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Yahoo's Web Location Platform Fire Eagle Takes Flight

Posted by: Rob Hof on August 12, 2008

For all the distractions of its battle with Microsoft, Yahoo has managed to come out with some interesting technology initiatives in recent months—and the most interesting are those that attempt to create open platforms for other Web developers to use Yahoo technologies in their services. This afternoon, Yahoo’s opening up full access to Fire Eagle, which gives people a way to tell others online about where they are in the world, to consumers and developers.

The platform, which was in a closed test with some 50 developers starting in March, will let Web users update their location manually or give permission to other Web services, such as Dopplr, Brightkite, and SearchQuest, and others to come, to update their locations automatically using Fire Eagle technology. The basics from the release:

— For users, Fire Eagle acts as a simple interface for managing location information and deciding how — and with whom — to share it. Users can authorize Web, mobile or desktop applications to update their location automatically, or they can do it themselves manually on the Fire Eagle Web or mobile sites. Then they can decide how much of that information to share with their favorite services. At any time they can hide themselves, change their sharing preferences or delete any of their stored information.

— For developers, Fire Eagle takes away much of the costly and complicated heavy-lifting of developing geo-aware applications. Developers can focus on how they can use location in their services without having to build the infrastructure to work out where their users are. Fire Eagle — combined with Yahoo!’s full suite of geo technologies — now makes it practical for any service to become location-aware easily and inexpensively.

So why would you want to tell people where you are? You might be able to see where your friends on Facebook are, and if some are close by, grab a drink with them. You could search for restaurants, and your computer or mobile device could provide only ones in a two-mile radius. You could share a photo on Pownce, and it would be automatically geotagged so people know where you took it. Possibilities abound.

For Yahoo, and for its advertisers, your location is also potentially valuable information, since marketers can target goods and services to you based on where you are—though Yahoo says ad opportunities are down the road a bit.

Privacy obviously can be a concern here, and Yahoo seems to have been careful in giving people control over how much can be shared to each service that uses Fire Eagle. You can hide yourself for a period of time, or even wipe out all your information from Fire Eagle if you want. (However, as TechCrunch notes, once you update your location on the Fire Eagle site and you’ve given permission for that data to be sent to other applications, you can’t take it back from those applications except by updating your location again.)

The key for Yahoo will be persuading developers—especially developers of applications that automatically log your location—to use Fire Eagle. With Yahoo’s talent drain of the past year or more continuing, more than ever it needs help from outside developers. And as Yahoo cofounder David Filo, who was on hand at the platform’s debut at Yahoo’s Brickhouse incubator in San Francisco, notes, “If you really want consumers to adopt this, they need to be able to do it throughout the Web.”

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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