Location is the next frontier in computing. The company uLocate has announced a competition for developers to make location-based widgets. uLocate’s new location-widget feature, called simply Where, is essentially a collection of little programs that mash-up data from the Internet with a user’s location. And this competition is intended to facilitate the rapid expansion of these widgets within the Where platform. But, what’s the point of these applications besides being clever or cute? What is the social function of location? In other words, what’s the life of these applications in the larger context of mobile computing. Is location truly the holy grail?
Location aware software is net-locality. It is extending the idea and functionality of location into the network. Net-locality can either serve to colonize places into systems (in Habermasian terms), or invigorate places through communication. It depends on context. What is intriguing about the commercial fervor over mobile computing is that the result of net-locality is not considered. The goal is to locate. But the reason for locating is neither here nor there.
Constant access to information is convenient and potentially useful, but when we consider mobile computing, we have to consider how that computation enters into the existing practices of space. For instance, how are people using phones to gather information when in public spaces? Are they looking down and disengaging from their surroundings or are they integrating the tool into the environment? In short, does net-locality hinder engagement with location? If the answer to this question is yes, how can we design spaces or tools that might minimize that result?
There is another interesting tension that I’ve yet to fully explore – and that’s the distinction between business rhetoric and user rhetoric. On one hand, computing has gone mobile. On the other, mobility has extended the functionality of computing. There is a distinction here that I will tease out in future posts. But for now, suffice it to say that location is a product – and it is being heavily marketed to unsuspecting consumers.