Show ‘Em With Google Latitude

Posted on February 16, 2009. Filed under: Google | Tags: , , , , |

Google announced that it was terminating its Dodgeball service, which allowed cellphone users to share their current location with their friends, the company is coming out Wednesday with a new service, Latitude, that, well, lets cellphone users share their location with their friends.
Unlike Dodgeball — which used text messages to deliver the information and thus could be used with virtually any phone — Latitude is an add-on to Google Maps. It relies on Google Maps’ My Location feature, which uses the signals from nearby cellphone towers to plot a user’s whereabouts.That means the mobile version of Latitude can be used only on smartphones like Apple’s iPhone, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry and devices running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile or Google’s own Android operating system.

Steve Lee, product manager for Google Maps for Mobile and Google Latitude, acknowledged that limitation but said smartphone penetration had reached an “inflection point,” with more than 50 million Americans using them. “We feel it’s a much richer application” than Dodgeball, he said.
Latitude also ties into the computer-based version of Google Maps through iGoogle so that, say, a husband on the move could share his location with his wife working at an office PC. (In Mr. Lee’s case, his mom in the Midwest likes to check up on him. “She can use this as tool to see where I’m at and use it for peace of mind,” he said.)

Besides broadcasting their location, Latitude users can call, text or chat with their online friends and update their status messages. Google said the mobile version of the service is available in 27 countries.

Privacy is a key concern with any kind of location-based social networking service, and Google says Latitude is completely opt-in: Users choose who gets access and what level of information they can see. For example, users could grant close friends and family access to their exact location, while limiting acquaintances to knowing only the city they’re in. And for those moments when you need to go into total stealth mode, the application allows you to manually set your location or cloak it entirely.
It’s still unclear how much people need or want to send this kind of location information to friends and acquaintances. Dodgeball was never more than a tiny niche application, and its rivals, Loopt and Brightkite, also have yet to build a large user base.

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