Yahoo Brickhouse finally released their new shiny FireEagle service. If you haven't heard of it before, FireEagle is a user location brokering system. No more, no less. It provides a secure authorization system and interface to allow third-party applications to update a user's location, or query a user's location.
There have been, and are, other location sharing systems. Most recently, Plazes, TwitterVision, my.loki, Loopt, Dodgeball, and more coming online soon. However these systems were either hampered by being too much, not providing good interfaces, unclear security and authorization, and worst of all, user lock-in or siloing. Those services have great purpose and use and communities, but they aren't the cross-application interfaces they could be.
What's incredibly exciting about FireEagle is that it does one thing really well - and provides excellent hooks for using this information. It's a service about user-geolocation enabling other applications. Its one of those services that a user comes to for signing up, but after that never needs to come back to FireEagle at all. Applications build in authorization, publishing, and accessing their location into their own interfaces.
And even better, you can publish your location from one system, say a mobile device, and have other applications access this, say from a social network site.
This concept follows the concept of loosely coupled systems. Other location sharing systems typically required all potential users to be members of that particular service, using that interface. For example, I can't view locations of my twitter contacts in Plazes, or from a single mobile app - where a combined interface has utmost importance.
I've recently updated my blog, and included in the header my current location from FireEagle. I can now set my location via Dopplr, mobile phone, dashboard widget, or whatever cool next generation shoe tracking service, and have my site automatically get this - or view in FaceBook.
FireEagle will do for geolocation what GoogleMaps did for online maps, or Twitter did for small messaging exchange: Provide an underlying framework that developers can innovate on top of.
I explained before why the iPhone doesn't need a GPS, and FireEagle makes this especially true. In the end, I just want it to be easy for me to share locations with people and use this for finding things around me. I don't really care how that happens, I just want it to happen. And loosely coupled systems like FireEagle abstract away the geolocation method from the geolocation-sharing.
Unfortunately the blog is agog so far today with numerous posts by misunderstanding newszines that see it useful to bash FireEagle and comment on "lack of apps", or "user base". They're not understanding the concept that FireEagle is a tool, not an endpoint.
I hope FireEagle doesn't get feature-itis. Users and devs are asking for social networks, stored location names, and other features that each have their uses, in specific application spaces. But FireEagle is powerful for just the reason that it doesn't do all these things. It's like saying Amazon's S3 needs to have "Friending". External applications should be innovative with how they use and extend FireEagle.
You're already seeing applications add integration. Dopplr will set your location once per day based on your trips, PresenceRouter helps join FireEagle into the other geolocation services. Dangerday is a Twitter bot that will allow you to publish to FireEagle from the plethora of Twitter applications and sites out there. FireWidget is a Mac OS X dashboard widget, and FireWrench is a GreaseMonkey script for polling your location in Firefox. There are a couple of other really exciting applications and interfaces to FireEagle that can be found with some lurking around (I leave this as an exercise to you the reader until the apps officially announce themself).
We've also built in FireEagle support into Mapufacture and will soon be showing off some of the really interesting things FireEagle lets us do for our users.
FireEagle is also using the new OAuth specification - one of the first large scale service to do so. Along the way they'll have to do a lot of developer education on how to use OAuth, but it's a leap in the right direction. Using OAuth it makes it simple to connect to multiple services without having to cater to as many unique authentication mechanisms. The pain is early in development but pays off in the end.
So developers - this is a call to you, go out and build cool stuff with FireEagle!
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