Kilian Valkhof

Building tools that make developers awesome.

The (un)importance of location.

Web, 15 November 2007, 3 minute read

One of the (many) ideas about a so called “web 3.0” is that it’s going to be location based. So it’s not odd that quite some people stress the importance of location. I agree with them, but I also think location is going to become less and less important. Here’s why I think location will become both more and less important.

Why I think location is unimportant

Back in in the old days (that is, before I was born) The internet was only available to a select number of terminals. Other than those select few, data on your system was only available on that system. When computers became more and more of a household article (Around the time I was born), data sharing was done using an intermediary medium such as floppy disks, or later, cd’s and currently DVD’s and USB sticks.

Having to use a different medium to relocate your data makes it less easy to do so. However, with the current state of affair, this relocation is taking place much less than it used to. Laptops allow you to take your data with you to any location (but not share it). Sending data over the internet allows you to share your data (but not access it from any other location). Webmail and online data storage in the likes of Flickr and various downloading services allow you to access data from any location, though not to the extend that you can really access your data wherever you want. Services like that are starting to emerge though, mostly through the idea of web-based tools mimicking their offline counterparts, and even entire web-based operating systems are starting to emerge.

This means that, given the fact that you can access your data from any location, your exact location won’t matter as much any more.

Why I think location is important

Like I said in the above part, we are getting increasingly mobile. Mobility brings forward some problems: the need to know where you are, the need for information on what’s happening around you and the need to know where your friends are. While the first two have been “issues” that you’re able to solve in the analogue world by the means of asking people, or just looking around you, the last one is a relatively new idea. Well, new? I bet you’ve all sent text messages containing “Hey, where are you?” to friends.

While you can overcome some problems by “analogue means”, digital means have serious advantages: they’re not location based. I’ll illustrate what I mean with that with an example: Suppose you’re in the middle of the city, and lost. You ask someone for directions to the nearest metro station, and try to remember all of their directions. What you really want is to take that person, or at least his directions, with you along the way. You can’t do that. However, a cellphone mapping your route will be with you all along the way. The location of information is becoming increasingly important. The current need for information is starting to demand it.

“But, Kilian…

those are two different types of location you are talking about”, I hear you think (as a figure of speech, anyway). That’s true. However, both ideas are relevant. You want your data to be available everywhere, and you want relevant data to adapt itself to your location. I think, in the looking forward to location based information streams, people often forget the personal information streams that need to be available at any location.

There still isn’t a solid cross-location all-encompassing solution for personal data. Before location based data will really take off, I think we need to take care of that, first.

Or do you think differently?

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