Location-based Services

Constant Contact Labs is committed to the research of new technologies in support of our mission to bring innovative new services and products to our small business customers. To that end, we’ve been looking very closely at Location-based services and technology.

Location-based services have their roots in local search but have recently begun to penetrate all aspects of our daily lives. From how and where consumers shop, to the way in which they interact with their social networks, to the places they visit, Location-based services are used in combination to enhance these experiences.

What is a Location-based Service?

A Location-based service is a service that makes use of the geographic position of a portable or mobile device. This means that consumers can be engaged in the context of their current location.

Most Smartphone users are frequented by prompts, by the websites they visit or the apps that they use, to access their location. The most notable of these is the iPhone “[…] would like to use your current location” alert. Some innovative new companies, like Foursquare, AroundMe, and Yelp, are taking advantage of these technologies in creative new ways. By detecting where you are these services have developed interesting ways for consumers to discover and engage with their surroundings. For example, Foursquare allows you to check-in to different locations and receive badges for frequent visits. AroundMe tells you where the nearest location is based on business type such as Drug Store or Bank.

What I’ve found most interesting about the Location space is the amount of technical infrastructure available in the form of API’s and Frameworks. To start with, retrieving location data has never been easier. Today most desktop and mobile-based web browsers can determine their own location.  Many of today’s top Smartphone’s also come factory built with GPS capabilities. It also seems that many people are more open to providing their location to applications that ask for it. This trend is more prevalent in youth as 7 out of 10 teens share their location on the web according to a survey by McAfee.

Google provides an amazingly accurate Geocoding service that’s very easy to use. Microsoft’s Bing Maps provides a similar service to Google’s Map API. The US Census Bureau maintains an up-to-date geographic referencing system aptly named TIGER. This service has detailed information and standardized geographic positioning details about most locations in the U.S. (and a lot of other places).  One of the services I’ve been most excited about is SimpleGeo. SimpleGeo has built a pretty cool framework making Geofencing easy.

How can Location help my Small Business?

One of the many things Constant Contact prides itself on is its unique ability to simplify complex problems for our small business customers. This factor is one of the driving forces behind our interest in Location-based services and technology. Location is a big space with lots of interesting problems; Geolocation, Geofencing, Geocoding, Geotagging, and so on and so forth.

Many Smartphone apps begin by identifying where a device is located via Geolocation and then using these coordinates to set the location in a Geo-fence – a set boundary defined by a radius. As a user enters into the geo-fence, a message is sent to the location within the geo-fence. Entering into the geo-fence also reveals relevant locations and/or people to the device itself.

For small businesses within the geo-fence, knowing that your customer has arrived in range of your business, or your customer knowing that you are within range of where they are, presents the opportunity to engage in relevant and meaningful ways. Restaurants will be able to greet customers as they check into their location, Retailers will have the ability to send coupons to patrons in the area via Push notifications. Fans will be notified that they’ve entered into a city where a favorite Entertainer is performing. Etc. These are a few examples of how small businesses will be able to engage with their customers with these technologies.

The Opportunity for Developers

You may have heard a little bit about HTML5, particularly on this blog. A new feature of HTML5 is the ability to locate device coordinates.  This was made possible by the wonderful folks on the W3C Geolocation Working Group who released specs for the Geolocation API in 2009.

HTML5 geolocation enables web applications to request location information such as the latitude and longitude of a mobile device returned as a JavaScript object. Notable browser engines like Webkit have adopted these standards and enabled support for the Geolocation API.

Below is one example of how to interface with location information via the Geolocation API:

// Acquire a position object
navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(handle_result,  handle_error);

// Response handler
function handle_result (position){
	var Lat	= position.coords.latitude;
	var Lng	= position.coords.longitude;

Today, that’s pretty much all you need to locate the coordinates of a device.

How does it figure out the coordinates? That’s not important. No, Really. It’s not important. As the specifications explain, the API itself is agnostic of the underlying location information source. Retrieving a geographic location can be done in a lot of different ways i.e. GSM, GPS, IP Address; the HTML5 Geolocation API provides a simple way to interface with web browsers (and other technology) which have the capability of retrieving the desired location information.

There stands to be a huge opportunity here for Developers. As you look to get your foot in the door and engage in this space consider the following, Constant Contact Web Service API’s enable developers to tap into robust services positioned to help small businesses grow. Our API’s + HTML5 Geolocation will make it simple to deliver Location-based services to small businesses.

Let us know how you are using Location-based services by commenting below.

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