Will Location Blogging Take Off?
By Howard Rheingold, Mon May 31 00:30:00 GMT 2004

Will location-tagged recommendation services emerge from the accumulated opinions of many consumers, Wikipedia style, instead of arriving in a lump like a commercial guidebook? Can time-and-place-tagged media aggregate into a historical record of your activities – and display the activities of any who choose to share their media stream?

As WaveMarket's "Director of Engineering, Weblog Products," noted blogger Russell Beattie puts it: "Location will soon be an integral part of just about every mobile application we use, but for most people out there, it's not a reality yet. However, just like we can't imagine anyone today without a phone or without an email address, there'll be a day very soon when we can't imagine not knowing our exact location at all times. We'll never believe we used to get "lost" on the way to finding a friend's place, or that we used to "just miss" seeing an old friend at a coffee house, or wondered where a picture was taken." This idea has been around for a while – Locative Media Lab, for example, has been talking about it longer than I have. And Emeryville, California, startup WaveMarket's "location blogging" services are proprietary, not open. But anyone who puts tools in the hands of users has my attention.

WaveMarket's product, "WaveSpotter" includes a map interface that users can navigate by scrolling a crosshairs and a mobile blogging interface that enables users to upload text and photos to blogs. Posts are signalled by icons that appear on the map. WaveMarket's first customer, SK Telecom, Koreas's largest wireless carrier, has launched a "Friend Nearby" service based on Wavefront's opt-in presence service, WaveAlert. Although his customers are the operators who sell their services to consumers, WaveMarket's founder and CEO Tasso Reoumeliotis believes his job is to enable users to create the content and the applications. My conversations with with Reomeliotis and product designer Julian Whitaker convinced me that their knowledge of social networks, reputation systems, blogging, buddy lists, privacy concerns, and user-generated content is more than superficial.

Reoumeliotis' grand vision: “We enable a single screen archive to catalog an anywhere, any time visual history. WaveMarket can maintain a daily history of what happens anywhere— from this time forward. Events —big and small— state primaries, Middle Eastern conflicts, neighborhood improvement projects, family reunions or baby’s birthday can all be captured, broadcast, shared and archived. A visual history of the world, from today forward, written by the people of the world as it occurs.”

Grand is great – but does it work? Standing on Haight near Cole Street in San Francisco, I downloaded "WaveBlogger," WaveMarket's J2ME app to a Nokia 3650 running T-mobile's GPRS service. A menu led me to a map of San Francisco. Using the arrow keys, I scrolled and zoomed a crosshairs over a map of San Francisco to my location in front of the Booksmith, my favorite bookstore in the world. I used the phonecam to take a photo of myself standing in front of the bookstore, scrolled the menu to "blog post," thumbed in a recommendation for the bookstore, and posted it. If I knew anybody else who used the same app, I could add them to an affinity group, and they could gain access to my friends-only posts. If a friend of mine arrives in San Francisco next year and wants to see what kind of bookshops are around the Haight, and what her friends think of them, my moment in May, 2004, would be waiting for her. Or I could have complained about the cheesy chain store that replaced the late, great Grand Piano coffee house, and taken a picture of it, then set the permissions to public, private, or assigned it to an affinity group.

The difference between location services provided only by an operator or a centralized "content provider" and the kind of blogospheric market WaveMarket is trying to stimulate is like the difference between the Internet and AOL, or the late, not-so-great Prodigy service. All of us can always create something richer than a privileged few of us when it comes to the kind of evanescent reputation information city-dwellers use constantly – where is the nearest Chinese restaurant? What do my friends, or the people who have eaten their recently say about it? Before driving into the city, using WaveMarket's service, I can look at the map via blog view and see a few new squares along my route; I can navigate the crosshairs with my thumb on the arrow keys and see popup messages appear. That's where speed-trap alerts could come in handy -- not that I would need them.

I'm partial to the WaveMarket approach because it bypasses centralized location –based service infrastructure. If you know where you are, and you simply want to find out about restaurant service or where to find a good martini, you don't need GPS. And if enough of your friends use the service, you'll be able to steer each other to your favorite spots – or away from the places that irk you – with a few thumbstrokes. And it hooks into the blogging model of collective action – when a sufficient population of enthusiasts provides a small amount of information about their special interest, it aggregates into a substantial and useful public good. Time will tell whether WaveMarket's approach, or a more open, less proprietary approach will succeed – or whether user-generated location services will take off at all.