The CES of Location
By Natasha Léger

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The Where Conference (formerly Where 2.0) has certainly evolved since its inception eight years ago. While still very much a developer conference with a focus on the innovations in location aware applications, itís starting to feel more like a trade show and thatís a good thing for sponsors. The Esri, Google, and Nokia booths towered over the exhibit floor ñ a very different exhibit hall experience than years past.

As location is rapidly becoming a feature of almost everything, the Where Conference is starting to feel like the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) of location. Now that is a big statement, and not a comparison in terms of attendee numbers. CES commands an overwhelming audience of 100,000 while Where still hovers around 1,000 (which is large for a location conferenceóexcluding the Esri User Conference and GeoInt). However, it is a well-deserved comparison showcasing whatís new and innovative, which in CES’ case is consumer electronics, and in the Where case is location-based software applications, products, and services.

This year’s show focused on data analytics, sensing devices and how location-based applications will evolve to meet specific business and consumer needs.

Some highlights from the show:

A. Big Data

PayPal Chief Scientist Mok Oh discussed the trend toward data and algorithm driven ecommerce. He shared some impressive transaction stats on the data explosion over the last twenty years:

→ In the 1990’s, terabytes of data was a big deal; in the 2000ís, managing petabytes of data was the challenge, and today we are into exabytes of data resulting from social media streams.

→ It takes 1 week to reach 1 billion tweets today.

→ 1.5 billion total checkins occur.

→ 250 million photos are uploaded per day.

→ 200 million online transactions take place per day which is equal to approximately 4 trillion transactions per month.

The types of ecommerce data exchanged between buyers and sellers online include: scans, wish lists, transactions, searches, ratings, reviews, favorites, behaviors, check-ins, and inventory and catalog information. “PayPal is to transactions what Google is to search,” said Oh. With data algorithms becoming so central to maximizing opportunities between sellers, buyers, and inventory, the ìdata scientistî is the connective tissue and growing as a term, a role, and a profession. We are finally approaching an era where data can be harmonized and synthesized, and therefore made useful.

bit.ly Chief Scientist Hillary Mason spoke about the information revealed from mining 100 million urls a day. In analyzing the time it takes to get information to people across Facebook, Twitter, bit.ly, and YouTube, you discover that time is no longer a function of distance, but distance + attention. The conventional wisdom is that your location can infer more information about you, but Hilary discussed how who you are friends with can infer your location. That opens up a whole new way of thinking about location and reverse “geocoding.”


The Where Conference is starting to feel like the Consumer Electronics Show of location.


B. Sensing: The next generation of location will be invisible and passive.

Sam Liang, CEO and co-founder of Alohar Mobile (formerly with Google StreetView) said the mobile phone has more senses than a human, and therefore the mobile phone should be smarter that its user because it should hear, feel, and understand you. Can the mobile phone predict what you need? Therein lies the implications of persistent sensing devicesóthey know what you are looking for before you even ask.

Alohar is building a mobile location behavior analytics platform that monitors based on persistent sensing. All the sensors on the mobile phone detect where you are without you checking in, locate the semantics of place, what are you doing at a particular place, for example having lunch, having coffee, walking…and seeks to understand the user.

By passively registering a user’s location trails (for example without having to check-in), a place diary is created. The potential applications range from mobile health, to gaming, to personal assistant functions. The platform also uses the sensors on the phone to manage battery power. For example, because the phone knows that you are stationery it shuts off the GPS, which is an enormous power drain.

Amber Case of Geoloqi discussed the idea of invisible interfaces. What does that mean? It means that you donít have to actively interact with an application, click a button to find information, load up an application, or search for a term. Instead, because location senses you, you are the button, the query. This is the difference between pulling information, and having relevant information pushed to you.

Remember the movie Minority Report? Mary Ann Norris, COO of Oblong Industries talked about spatial wands, gestural navigation, single panes of glass, and spatially active rooms. All of these technologies enable a next-gen visualization environment that captured peopleís imagination in the movie. Oblong Industries’ vision is to transform the use of computers and that includes dynamically changing physical xyz locations and interacting with pixels in an entirely different way.

B.  Applications: combining social, mobile and location to create service networking platforms.

Leah Busque, founder and Chief Product Officer at TaskRabbit discussed marketplace collaboration and how TaskRabbit uses social, mobile, and location technologies to create efficiency and trust within your community to find and engage needed services such as grocery shopping, office help, dog walking, house chores and much more.

Breaking down digital tasks into small units of work and identifying skilled workers in developing countries is the mission of SamaSource a nonprofit organization founded by Leila Janah. Microwork includes tasks like finding a phone number on a business website, tagging an image, or transcribing a business card. After training at local centers, workers submit microwork via the SamaHub for feedback and quality control by a team based in San Francisco. SamaSource seems to have succeeded where many aid programs have failed at lifting people out of poverty and filled a gap in completing tedious digital tasks, with a little technology innovation.

Closely launched a new product called Perch. It is designed for small business owners, and delivers a live, personalized stream of social media and promotion activity for businesses in the neighborhood. Perch delivers information specific to a competitor or neighbor based on promotions and the social activity associated with the business. This is a location-aware competitive intelligence application for average small businesses.

astrickGo to http://whereconf.com/where2012 for slides and videos of the conference.