Will 2009 be a transition year for location based services?

If location based online apps are to transition from early adopters to mainstream, what kinds of changes do we need to see in data, platform and usability?

In a recent article for Vodafone, Sean Gorman discusses Metcalf's law which states that the value of a network is roughly equal to the square of the number of users.  He goes on to draw the conclusion that the amount of user-created spatial data has grown rapidly to the point where its inherent value will drive an explosion of active on line location users much like we have seen an explosion in social networking users in the past couple of years.  Certainly the availability of location-aware data has grown dramatically in the past few years... but is data availability enough to drive a sea change?

How about platform?

BrightKite/sturich My visited locations

The past few years have seen the launch of a whole host of Web 2.0 companies trying to capitalize on the social value of place.  Cladio Schapsis recently published a pretty impressive list of such services.  I use BrightKite, Dopplr, and WorldMate live and love them, but I am a classic early adopter geek.  The problem with these services is that they are not aware of your location until you specifically update your location through some sort of "check-in" process.  While many web apps have reasonably usable check-in processes, we have still not gotten to the point where the combination of your mobile device and your LBS platform are inherently aware of your location at all times.  Until we have this level of constant  awareness of your location, use of location enabled social or commercial platforms will not take off.

Room for a new mobile application.

One of the biggest game changing technology releases in 2008 was the App Store by Apple for the iPhone.  This brilliant (and highly uncharacteristic) move by Apple motivated Android and Blackberry to follow suit with stores for mobile applications for their platforms.  Now developers have a much more direct path to market for mobile applications.  My hope is that some bright young developer will recognize the potential represented by constant awareness of location and create a suite of mobile applications that will automatically update my location on Firebird every few minutes (or hours) without any action on my part.  When the platform can be aware of our location without our active involvement then we will be poised to realise the full promise that location based services offers.