Earlier today I was at the Brickhouse in San Francisco as Tom Coates, head of the Fire Eagle team, announced the release of Fire Eagle, which had been in private beta. The offering is intended to be something of a clearinghouse or “switchboard” (Coates’ words) to help users “manage location” across the internet and on participating mobile applications.
Fire Eagle isn’t a destination itself. Rather, one could think of it as a location-aware “platform” that others can build upon.
At the event there were three partners providing demos: Outside.in, Pownce, and Movable Type. Each used Fire Eagle-provided location data in a different way. Representatives of Pownce said that doing location well “was hard” but Fire Eagle “was easy.” They also said that it made them start to think about Pownce and its further development in a new way, because it helps to tie together the online and offline.
Outside.in has integrated Fire Eagle location awareness into its Radar personal news feed.
Fire Eagle offers an open API that any developer or publisher can use to gain location information about users. However, Yahoo has been very scrupulous about privacy concerns and requires partners to comply.
Essentially there’s a “double opt-in” process. Users can either sign up on Fire Eagle directly or on partner sites. Users must manually provide or update their location — which can be done with varying degrees of precision or vagueness — and they must authorize the third party application’s use of that information.
There’s a “hide me” button that temporarily “erases” location and a way to purge location throughout the system. So there are various controls at the disposal of end users and they can all be managed from anywhere in the system. Coates was funny in saying that they were encouraging people to use the secrecy/cloaking tools as they were carrying on illicit affairs or avoiding relatives in town.
In addition to Outside.in, Pownce, and Movable Type, there is a range of partners at launch.
Location can also be managed and updated on mobile devices and Fire Eagle can take advantage of GPS, cell tower/wifi triangulation, etc.
During the Q&A session that followed the presentations a question was asked about whether and how this might be integrated into Panama or its successor. That question didn’t get answered and it was obvious that Coates and company weren’t really thinking about monetization. Rather, they were trying to build an “ecosystem” of location-aware applications and grow that ecosystem together with third parties.
It’s possible that location awareness (via Fire Eagle) on Yahoo sites or partner sites could be used to serve geotargeted ads, but that was clearly not the motivation for the creation of this product.
This was a discussion of a Yahoo product refreshingly free of scandal, rumor, and innuendo. It was more like the old Yahoo doing something innovative, useful, and very cool.