Google Latitude LogoGoogle launched a new program called Google Latitude this week which is an extension of their popular mobile Google Maps application. Essentially the new system extends Mobile Google Maps to provide real time location information for friends that you have chosen to follow and in turn have allowed you to follow them. Images of friends you are following appear on the map so you can see where they are at any given moment. You can also quickly interact with anyone you are monitoring through GTalk, SMS or Gmail.

I know what you are probably thinking, that is a little creepy. Well there is no doubt that it could be a bit stalker'ish but since it is 100% opt-in it is not so bad in my opinion (at least one privacy group feels otherwise). To increase privacy options Google was smart enough to include the ability to broadly change privacy settings to either stop everyone's viewing of your location entirely or just provide the city you are in. You can even manually select the location you are at instead of having it show automatically - a great option if you need to be appear to be somewhere else or you simply don't have enough connectivity to show your location automatically.

Google Latitude DemoNow Google Latitude is undeniably cool but it is far from unique; there are a few other programs that are location aware, more established and have greater functionality such as BrightKite and Dopplr. That said, now that Google has gotten involved the potential of the location-aware landscape has changed. After all, take a moment and consider just what a company with the reach of Google could do with the data it is undoubtedly collecting right now from the travel habits revealed by Latitude users. It sure gets my creative juices working.

Here are a few paths Google could take this technology in the very near future:

Advertising to the Next Level

As soon as Google wanted to it could adapt a pay-per-click service for Google Maps where merchants with Google local profiles could pay to get a Latitude user's attention. Then whenever you happened to be nearby a paying merchant you would see their business appear with a certain icon... say a "$" which means the store is having a sale. This could get out of hand if a ton of merchants happened to advertise in the same area but that can easily be dealt with by:

  • Limiting the businesses that show up based on the map's zoom level - to keep down the clutter.
  • Rotating the ads to give advertisers play time based on their ad budget just as Google does with Adwords.
  • Enforce day-parting based on the store hours of each advertising business. This would be a great way to ensure that night-establishments such as nightclubs and restaurants get their fair shake at some map space during the twilight hours when 9-5 businesses are lights-out.

Vastly More Personalized Google Applications
Google could take note of what establishments you visit any given day based on the coordinates of business locations. Using this information along with the description of products/services offered at each location it could internally determine your interests over time. This is especially true if it combines this data with your personalized search data. Now just like personalized search data is, this geo-personalization data collection would have to be 100% opt-in. After all, many people would have no interest having this data collected. The benefit to those that opt-in, however, could be quite significant.

Simply put if you were to opt-in to this service Google could alert you to sales in your area on the type of products/services you often consider buying. That equates to you possibly saving money (if it is truly a good deal) and Google looking like the good guy on both sides - by offering the merchant more traffic/business and getting you sale information without any effort on your part.

For example, say I am the person profiled using this hypothetical Latitude personalization and Google has determined I am a tech fanatic. It also 'knows' I have been researching new 120hz LCD TVs lately. Well I happen to be near a Futureshop on an unrelated errand and I see on Google Maps mobile a flashing "$" symbol near my location. When I inevitably click on the symbol I find out that Futureshop has a sale for a TV model that I was researching on Google last night. If I choose to I can then visit Futureshop and learn more or keep the sale in mind for another day. As a confessed tech bargain shopaholic this sounds brilliant.

Unfortunately one problem really stands out for me; GPS data is purposely inaccurate to some degree. An innacuracy could poison Google's data if it thought I was always visiting a McDonalds versus a nearby book store I was frequenting; I hate McDonalds and the last thing I want is to be notified about a 10 cent faux burger special. As a result, it would make sense to expect some data attrition at Google's end when doubtful data is provided or I suppose Google could occasionally survey opted-in users on where they actually were when data is in question.

Google Google Google
Yes I know Google is getting a bit big for its britches. In fact I can hear my Senior SEO, Scott Van Achte right now... "I hate Google now because all I do is focus on it - I want more variety!" Yes I know, Google is all encompassing (especially for SEOs) but rather than fight it I am choosing to be excited about the ground breaking functionality that Google has the real possibility of offering its users on a large scale. Now we just have to wait and see whether expanding Google Latitude gets anywhere in Google's vast queue of projects and priorities.

February 6, 2009

Ross Dunn is the CEO of StepForth Web Marketing Inc., a web marketing company founded in 1997 and based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. StepForth provides cutting-edge search engine optimization services that provide highly successful, targeted results for its clientele. Ross Dunn is a Certified Internet Marketing and Business Strategist (CIMBS) with a background in web design and business management. His broad Internet experience in combination with a talented staff has made StepForth a name synonymous with top results.


Yep that's a nice tool will help to maximize and make more use of it or help oneself


Certainly Google will take over even the material world.Thanks a lot for sharing this article. :)

A nice article, well written and with good information.

Excellent post Ross. In addition to the PPC model you outline, I'd like to see Latitude integrated with SMS/micro blog messaging technology. Local businesses could send automated marketing tweets to customers driving by their retail store location. Opted-in of course. A great way to generate foot traffic real-time.

Thanks Samuel, Katie and Liz, your compliments are always welcome :-)

Jim D, I read the follow up post on your website and I definitely agree a social component would be wise. Perhaps even a way to see reviews or apply a review for the store or its products/services.

I expect whatever location-aware marketing concept that ends up being adopted will have to be very unintrusive. No matter what us marketers dream of I expect the final system will not provide audible warnings of deals unless significant temptations (i.e. free cell phone use) are offered.

This is all very fascinating... I can't get it out of my head! The future of marketing is forced to adapt to the speed of technology in many ways which makes the whole prediction process overwhelming.

Cheers all.
Ross Dunn

Nice article! Google takes it to another level

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