About five years ago, the group I worked for at Microsoft looked at what was happening in the blogosphere and decided to bring it in-house. We saw that the conversations needed a permanent home—the thoughts that wouldn’t clog everyone’s inbox—and we felt that our team could benefit. The problem was that there was no IT support for a small circle of blogs,so we ran our own installation. Fast forward, and now companies are formally supporting and encouraging blogs and other social software.

I am sure that my team wasn’t the only one to run a private blog and wiki server internally. Once IT saw more of these “pirate” enterprises, they supported them more formally. Over time, the public Internet culture has added to the internal corporate culture. This move of consumer-to-enterprise began gradually but is increasing steadily.

The geo space hasn’t been left behind in the corporate internet software boom. Map mashups have made their way into the corporate work- flow too. Dan Israel of Google Maps Enterprise told me that public-facing store locators were among the first corporate uses of their API. According to Dan, those store locators have proven themselves to be just a way to get Google Maps in the door. Once companies have seen how effective a Google Map with a pin on it is to display their data to customers, they bring them in-house and use the Google Earth Search appliance or Google’s Enterprise API (http://bit.ly/gc-c2e3).

Brady Forrest tracks the intersection of the internet and all things geo. As the Chair for O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 Conference (conferences. oreilly.com/where) he has been following the growth of mapping and location-sharing for several years. Brady lives in Seattle when he is not on the road running Ignites (ignite.oreilly. com). You can find his regular tech thoughts on O’Reilly Radar (radar. oreilly.com).

Of course, internal corporate mashups do not normally get revealed publicly, but we can see some expected examples with very straightforward names on the Salesforce Appexchange,a developer marketplace. Map My Meetings (http://bit.ly/gc-c2e1) displays your day’s meetings on a map (see Image 1). Map Nearby Accounts (http://bit.ly/gc-c2e2) helps you plot out where “serendipity” might take you while on sales calls. Information workers no longer need GIS experts to plot things on maps; that power is now available to them. So what is next? Corporate culture is steadily adding maps, blogs, wikis, social networks and other inventions to the web. We can look to see what services are starting to gain in users and mindshare, to guess what will hop backwards over the firewall. Just as the social web is going real-time, the corporate one will as well, bringing with it a new set of issues for corporations to deal with.

Right now, people across the web are using real-time services to share their location and their thoughts. People use Twitter to share their latest thinking and news. When brought behind the firewall, this stream of ambient data can be extremely useful and can increase connections across a company. If you know that Bill is working on a sale with Acme or that your teammate is meeting with marketing, then you can just follow up with your teammate, as opposed to making a new connection or duplicating a meeting.

Services like Yammer (http://yammer.com) and Present.ly (https://www.presentlyapp. com) are pioneering this effort and are actively selling a Twitter-like service to the enterprise. Yoshi Maisami of Intridea’s Present.ly claims that companies using their service find that they have fewer meetings (because people can communicate quickly) and that conversations have migrated out of email. Information workers can now find out what is happening across the company on their own. Those short status messages would be a lot more useful if a location were attached to each update. There is a new type of app in town: real- time location-sharing. By definition, these apps enable you to share your location with people or websites. They update a website with your location at a level of your choosing (address, city, neighborhood, etc.) and then share it as you desire.


IMAGE 1. Map My Meetings is one of many location- enabled apps for Salesforce.com.

 “Over time, the public internet culture has added to the internal corporate culture. This move of consumer-to-enterprise began gradually, but increasing steadily.”

On iPhone and Android phones, apps can share a user’s location quite simply. Apps such as Loopt, Google Latitude, and Yahoo’s Fire Eagle all enable users to share their location. If you are using one of these apps, you can pull up an image of the person. Picture looking at a map of where all your Facebook or Twitter friends are at once, and you’ve got the general idea (see Image 2). If you were using this service in a corporate setting, you’d have a much better feel for what your co-workers were doing and how you could work together better.

If you haven’t heard of these services, don’t worry—they haven’t gone “mainstream” yet. To reach a critical mass of users (both in and out of the firewall), the following will need to happen:

1. SHARING YOUR LOCATION NEEDS TO BECOME EASY, The application needs to be able to update your location without your having to think about it. This generally means a mobile app that has the ability to do this in the background. Currently the iPhone, even though it is leading in mindshare around location, is failing here. It will only update your location when you ask it to. Google’s Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry all let you do this. If your company wants to start automatically updating location, you’ll have to select one of those platforms to use.

2. SHARING YOUR LOCATION NEEDS TO BE AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE. For a consumer product, this is much more difficult, but in today’s world many companies pay for their employees’ phones. If you’re all using the same network and the same type of phone,then you should be able to find a way to share with others easily. If you and all your co-workers use Loopt or Whrrl or Latitude, it will work quite easily. However, there will be times when you want to share with people outside your company.

3. SHARING YOUR LOCATION NEEDS TO BE SAFE. People need to feel in control of what they are sharing. They need to be able to choose the level of sharing (exact, neighborhood, city, etc.). They need to be able to turn it o easily and be able to trust that it really is off. For a corporate location-sharer, this means that location-sharing stops automatically once the work day is done.

Each one of these apps has its pros and cons, which may determine how long it will take for them to take off both in the mainstream and corporate worlds.

Google Latitude (http://google.com/latitude) enables you to share your location with a select group of friends. However, it’s not very easy to find out who your friends are connected to. One major advantage is that it already supports Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry phones, with support for the iPhone coming. See Image 2.

Loopt (http://loopt. com), Whrrl (http:// Whrrl.com), Brightkite (http://Brightkite. com) and many others are mobile social networks. They let people share their location with people in their network on that site – or publicly. Unlike Google Latitude, you can see who other people are sharing with and also leave real-time messages (like Tweets). The problem that these mobile social networks face is that they are nothing but a feature to either Facebook or MySpace. One day, one of those lumbering giants will enable location in their mobile app and these smaller social network companies will have a harder time explaining their worth to a consumer. However, in the corporate world, a company can decide that everyone must use just one service, so any of them could work for you now.


IMAGE 2. GoogleLatitude(as well as Loopt and Yahoo’s Fire Eagle) show photos of your friends based on their locations.

Present.ly and Twitter both have open APIs that allow them to be updated from anywhere with almost any connected device. Twitter has a location field and many clients do update it, but location is not at the forefront of the system.

Present.ly is actively planning to add a location field to its service, and users then will be able to send their location with each message.

Yahoo’s Fire Eagle (http://fireeagle.yahoo.com) is a different beast. It realizes that now, and increasingly in the future, you can have multiple devices that can detect your location, and that there will be many services that want your location. FireEagle or a service like it could be useful for your company if you aren’t all on the same phones or if you wanted to be able to update multiple apps with your location.

Dopplr (http://dopplr.com) is a service for future sharing. You list what cities you’ll be in on which days and Dopplr lets you know who else will be there. The service facilitates coincidences and has become very popular with business travelers. If you had a service like Dopplr for your company, you might be able to consolidate trips or coordinate travel more easily across your company.

Soon some of these apps will allow anyone to share their location easily, with anyone, and feel safe about it. Even though location-sharing applications aren’t perfect yet, they are on their way to gaining acceptance. A distributed corporation, or one that sends it people on the road a lot, would do well to consider using these applications, which interestingly all originated for the consumer market.

Editor's Notes

This is a print article about the web. As such there were several links that we wanted to include, but they are too long for you to type in by hand. We used URL shortening service Bit.ly to create these URLs. If you type any of them into your web browser, you’ll go directly to the site referenced in the article. You may also find value in Bitly for your business or personal use. In addition to shortening URLs, it provides analytics about how often a link was clicked. Simply insert the word “info” after bitly (example: http://bit.ly/info/gc-c2e2) to see the data. Bitly is currently used mostly for sharing links on Twitter.