As expected, Mozilla Labs released a Firefox plug-in Tuesday called Geode that lets Web sites figure out a person's approximate geographic location and use it in online services--as long as you grant the software permission to access the information.
Geode, a preview of technology to arrive in Firefox 3.1, taps into technology called Loki from Skyhook that deduces a computer's location from the signals of nearby wireless networks, according to a Mozilla Labs blog post on Geode.
To show the technology off, Mozilla shared an application called Food Finder that shows the user's approximate location and nearby dining establishments. Others that work with the technology are Pownce, a microblogging site that can record users' locations as they post notes or photos, and Yahoo's Fire Eagle, which lets users govern which applications get access to their location information.
There's one thing I find interesting about the general thrust of this technology. The Internet has broken down geographic barriers, letting people stay in touch with high school buddies, tap into a global market for used books, and find comrades with shared interests such as speaking Latin or photographing mating insects.
But a lot of new work on the Net is trying to unlock the location information. After all, people often need to keep from getting lost or to find their friends at the concert. And of course, plenty of advertisers would like to target ads at people who are likely to walk past a storefront.
Although Geode today uses Skyhook's service, Firefox 3.1 will be configurable to select other options as well, such as a GPS device, Mozilla said.
Mozilla envisions more than just more intelligent online maps. Its other examples: local news based on where a person actually is located, a Web site log-in process that only works if a person is at a specific location, and an RSS feed reader that changes what subscriptions it shows users depending on whether they're at work or home.
Web designers who want to take advantage of the feature can use the W3C's Geolocation Specification, currently in draft form.