Archive for 'Productizing Technology'

Yesterday Chris Brogan had an interesting blog post sharing his take on the state of LBS and what it will need to take it to the next level.  As a noted and respected voice in the areas of new media communication and social networking, Chris points out what he considers to be current limitation of LBS technology application and also identifies some things he thinks would add value to the the LBS offering to consumers.  For the record, I would agree that LBS is in its infancy, that its value to the average consumer is pretty limited.  Recent studies have show that the uptake of LBS applications is limited to a small, keen segment of the population but others suggest it is growing. Having said that, I also believe there is great potential for growth in LBS application development.

Key value adds today:

  • Proximity.  Identify your location to business, provide you with real time updates on information such as local traffic and weather.
  • Navigation.  Plan your route, obtain real time directions.

Some new interesting developments:

  • Geofencing.  An extension of proximity capability to define a region of interest around your current location or some fixed point. Applications might be to monitor the movement of a known object (like your kids or a pet?), identify businesses within some limit of my current location (barbers within three blocks).  In his post Chris Brogan refers to this as an identity register.
  • M2M. Machine to machine technologies are emerging in a wide array of b2b markets it will be interesting to see how effectively these can be extended to a consumer market.

Some things that would take LBS to the next level:

Chris Brogan also mentioned temporary groups and commerce capability as important enhancements to the LBS experience.

From my perspective I see analytics as being another important enhancement both from a business and consumer perspective.

Challenging issues:

LBS applications are dependent on content.  To the extent that it is available, applications with flourish or remain marginal.  For instance, if I want to know the barbers in a three block radius of my current location, how many of the existing barbers are actually discoverable?  Obviously those that are, will benefit from the application but if I perceive the information content presented to me is incomplete my confidence in the LBS application will lag.

The other side of the content coin is information privacy.  An issue not limited to the world of LBS applications, the question of protecting information a user considers private (such as current or past location) is an important one. The idea of temporary groups may be one way of addressing privacy concerns.

Those are a few of my thoughts.   Let me know what you think.

Love or hate, award shows are part of our lives.  And in the tech world The Crunchies are the ones to watch when it comes to technology startups and innovation.  With 20 categories, they cover the gamut in the technology world.  That includes startups in the area of Location Based Services.

The 2010 Crunchies Awards have just been handed out.  Among Location Based Services startups, five bubbled to the top based on the opinion of the over 500,000 voters:

This year’s winner being Foursquare.  Runner up was Facebook Places.  Congratulations also to Gowalla, SimpleGeo and Uber.

If you missed the event and still want to watch – check it out here.

Location base services have emerged as one of the trending wireless application areas and as new applications emerge, the conversation about user privacy grows.

With respect to LBS, the privacy issue revolves around the need to make a user’s location known.  Location awareness allows the user to benefit from the application or service but on the downside, making ones location known can bring on a potential range of unintended, unpleasant or even dangerous results for the user.  So for LBS providers, a key question is how to balance the collection, use and dissemination of user location and related information so as to provide benefits without serving up or facilitating unintended results.

While the discussions around this topic are many, I found it encouraging that the CTIA – a leading representative for the wireless industry association recently published “Best Practices and Guidelines for Location Based Services” which focuses on user privacy and information security.  The document is intended for LBS providers with an objective to ensuring the LBS applications being developed and offered to users promote and protect user privacy.

The guidelines are developed around two fundamental principals – user notice and user consent and state:

  • LBS Providers must ensure that users receive meaningful notice about how location information will be used, disclosed and protected so that users can make informed decisions whether or not to use the LBS and thus will have control over their location information.
  • LBS Providers must ensure that users consent to the use or disclosure of location information, and LBS Providers bear the burden of demonstrating such consent. Users must have the right to revoke consent or terminate the LBS at any time.

Specific elements of the guidelines include:

  • Provision of notice to users
  • Obtaining user consent and allowing users to revoke their consent
  • Establishment of information safeguards

As the guidelines points out, there are many groups who could be the LBS provider so the challenge will be to bring about concensus on appropriate guidelines and then broad adoption.  It is encouraging that the industry is take steps to meet these challenges.   From an industry and individual provider perspective, I believe proper attention is key to healthy growth.

If you are an LBS provider I encourage you to read and consider how to implement the guidelines. While there is nothing binding about the CTIA guidelines, they are encouraging LBS providers to self-certify for the benefit of users.

But My GPS Told Me To….

It seems like I am hearing a lot about the problems with personal navigation technology these days. A recent twitter post by @mapserving of a news article by the BBC describes another case of GPS misadventure. And only a few days ago, my wife and I, attending a reception listened to an extended dinner table discussion of the problems of in car navigation. Some of the accounts are humorous but sometimes the consequences may be serious.

So as a one promoting the benefits of spatial technology, what does one make of these types of reports?

As the growth in location aware applications and services is upon us, we need to remind ourselves first, that technology in itself is probably not the complete solution to any user’s needs.

In the case of GPS navigation there are many potential sources for error including the following:

  • Outdated map data – recent street addition
  • Incorrect or incomplete data
  • Inaccurate geocoding
  • Poor routing models
  • GPS satellite system responsiveness and accuracy
  • Interpretation of user queries
  • Operator error

Take a look at the manuals that accompany your GPS device. If these issues are addressed at all, it is not in an overt way. And even if they were spelled out more prominently, would it make a difference? My sense is that in today’s technological world, there is a tendency among all of us to focus on the benefits of technology while losing site of its limitations.

There is a fine balance between promoting new technology and ensuring that users are aware of the limitations of its use or the need for other information, common sense, etc. One of the challenges of those providing technology based products and services is to minimize the limitations of the technology during the user experience. This can be accomplished by:

  • Understanding the use case – this will change as products and service uptake moves from early adopters to mainstream users;
  • Ensuring you have thought through and are able to provide a complete solution to the user – are things like documentation, training, etc necessary and how should they be implemented to be effective; and
  • Constantly work to solve technical limitations or provide workarounds.

These are pretty fundamental and there are probably others but we need to keep at least these three in the foreground as we work to advance the use of spatial information and technologies.

In the world of technology, it seems the focus is usually on the early stages of the product lifecycle curve.  While we dream (and hopefully plan) for the point when our product moves beyond the realm of the visionary and early adopters, much of our effort and challenge remains with those early stages.

On June 22, 2009 Kodak announced the end of the line had come for its Kodachrome film products – after a 74 year run.  Amazing.

Kodachrome Announcement

In today’s technological world, to imagine a product life cycle of 74 years is hard.  But Kodak succeeded with Kodachrome for many years..

Marketed to both professional photographers and the rest of us more in the snapshot category, the Kodachrome film products  were known for their vibrant colors, fine grain, sharpness and archival qualities.  For many, it was the film of choice.  The product line made its way into a popular song recorded by Paul Simon in 1973.

In making the decision to discontinue this product line, Kodak indicated that today Kodachrome generated revenues had declined to a fraction of the company’s total revenue.  Its product life cycle peaked in the 1950s and ’60s but as Kodak’s business changed in response to the disruption of digital photography sales declined.

The reality is that the end of the cycle comes for all products.  Often in the technology world, the cycle is disrupted by new innovation and the tail of the curve is cut short.  But for some – like Kodachrome the cycle is long and successful.

For the nostalgic, Kodak has compiled a gallery of iconic images shot with Kodachrome film.

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away”—Paul Simon, 1973

Time and again technology companies are reminded that for success their business needs to be defined around business objectives not just technology. This is no less true in the world of spatial information were companies frequently fall in the trap of promoting sophisticated technology rather than identifying true market needs for which they can create products and services from their technological strengths.

I came across a recent announcement about a new service called Go iLawn. In my mind this is a perfect example of a service developed to address a very specific market segment with a percieved need.  Go iLawn is targeted at the landscape services market. The company that developed the service has its roots in the spatial information world and is utilizing high resolution imagery, cadastral data and a user friendly web interface to provide a service to landscape companies that allows them to view the yards of individual customers. With the tools provided by Go iLawn they can calculate lawn area, yard dimensions, locations of trees, shrubs, etc. all neccessary for the landscape company to produce a cost estimate for its customers. Go iLawn provides a service that allows them to respond to customers quicker, reduce costs in preparing quotes and providing services – ultimately leading to a more profitable business.

If you check out the Go iLawn website Go iLawn, you won’t find a lot of information about spatial information technologies – even the GIS company behind the service is only referenced in the copyright and the “Contact Us” section. The Go iLawn website is completely focused on the customers needs and the benefits Go iLawn provides – exactly where the emphasis should be placed.