October 8, 2008

Mozilla Unveils New Geolocation Utility

Mozilla Labs introduced a new feature that will enable Web users to pinpoint nearby areas of interest based on their location.

For instance, if one was to travel to a new city and launch their Firefox browser in search of a restaurant recommendation, Geode "automatically deduces your location, and serves up some delicious suggestions a couple blocks away and plots directions there."

The Geode project is an experimental add-on ahead of a full blown launch of geolocation technology in version 3.1 of Firefox.

Some users may be irked by the thought of being tracked by Geode's services, so they will be given control over how much location information they reveal.

Geode's technology borrows tools from a firm called Skyhook. Its so-called Loki system can determine location within seconds with an accuracy of about 10 to 20 meters.

"People have got to eat but there is a lot more to it than that," said Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering.

"We see location as adding an extra layer to help get people the information they need," he said.

Geode provides an early implementation of so-called W3C Geolocation specification so that developers can begin experimenting with enabling location-aware experiences using Firefox 3 today.

Geode and the Geolocation Services in Firefox 3.1 will use the same W3C API for Geolocation, meaning that the same Javascript code will work in both. The still-in-development Firefox 3.1 version will allow the user to choose a geolocation service provider, which can either be a peripheral device like a GPS, or a web-based service provider as used in Geode, according to Mozilla Labs' official blog.

Shaver expects even more from Geode, including the ability to provide users with detailed information of what others have done at particular points of interest.

Geode is strictly controlled by the user. When a website requests a location, a notification bar lets users decide whether to give their exact whereabouts, the neighborhood or city they are in or nothing at all.

Pownce, a social network that allows users to send photos, messages and music to friends, is already utilizing Geode's features to paint a picture that helps discover nearby friends and activities.

Yahoo's Fire Eagle, which aims to be the broker for a number of location-aware applications, will also use it.

Shaver acknowledges that, while content providers have long seen geolocation as an important tool, the views of users are yet to be tested.

"That's one of the reasons why we want people to try out Geode. We want people to tell us about their experiences and we realize it could become irksome, for example if every website is asking you whether you want to reveal your location," he said.


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