Google Latitude

Over and over, I've written about new interfaces to search. Google's recent introduction of Latitude gets us closer. A few snippets and thoughts: First, the big type on Google's site says this: "See where your friends are on a map." I don't know about you, but it sure sounds…


Over and over, I’ve written about new interfaces to search. Google’s recent introduction of Latitude gets us closer. A few snippets and thoughts:

First, the big type on Google’s site says this: “See where your friends are on a map.” I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds like something Facebook should have done first. Maybe they have and I missed it? Just a thought.

Second, to sign up, you just put in your phone number. Neat, huh? Yes, it sure is – for Google, which wants to build a big database of mobile numbers for, oh, about a million different reasons.

Third, if you look at how the service works (see screen shot), what does it look like? Yep, it sure does look like Twitter, don’t it? Sure does.

Fourth, if you don’t think there is a business model here, you’re not paying attention. Location + personal data + friend network + AdWords = major commerce and marketing opportunity.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google are all circling this model. First to act like a media company wins.

32 thoughts on “Google Latitude”

  1. Give Google my phone number? No way, talk about privacy concerns. Last thing I need is more telemarketers calling me or sending me text messages. Yuck.

  2. Sounds great – but anyone using this system must be foolish. We have deep discussions Google analytics for misusing IP´s – and here you put your real personal presence and behaviour in the hands of Google… !!
    Google nows what you see, what you do, where you go – big brother has never been closer.

  3. Credit to Google for having an open mind. But I don’t get how this is a new search interface. It’s location tracking, not “search” in the conventional sense, and it’s hardly new–location tracking has been around for a while. But, hey, it’s Google, which means it is more likely to get traction.

    That said, I’m with the previous commenters: I’m not ready to take “living in public” quite that far. And I’m hardly shy:

  4. Thanks but no thanks. I lived through this with Plazes (an earlier version of the same idea), and gave up on it when there got to be one too many socially inappropriate moments.

    The worst part of any of these services is not when they work right; that is actually quite interesting. The worst part is when they work wrong, and they automatically place you somewhere you aren’t, and some concerned (or nosy) person pings you to ask about it.

  5. i am also hugely impressed by this new feature John


    but your comment that the first company to act like a media company will win is not sitting right with me.

    myspace acted like a media company and did not win.

    google didn’t act like a media company and did win

    this could be semantics and maybe we are thinking differently about what a “media company” is

    but i think we need to do one of your late night rap sessions on this one John

  6. YouTube, Blogger, Flickr, and so on, are just part of the “public infrastructure” of the Web. To a point, so has been Google.

    Naturally, public infrastructure is often “take what people did privately and make it public”. You first start collecting books for yourself, and one day you make a public library. You first pave a road from your house to your garden, and one day you decide to pave a road between villages.

    What is a fascinating point is that we are building a public infrastructure without governments!

    Of course, we are all paying for Google, YouTube and the like, mostly through ads.

    Could we build an ad-supported public infrastructure in the real world? Why not? Well. Maybe there would not be enough ads to go around and support all the highways in America.

    Building an electronic world is orders of magnitude cheaper now that we have the technology… which makes it easy and even profitable to build it!

  7. Spot on John.

    when geo-location meet social graph = huge advertising / marketing opportunity

    surprisingly Google/Facebook and Twitter have all let this slip for a while whilst focusing on their core

    one might argue that this is their core! being a multi-million $ ad location based industry.

    I wanted to signal who also made it to techcrunch 50 but didn’t get to the final stages.

    they have been in stealth now for 8 months and recenty came out with their soft launch in summer.

    since then they have tweaked the interface, and most importantly enabled Facebook connect.

    If you are on FB you can already use mobnotes and get updates on your circle of friends.

    it has video & photo add capabilities and I have heard they have the iphone app almost ready to roll.

    check it out.

  8. It’s interesting to me that pundits / VCs (e.g., John Battelle, Fred Wilson) are bullish about Google Latitude, while quite a few of their readers react to it as creepy. Could it be that Google isn’t listening to its users on this one? Or are the commenters the ones out of touch? And this isn’t an off-base reaction like that of folks who thought Google was “reading” their mail–this really is signing up to be stalked–in Scoble’s own words!

    Some choice quotes from Fred’s comment thread:

    “I agree it’s amazing, but it just feels somewhat ‘creepy’ to me.”

    “I personally am very happy to share where I have been, but am extremely reluctant to tell people where I actually am. Maybe it is just me.”

    “It’s not just you. I am extremely uncomfortable with that level of visibility. And by and large I am quite comfortable with lifestreaming.”

  9. Daniel, do you not remember when everyone was uncomfortable putting credit card information online? And when people were freaking out over Google “reading” your e-mail to target advertising to you? And when people used only anonymous handles online?

    The bar is constantly moving, and this is a natural evolution. Not everyone will use this service — today — but today’s heaviest texters (school-aged kids) will use this, I would bet the farm on it. They want to know where their friends are, what they’re doing, and they want to share that out, too.

    And by the way, I suspect parents would love this, if used only privately.

  10. Hal, equating the angst of putting one’s credit card online or even Google reading your email to better target you is VERY different than the angst people may feel around lattitude. Lattitude puts your location imformation into public view where as the other two services operate as private stores, my CC # is not shared for friends to read and neither are my email analysed emails.

    This is a different bar all together, one that can be used for good but can easily turn out bad.

  11. Phone number? I’ve been testing it and I didn’t provide one, otherwise nice article and to the point. But really, perhaps you should check on accuracy?

  12. Hal, I do agree that the bar is moving. But, like Christopher, I don’t think the equation holds. The fear of online credit card use is inadvertent disclosure, while the whole point of Latitude is deliberate disclosure.

    The better comparison is to lifestreaming services like Facebook and Twitter, which are already at the cutting edge of social norms. And I think it’s telling that even their users find Latitude creepy. I think that, at best, Google is ahead of its time.

  13. Christopher, Daniel, you both make valid points. I agree that lifestreaming comparisons are better, but nonetheless, I’d still bet the farm that this will be successful. People are already putting their phone numbers on Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. The younger generation is less concerned about privacy, and this will ultimately be a no-brainer for them. Services like BrightKite are starting to take off, and this is just a better implementation that’s easier to use.

    That said, I offer no great evidence that this will succeed, but time will tell 🙂

  14. @fred yes, it turns on the definition of “media company.” I mean a media company native to this environment, rather than traditional models, but still and all, one that understands media. I look forward to a late night rap session on this!

  15. John, I’m also curious to see you elaborate on that definition. Or, more simply, to give some examples of successful media companies in accordance with your definition. Particularly when you seem to already exclude Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

  16. By typing a phone number in Google’s search bar, you’ve been able to get an address for some time. This isn’t much different. I believe John is right about Twitter’s business applications.

    PS: Is it my imagination, or are captchas getting to be longer than Twitter’s word limit?

  17. Do you not remember when everyone was uncomfortable putting credit card information online? And when people were freaking out over Google “reading” your e-mail to target advertising to you? And when people used only anonymous handles online? I do not remember when people used only anonymous handles online.


  18. Not a wise move for anyone to willingly submit their personal activities, location and their very life over to anyone. Yes, the technology has been with us for some time and there are more than a few out there in cyberspace with malicious intent eager to hack into our personal lives as much as possible. This Google approach is just another tremendous opportunity for criminals and abusers of all descriptions to take advantage of the naive. No thanks Google.

  19. @Hal Danziger, there’s a growing need to report telemarketers and other abusers of telephone numbers that simply beyond the scope of the FTC. Simply put, the FTC can’t keep up with the likes of Google, let alone third-party telemarketers who harvest and abuse our numbers. Cell phones have been a great way to avoid this – until now – since most telemarketers were targeting landlines. IMHO, that’s why consumers are banding together on sites to file complaints against unknown phone numbers on sites like

  20. It’s great that there’s so much excitement about Latitude but many seem to be under the impression that the product seems to represent some kind of landmark change in technology. There are all types of products out there these days along those lines – just look at the Navteq Semi-finalists presenting at the Mobile World Congress. What’s more, with no API as yet, Google isn’t really opening this up to developers. Other services like Xtify already allow developers to incorporate location for free. Not to mention services like Skyhook.

  21. Google Latitude is a friend-tracking tool for mobile devices; it’s also an iGoogle gadget. Using a mobile device’s built-in GPS (or manual updates), it shows the location of at least those friends who’ve added themselves to the service. See the Google Blog announcement, as well as Google Maps Mania and Richard’s Tech Reviews, for details (including which devices are supported) and context.

    As with similar products (such as whereyougonnabe?; see previous entry), it really relies on the network effect for its usefulness. In other words, unless your friends are also using it, it’s kind of useless.

    Gizmodo’s Brian Lam says, “I tested the service with some people I know, but it’s been hard to say if it’s useful for a guy who has loved ones in generally predictable places.” Indeed: over the past year, my location could probably be expressed as one of the following four options: (1) at home; (2) at work (which frequently is at home); (3) in transit between home and work (unless they’re the same); or (4) none of your goddamn business. In other words, services like Latitude are aimed at a certain lifestyle — urban, active, and not chained to your desk, i.e., Googlers — that may not apply to everyone.

  22. The worst part of any of these services is not when they work right; that is actually quite interesting. The worst part is when they work wrong, and they automatically place you somewhere you aren’t, and some concerned (or nosy) person pings you to ask about it.

  23. This feature WILL grow in use. I installed it the day it came out just out of curiosity. Ok, so the only other people on my ‘friend’ list are my g/f laptop which stays in the same place and my grandmothers computer, which is also stationary. Most young people, in my area at least, use Facebook and the like to organise their activities. They even put the latest news about themselves on their status updates. I think the privacy issue will not matter to the majority of users of this app. One example of why I like it is this, I spend 5-6 hours on the weekend on my off-road bike in a pretty big forest. If at some point i came off, injured myself and did not return, my g/f can log onto her iGoogle and find out almost instantly where I am (phone has GPS)

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