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Location-Based Services, Making the Invisible Visible
Jamais Cascio, 20 Apr 05

The possibility of receiving informational messages on one's mobile phone based on one's location holds a combination of fascination and horror for many of us. For every message about an interesting new exhibit at a small museum one is passing or blocked sidewalk up ahead, there would be dozens -- hundreds -- of spam-like messages imploring the recipient to eat, buy, consume, spend at whatever establishments are nearby. No thanks.

But Vodafone in Germany has come up with an interesting service which may be compelling enough to pick up some users. For a monthly fee, users with allergies can receive pollen level alerts based on their current locations. The "Lorano Polleninfo" service...

...provides individualised pollen alerts that take into account both the current location and the allergy profile of the user, i.e. the pollens that the user is allergic to. The relevant pollen forecasts, in accordance with the personal profiles provided by the service users, are sent to their mobile phones.
The unique aspect about the SMS text message pollen alert is that subscribers to the "Lorano Polleninfo" service automatically receive a daily text message if there is an acute pollen risk in their locality.

Interesting, albeit still not quite there. Most mobile phone users are, well, mobile, and a daily message based on a location at which one may not be for very long isn't as helpful as one which would send alerts whenever the phone entered a pollen-filled location. Pollen reports at a level equivalent to cell size may not yet be available, but they're certainly possible.

This does suggest what the killer app for location based services could be, though: making the invisible visible. The amount of pollen in the air isn't evident until the sneezing (or worse) starts -- knowing ahead of time that you're apt to have a reaction is pretty useful. As a broad range of urban sensors becomes more commonplace, monitoring air quality, water quality and the like, they'll be able to provide useful information about one's current environment; a mobile phone is the exact right medium for getting that kind of info. This applies to more prosaic interests, as well. It's not helpful to get a text message telling you that you're passing a restaurant -- that's usually pretty obvious -- but can you tell from external observation which coffee shops in the neighborhood have free WiFi?

What would you want to get a location-based message about?

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The intelligence of these applications are not in sensors, but in profile of what am i interesting about, who am i, etc ? Making a museum or a restaurant visible, if is it what i'm looking for at this time, could be cool. The problem is the push. I may decide of what i want, when i want.

Posted by: Hubert Guillaud on 22 Apr 05



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