The Data GPS

For several years, I’ve been kind of obsessed by the idea of a software and data-based GPS. I was introduced to the idea by Cyril Houri, a NYC-based entrepreneur who build a service called Navizon that works on Blackberries, iPhones, and a number of other mobile phone devices. I have Navizon on every Blackberry and iPhone in our home.

The idea behind Navizon is to map every cell tower and wireless access point (using the GPS enabled phones of its users) and then offer a data-GPS system on any device. Navizon does not require a hardware GPS. One less chip in your phone. And anyone can have geolocation services on their phone regardless of whether they have GPS hardware in their phones.

There’s another company that does something like this called Skyhook, based in Boston. I believe they only do wifi access point location, whereas Navizon does both cell towers and waps.

The reason I like this idea so much (particularly Navizon) is that it’s a peer produced database that provides a great service to all of us. Anyone that has GPS on their phones is mapping cell towers and wifi access points so that the rest of us can get geolocation on our phones when we need it. And since the database is peer produced, it will get updated when a new cell tower or wifi access point  is set up.

Yesterday this concept went mainstream when Google introduced "my location" services into their mobile google maps service. I just went to Google’s mobile maps service on my blackberry browser and updated my google maps service on my blackberry.

Now google maps puts a little blue dot on the map where I am.
I don’t need to tell google maps where I am anymore. This is a big deal. I suggest everyone who has a mobile phone that can run google maps go get this new version. Google’s "my location" service is using cell tower location, not wireless access point location, so the accuracy is a little less than Navizon and Skyhook. But I think it’s pretty good. And this comment in the Google blog post leads me to believe Google is also using peer production to update its database:

First, although accuracy and coverage may vary, both will improve over time as more and more people use Google Maps for mobile

It will be interesting to see what else google has up it’s sleeve for its "my location" services. Is there an API? Can twitter plug into this service so it can know where I am at all times? Can plug into this service so that when I visit from my phone’s browser I see what’s going on right around where I am right now?

Location based services need geolocation as a foundational element. And now the big gorilla in mapping on the web and phones has delivered geolocation. And they’d done it with a peer produced data-based GPS. Google continues to impress me. Long GOOG.

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