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Google Maps and the Mobile/Social/Local Internet

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Highlighting the emerging trend of mobile applications with local content and social interaction, Shawn Shen, a Developer Advocate at Google, demonstrates how the Google Maps API family, the default choice of mapping technologies for almost all leading applications, can help you develop your next killer applications in mobile/social/local space.

The Internet has created an explosion of human-generated data that is unprecedented and unparalleled in recorded history. Today, 5 exabytes of data are created on the web every two days, equivalent to all the data from the dawn of man through 2003. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, once quipped, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

Proliferation of smart mobile devices in recent years has greatly boosted the data explosion on the Internet and made the Internet increasingly mobile, social, and local. The data are often generated on the go—photo, video, tweet—with built-in geospatial signature—latitude and longitude and the need to be organized and indexed accordingly for relevant geospatial search queries. This is precisely where Google Maps comes into play.

Google Maps is a key component of Google’s mission to organize world’s information and make them universally accessible and useful. Its virtual representation of the physical world in terms of map tiles and images, panoramic views of the globe, streets, and places serves a rich backdrop to organize the torrent of geospatial data. In this article, I am going to show that Google Maps is fast becoming the leading technology platform used by most of the innovative companies in the mobile Internet space.

Apps in the Mobile/Social/Local Internet

The introduction of smart mobile devices has greatly expanded and enhanced the landscape of the Internet. As mobility reaches ubiquity, our experiences with the Internet become not only mobile but also social and local.

Take the examples of foursquare and Gowalla, where users can perform the so-called check-ins using mobile devices, share them with friends or the world, and earn coupons from (or bragging rights of) local vendors. In these use cases, data are often generated and mostly consumed via mobile devices; data are tagged with latitude and longitude, and/or pegged to local places; data are shared socially with friends, and locality signal is given higher relevancy.

Google’s Schmidt recently remarked, “Foursquare and Gowalla are pretty impressive. They show you the power of mobile/social/local. Google will play in that market in a lot of ways.” Indeed, the Google Maps for Mobile app offers a comprehensive set of value-added services like places, navigation, transit and driving directions, and business listings on top of the core service of mobile maps for major smartphones.

On the social side, Google offers Google Latitude, a service that enables users to share their locations and see where their friends are in real-time—as well as Google Buzz that enables users to post and share with friends messages tied to locations.

A slew of innovative applications are also powered by Google’s comprehensive set of Maps API family. The following is an incomplete list of companies with leading apps.

  • foursquare: Check in, find your friends, unlock your city.
  • Gowalla: Keep up with your friends, share the places you go, and discover the extraordinary in the world around you.
  • brightkite: The simple way to keep up with friends and places.
  • loopt: Find out who’s around, what to do, and where to go.
  • yelp: The fun and easy way to find, review, and talk about what's great—and not so great—in your area.
  • where: Places to go.
  • Booyah: Location-based gaming MyTown.
  • Facebook Places: Places listing and check in. A graphical comparison of features among them has been compiled by Mark Fidelman.
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