Gowalla My Dreams

What if Gowalla and Foursquare could communicate seamlessly with Address Book? What if Google Maps contained the postal address, company names, and primary phone numbers of every pin on the map? All this information could be marked up in Microformats and standard HTML on optional detail pages you could visit with a click from your web browser or phone. Heck, while we’re at it, let’s add Bump, an iPhone app that lets two people share contact data the same way they share DNA—except that in this case they bump iPhones.

What if every time you used Gowalla to check into or found a spot, you had the option to add that spot’s street address, company name(s), and so on to your Address Book? Imagine meeting a potential client for the first time in an unfamiliar city or neighborhood. No longer simply a passive repository of spots you create, Gowalla or Foursquare could function as a guide, helping you locate the unfamiliar address to make your meeting on time.

As you check into your meeting in reality, you could notify not only Facebook and Twitter (as you can today) but also Basecamp, which would optionally check off a radio box, marking you as having arrived at your meeting.

Something like this (and much more than this) will surely happen soon, thanks to APIs and ubiquitous standard platforms. You just feel, when you’re around people developing the best new web software, that something new is happening, and that many strands are coming together.

We used to imagine a dystopian future in which Big Brother knew everything you did. Later it was the machines that knew. We’ve been talking about ubiquitous computing for years, and we’ve pictured it happening somehow without necessarily addressing the how—that is, some of the brightest and most inspiring futurists have concerned themselves more with the ethical and cultural transformative dimensions of ubiquitous computing than with the technical nuts and bolts of how it’s supposed to get done.

I’m thinking the nuts and bolts are here. To me it seems that it is already happening. The web is the platform. HTML, CSS, JavaScript/JQuery, Ruby, and PHP are the tools. I’m thinking an uplifting (non-dystopian) ubiquitous computing is going to get done with the stuff we already use every day. Am I dreaming?

13 thoughts on “Gowalla My Dreams

  1. you’re not dreaming at all.

    i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about exactly these things (or flavors thereof) over the past few years.

    though many API’s can be frustratingly limited (ie. basecamp still doesn’t have file access in their API w/ the exception of links to files uploaded as an attachment to a message, and of course Gowalla’s now infamous lack of write access w/ their API), there are so many integration points the only REAL limitations are related to finding a good business case (unrelated to finding a business need, since the “needs” are obvious).

    ok, that’s not true. the real limitations have exclusively to do with paying for the work to get done. there are tons of good software ideas that just aren’t good business ideas. if you can strike a chord and come up with a business idea that doesn’t have to “get monetized”, because it’s already a business idea… then the world (and it’s lack of true, and friendly interoperability) will certainly change.

    i’ve only seen a few APIs that truly “play well with others”. but things are getting better. i think people are learning that mashups are now, not much more than just cute toys, unless they bring something authentically unique to the table.

  2. What you describe would indeed be awesome but like other services out now, it feeds our biggest big brother fears.

    One day our culture, how we interact with each other and our government will be changed for ever. A cool idea, turned great product, turned tool of oppression – isn’t so cool.

    Too serious?

  3. The vision you paint is certainly non-dystopian–for now. It’ll only take a couple of dickheads to demonstrate the inevitable dangers of sharing personal information so easily. Soon afterwards we’ll move to new ground, where evolved phishing attacks & other exploits will not only expose, but use, our information in wholly unintended ways.

    The older I get the more amazed I am by what we can create–and the more disgusted I become by what some of us choose to do with those creations.

  4. So long as these services offer a gloabal “opt-out” box the future will no be dytopic. In the mean time we are nowhere close to the utopia of seamless access to information. I hate the fact that I have to maintain accounts on foursquare and gowalla because neither communicates with the other.

  5. This looks like a step in the right direction.

    @lieb: Indeed it does.

    the real limitations have exclusively to do with paying for the work to get done. there are tons of good software ideas that just aren’t good business ideas. if you can strike a chord and come up with a business idea that doesn’t have to “get monetized”, because it’s already a business idea… then the world (and it’s lack of true, and friendly interoperability) will certainly change.

    @Nater Kane: Then we need to get the makers of Twitter interested! They do cool stuff whether there’s a business case for it or not. ;)

  6. Sounds great! Anything that will save me time that could be put to more productive use, I am all for. Trying to update or save information in ten different places waste a lot of time, but is necessary for doing and building a business.

    There are issues of privacy and possible invasion of, but we have that just sitting in our living room and someone unlawfully entering our home. We just hope the locks on the door will deter intruders, maybe add some alarms. The Big Brother scenario has already happened to some degree. Here is to hoping it is the nice big brother who teaches you how swim, and not by throwing in water over your head.

  7. I say, Bring it on! With new exploits will come new ways to protect ourself. However, the internet is here to serve us, and as masters of this domain we can make it sit up, fetch our slippers, and tell the robots to get off our lawn (if we want).

  8. What about closing the Networks? You choose the machines and the people you give the information to. From “Big Brother” to “Cool little brothers”. There are thousands of unemployed programmers who could go on developing aplications for specific users & needs. (For instance, a sort of facebook with a proper search engine or a decent way of indexing all that mad information)
    Apologies for my quick comment in fb, btw. I just don’t like Google, I would write a 500 pages book against them. Keywords, “clumsy greediness”

  9. I think you are not dreaming; it is something we probably all want to see at one point.
    Now, I’m a bit pessimistic as to *how* it will be done. Privacy will be an issue (is already, if we look at google). The key is not technology – as you said we already have it (microformats, svg being implemented even ie9 as we speak, and so on) -, the key is information.
    I’m sure some companies are willing to get information by all means. Business still is business, even if the ultimate goal is very seducing (I’d really love an extended gmap as you described it).

  10. this is exactly the reason i use these services. they’re all “keys” in the sense that it’s real-time human evolution taking place. we’re changing how we live, operate and communicate and it’s fascinating. i didn’t sign up for gowalla and foursquare b/c i wanted to play a game. i signed-up so i could, hopefully, use the data i’m generating. the network created by the service creates context among friends and then (which i wish still worked), the RSS/KML feed my account generated gets plot on a map via yahoo pipes and embedded on my blog. early on, gowalla gave me access to beta test a feed of my check-ins and along w/ foursquare – neither really worked very well. pipes couldn’t parse any KML data from the feeds. so, long story short, you’re not alone in your dreaming.

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