Yahoo's Friends on Fire Challenges Google Latitude

Yahoo introduces a Facebook application, called Friends on Fire, that takes advantage of the company's Fire Eagle geo-location platform. Yahoo hopes its new application will counter Google Latitude, a geo-location service that lets people share their real-time location with contacts. Yahoo has been updating Fire Eagle to make it more developer-friendly.

Yahoo announced the release of a new Facebook application, Friends on Fire, designed to let acquaintances see your real-time location on a map (you'll be able to see their locations, as well). The service seems designed to compete with Google Latitude, a geo-location service that also lets users share graphical real-time location with contacts.

Friends on Fire utilizes Fire Eagle, the geo-location platform that Yahoo launched in August 2008.

Fire Eagle already works with a number of Web services, including Dopplr, Pownce and Movable Type. Users can submit and store their location information in a Yahoo repository, but also have control over how that information is disseminated. If you don't want particular clients or potential sales to know you're nearby, in other words, Fire Eagle gives you the option to stay invisible to them.

Privacy has become a hot-button issue with regard to search engines and their growing geo-location services, and Yahoo seems to have taken steps to soothe users regarding the data that Fire Eagle collects.

"As usual, we've spent a lot of time trying to work out the right way to give people control over their data and privacy," Tom Coates, Fire Eagle developer, wrote in a blog posting on March 13. "You can choose to share your location with trusted friends or with all of your social network, and you have separate control over whether or not to post updates and signals to your wall (at either neighborhood or city level)."

Yahoo also released the Fire Eagle Updater for Firefox, which adds a button to the browser toolbar and status bar that updates your location on Fire Eagle with one click.

The new Fire Eagle developments will allow Yahoo to compete with Google Latitude, a service launched Feb. 4 that lets users track their contacts via Google Maps on a PC or mobile devices; it is available on the BlackBerry, S60 and Windows Mobile devices.

While targeted at consumers' social lives, such geo-location applications have considerable use for small- to medium-size firms and the enterprise. Whether tracking delivery trucks or keeping track of employees such as salespeople, a Fire Eagle application or Google Latitude could improve business functionality and transparency.