- 9 Jul 08, 08:56 GMT
You're walking along the street past a well-known clothes' store and a message on your mobile invites you in with the promise of a 20% discount. The "new-look you" emerges from the store and 20 yards down the street, your mobile tells you that it is happy hour at your favourite bar - you check and see that two of your mates are not far away - and , hey presto, you have an instant night out. Sounds familiar? Of course not, but that's the vision that has been promised both by the mobile operators and various digital visionaries for the last decade.
Location-based services have been the next big thing for a long time. Way back in 2001, BT Cellnet, as it was then before it became O2, lured me to the Isle of Man to see trials of the world's first 3g network. One of the things that got them really excited was driving us in a taxi past some windswept pub on a lonely road so that a screen inside the cab could light up with a message inviting us in for a pint.
But location-based services, like personal jet-packs and the internet fridge, are the future that didn't happen. Now, though, the idea is back in fashion - and I've been trying out something called Fire Eagle which promises to let you "share" your location with a whole range of sites and services.
It's a project that's emerged from a Yahoo lab. The idea is that you tell Fire Eagle where you are, and then all sorts of wonderful things happen - you can find your friends, display your location on your blog, receive information about local events, and instantly tag photos with the location where they were taken. According to Tom Coates, who's leading the project, "any service can be theoretically enhanced (either a small amount or a large amount) by being able to personalize itself to where you are while giving you unprecedented control over your data and privacy." He says that by geo-tagging all sorts of data - from blog posts to Twitter messages to people playing songs on last.fm - you can make that information much more useful to all concerned. And if your phone or your laptop knew where you were at any time, then you could receive personalised information about weather, traffic - just about anything.
That's the theory. In practice, I've found a couple of problems. I need to make the effort to update my location via Fire Eagle all the time - though as GPS comes to more phones that could happen automatically - and most of the time I just can't be bothered. And when I do, I'm still not sure why I want the world to know where I am.
So I've just told Fire Eagle that I am in Notting Hill Gate (not strictly true) - now what? Well my laptop is telling me what the weather is like, and has also revealed that there are no relevant photos nearby. A "nearby Wikipedia pages" application seems to be confused about my location and is telling me about Northfields tube station - which is actually near my home. I've tried using a couple of other services attached to Fire Eagle - but just downloading and signing up has tested my patience to the limits.
I think my main problem is the lack of a network effect - until there are plenty of location-based services and plenty of people are using them, the whole idea just won't have any mass appeal. And I'm still worried that it's a concept which may appeal more to advertisers and technology developers than to users - there does not seem to be any real "need" waiting to be fulfilled.
So I remain to be convinced that location, location, location is going to be quite as important as its boosters claim. But I could be wrong. As I was completing this post, I went on Twitter to say: "struggling to work out why i want my phone to know where I am... eg why location-based services?"
There was a noisy chorus of tweets in reply - not just from Tom Coates, who pointed out that Fire Eagle hadn't even launched yet, and there would be plenty of very useful applications when it did. All the tweeters were amazed that I didn't get it: "marrying content produced on your phone to location awareness is *clearly* valuable and useful", "even mundane tasks like finding your local cinema from a drop-down menu are made unnecessary", "nearby gigs that match last.fm tastes? Facebook friends who may be in town and you not knowing? Just a couple of examples."
Well, perhaps the Twitter and Facebook generation, always out and about looking for the nearest gig, are crying out for location-based services. And if they are, there will be plenty to choose from very soon.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites