For those of us who can accept that some software knows where we are, Yahoo Aug. 12 trumpeted the launch of Fire Eagle, a platform that lets programmers write Web services based on users' locations.
Fire Eagle lets users submit and store information in a Yahoo repository that lets them decide how and with whom they want to share that information. Importantly, Fire Eagle lets users hide themselves, change their preferences or delete any of their stored information.
Use Fire Eagle if you're willing to disclose where you are at a given time and place. The idea is that, eventually, a software service might find you to give you notifications of, say, a friend or a sale in the area.
For that reason, Fire Eagle is best used when you're on the go and using your mobile phone, though it can also be used to let Web desktop applications update users' locations on the fly or manually.
Such a service only works if Web services will work with it, which is why it's good that it's been tucked into more than 50 live applications, including Dopplr, Pownce and Movable Type.
Pownce users, for example, can now say where they are and geotag their notes. Brightkite, a location-based social network, also leverages Fire Eagle to let users track their friends' locations and meet new people in their area.
Programmers for these participating companies use the Fire Eagle API so they can leverage location in their services without having to build the infrastructure to find where users are.
Fire Eagle, hatched in Yahoo's Brickhouse startup incubator, is free for users and developers, though it's conceivable Yahoo will try to place online ads alongside the application if such location-based services catch on.
ABI Research said location-based mobile social networking services from startups such as GyPSii, Pelago and Loopt are providing users better social networking services because they let users exchange recommendations about places and find nearby friends.
Despite these services and the emergence of Fire Eagle as a platform on which companies might build location-aware perks, I'm not thrilled with the prospect. ReadWriteWeb raves about the privacy element of such services, but I can't get too worked up about that.
Some people will love that they get picked out by their friends from their mobile phones, but I don't need my privacy infringed upon any more than it is. It's hard enough to disappear in this electronic age without another service to help find me, find me people to talk to or find me things to buy.
Would I have appreciated a GPS when I got lost in Siena and the backroads of Chianti this summer? Absolutely. I don't mind if a computer knows where I am, but I'm not certain I want a computer telling other people where I am and what I'm doing.
Unless I see otherwise on the East Coast, I think Fire Eagle and other services of its ilk will be a Silicon Valley value proposition for the cool kids and little more.
I realize Fire Eagle has been in the works for awhile, but it's still not a service that's going to help the company pull its head out of the financial quagmire. Don't be surprised if, when Microsoft buys Yahoo next year, the service gets lost in the void.