share some via my own web album. Latitude fits into this model: I get my location for myself (for directions or nearby search) and as an afterthought I share it with a select group of people, however because location-sharing is such a social activity I think it will begin to become a major focus of their Maps app (I wonder if I will be able to get access to my friend’s locations via an API or better yet share my Latitude derived location via Fire Eagle).
Of course Google was going to build Latitude! Their goal is to organize the world’s information (and find ways to monetize it). How could they possibly do that effectively if they didn’t find a way for you to update your location continuously? Letting you share your location with your parents and friends is the best way to do that.
The video explanation of Google Latitude: