Google 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.
Now 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:
Vastly More Personalized Google Applications
- 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.
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.