Location, Location, Location

Location-based services are – so they say – the next big thing. In essence, LBS capable devices can use GPS (or cell tower location if GPS isn’t available) to provide tailored information based on where you are. This could be the location of a cash machine, games or where your friends are.

In the last few weeks Google have introduced a couple of new services for the latest version of the iPhone operating system.  The first of these was search with location where a standard query could contain results relevant to where you are.

Google Latitude on iPhoneThe second news was the long awaited announcement of Google Latitude being available for iPhone. Latitude was announced earlier this year for several different platforms but iPhone was notable by its absence. It allows you to share your location with friends and see who’s near you.

The interesting thing about the iPhone version of Latitude compared to that available for other phones is that it is browser-based instead of a dedicated application.

It sounds to me like Google and Apple had a bit of a disagreement over this!

After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone

The blog post goes on to lament the lack of background processes on iPhone OS which results in your location only updating when you have Latitude open in Safari.

The decision to use the browser shows the power of the W3C Geolocation API and I suspect use of it will grow massively now that it has a large installed user-base.

Using it within web applications is easy too. This demo uses just a few lines of JavaScript to try to work out where you are. It’s not supported by all browsers, but the Google Gears extension adds support to desktop or laptop machines by using wifi hotspots and IP addresses to determine location when cell tower or GPS information isn’t available.

So now you all want to know when you can see it in action. I’ve still got a few details to finalise but I’m hoping to do some location tracking for my road trip across America. We leave on Friday so I’ll try to post more details before then.

Browser stats

Phil Wilson from the University of Bath has just published a summary of browser statistics so I thought it might be interesting to do a comparison.

We also use Google Analytics and it covers virtually every page on the site.  We don’t distinguish internal visitors so I’ll give figures for external and total.

External visitors:

Browser Visits Breakdown
Internet Explorer 79.65% IE6: 18.5%; IE7: 68.5%; IE8: 13%
Firefox 14.05%
Safari 3.78%
Chrome 1.89%
Opera 0.25%

All visitors:

Browser Visits Breakdown
Internet Explorer 80.30% IE6: 17%; IE7: 71%; IE8: 11.8%
Firefox 13.77% FX2: 6%; FX3: ~90%
Safari 3.55%
Chrome 1.80%
Opera 0.23%

Still far too many IE6 users both inside and outside the University. I will be very glad when it stops being a significant problem but browser share is dropping very slowly and none of the various proposals for encouraging people to upgrade seem very attractive to me.

Interestingly, looking at the stats for blogs.edgehill.ac.uk, Firefox usage jumps to 33.5% with IE at 56%.

Tom Scott on graphs, Hans Zimmer, Eurovision and tea cosies

I’ve seen Tom Scott do presentations before at various BarCamps and they’re always pretty fun. He’s just published this video from Thinking Digital in May where he makes great use of graphs to get his points across. I’ve mentioned it before, but I love the last slide – it’s how I try to live my life.

Breaking News

That picture of the plane in the Hudson river was for many people the first time that Twitter had brought them images of breaking news.  It was quickly retweeted around the internet and even made it onto traditional broadcast news.  Not surprising that major stories are broken this way, but over the last couple of days I’ve become more aware of this happening at a local level.

photoOn Saturday afternoon, I was enjoying a quiet drink in the Peacock on Seel Street when we spotted smoke coming out of a building across the road.  I resisted tweeting about it until the flames started coming out of the roof!

I wasn’t the only person to spot the fire and Twitter Search’s “nearby” function pointed me to several other people who’d seen it, telling me it was a Greek restaurant on Parr Street that was on fire. A few minutes later I got a message from a journalist at the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo asking if they could use one of my photos. A few minutes after that and it was on their website.

Sunday, and I learnt of the monkey escape at Chester Zoo from a friend’s tweet. Very nearly the “oh my God, I just saw a monkey run down the street” moment I’ve been waiting for!

Finally, just an hour ago I heard about a collapsed crane in Liverpool which, according to Alison Gow, will be the Echo’s first ever front cover Twitter byline.

It’s a mad world.

What microformats can do for you

I didn’t intend talking about this, I’ve mentioned it before.  I intended talking about something else, but since this is an integral part of that something else, I’ll talk about that another time.

The best tool for utilising microformats, is the Operator add-on.  Other people have tried creating tools for other browsers, but for minimal pain and quick results the Firefox/Operator combo is still the best.

After installing the add-on you will notice a new toolbar.  Many web pages fail to take advantage of microformats, so to save browser real-estate you can autohide the toolbar by clicking the Options button and checking the Auto-hide-the toolbar option, clever.


To see what it can do; Go to Edge Hill University’s events. If you auto-hid the toolbar, it should magically appear, and if you didn’t you should see Contents, Events, Locations and Tagspaces all lit up. That tells us we’ve got microformats on the page, and this is where Operator earns its corn;  Clicking on one of the highlighted icons, we can see a number of services on offer.


Click the Tagspaces button, navigate to Education->Upcoming.  This takes you to Yahoo’s Upcoming site, and shows a list of similarly tagged events.  Nursing->YouTube lists videos related to Nursing.

The Edge Hill Events page also picks up a single location (Edge Hill University, which it gets from the information at the foot of every page) and dispays it under the Locations button.  We should really add the location data to each of the listed events too (note to self).  By clicking the button, we can see the exact location of Edge Hill through Google Maps (best), Yahoo maps and MapQuest.  You could export to a KML file to import into Google Earth too.

The Events button will show each event and allow us to add it to any iCal supported application.  Groupwise has a problem with this but if you use Google Calendar or Yahoo it will pre-populate a “new event” screen ready for submission.   If you don’t know what 30Boxes is, give it a try, its a very slick web-based calendar, I still prefer Google’s though.

It isn’t all roses in the Microformats garden.  Contacts, are not easy to import into Groupwise or Google.  For Groupwise its a two step process:

  1. Contacts->Export All or Contacts->Edge Hill University->Export Contact.
  2. Double click the exported hcard file and select the Contacts list you prefer to use.

With Google:

  1. You will need the “Get this to gmail” bookmarklet
  2. Click the bookmarklet when Contacts on the Operator toolbar is highlighted.
  3. From the Google Mail Contacts page, click import and import the downloaded file.

Oh yes, and clicking the Google Maps link from here is screwed up too.  This is either an Google Maps  or Operator problem as the contact information is impecably marked up, I’ve checked 😉

The import to Yahoo contacts works like a dream though.

For anybody who is determined to stick with IE and Safari users, you might want to try Left Logic’s bookmarklet, although I’ve not tested it in either of those browsers myself.  Finally if you’d like to add microformatted contact details on your own site, you can create the code easily using the hCard creator.