Thursday, February 12, 2009

Google Latitude is a Killer GPS App

I'm usually a big fan of things that Google does and their latest version of the mobile maps product does not disappoint. Running on my Blackberry Bold, I recently downloaded Latitude, which utilizes GPS or mobile carrier cell towers to identify where people are and shows their location on the map. If your familiar with the mobile maps app already, you'll know that it is just as good/functional as the full web version (complete with satellite view).

Now before you start freaking out and thinking that this is far too big brotherish, you have to think of the possibilities and utility of this product.

First, you invite your friends from Gmail or directly entering their email address (the Gmail integration and overall Google integration is good - it automatically selected my profile pic from my Google profile as my image). Now you can have tabs on your pals wherever they are - whether you are shopping at the mall, grabbing a coffee or having a night on the town. Think about how many times you are delighted when you bump into a friend and have a spontaneous lunch. Or, extend this to traveling out of town and you can reach out to those friends you typically wouldn't on a short business trip. They've added elements like 'status updates' so you can add notes like 'I'm looking to hook up' or change your profile pic from your camera phone to reflect your location.

Privacy is obviously a huge issue with location based services - but Latitude does incorporate privacy features where you can either manually set your location (i.e. you said you were at the dentist but were really at a job interview) or you can simply go off the grid and hide your location. Don't worry, big brother isn't always watching.

There are deficiencies. First, there is a complete lack of any advertiser integration. I want to be able to serve up ads to people based on their location. Currently, there isn't any obvious place to do so, but I'm sure this is part of the road map. If you think about the user behavior that Google will track (morning commute routines, entertainment districts traveled, shopping areas visited) the amount of behavioral data collected and the ability to target customers modeled against your target segments is very exciting.

Another small gripe is that although this is touted as a community product - I can't ping people or contact them directly from the app. Any 'community' product should have communication as a key element - and with this being a location based service the with the core feature being able to find friends - you have to be able to contact them. If you combine this with the above issue of advertiser integration, marketers are missing out on a huge opportunity. I would love to be able to pull key words from a conversation, know where the people are and serve up relevant ads - 'want to go for dinner' = restaurant suggestions - 'want to come back my pad?' = the nearest drug store for condoms.

I love the app and the ease of integration with the device. Add a few more small elements core to the communications piece of the phone and its a total winner. Now all we need to do is work through all those pesky privacy issues and marketers can really use this to serve up smart, location based advertising that adds value to the consumer.

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