One of my predicted Key technology trends for 2007 was 'Personal GPS/location aware applications', citing Plazes, Everytrail, Socialight, Dodgeball and Zonetag as early indicators of the trend. Turns out 2007 wasn't to be the breakthrough year, with all of the aforementioned sites failing to significantly grow their reach and Dodgeball withering on the Google vine.
However, it now looks like I may have been only a year out with my prediction as Yahoo!'s Fire Eagle (launched in beta at ETech earlier this week) has all the early hallmarks of a game-changer. So, what marks it out from the other products operating in this space?
1.) It's a platform rather than a building
The vast majority of web sites are still conceived as discrete products. They may have feeds in and out, but these tend to be seen as ways of enhancing or disseminating the main product. Fire Eagle, on the other hand, is a service in the truest sense of the word - it exists to facilitate other sites and services. Those who have been criticising Fire Eagle for not having a more fully-featured UI are missing the point - this is Tom Coates walking the talk re. the web of data.
2.) It geo-locates people rather than assets
By moving the geo-tagging from asset-level to person-level, Fire Eagle multiples the possible uses for that data. A geo-tagged photo is only really good for telling you where that photo was taken. Data from a geo-tagged person can be mapped against numerous other datasets to provide previously unimagined combinations of data. For example, correlating my Fire Eagle location data against my Last.fm listening data could populate a map of where and when I - and potentially others - listen to different tracks or genres of music.
3.) It has privacy considerations at its heart
Because Fire Eagle isn't trying to build an all-singing, all-dancing website to retain eyeballs it can instead focus on giving users full control over their location data. So often, user privacy settings feel peripheral or bolted on. Fire Eagle is all about letting you manage what level of detail you want to appear where, with an option to purge all your data should you so wish (Facebook take note).
Because Fire Eagle is effectively only a repository/broker of location data, it will ultimately stand or fall on the strength of the services which choose to integrate with it. The early signs are good with named adopters including Dopplr, Bug Labs and outside.in's On My Radar.
I have three Fire Eagle invites to give away - let me know in the comments if you'd like one.