I went to a seminar recently about location-based services (LBS) and was interested to come across a closed-beta from Yahoo called FireEagle. The idea behind FireEagle is to be a web-based broker for location information, so it offers one API to sources of location information, and a second API to consumers of location information, or applications.

Location information in traditional telco networks is traditionally supplied in terms of cell location, or increasingly products are available to give greater precision via technologies like assisted GPS or cell triagulation. The SS7 MAP protocol offers the ability to exchange this location information to interested parties, but typically this is specialized work, and applications that use LBS are still not that common. FireEagle adds a new twist, as you could build a "plug-in" to take the MAP location information and give that to the FireEagle broker. This would then make the location available to anyone that had written a FireEagle-enabled application, which could even be a Java application (or browser-based app) running on a mobile handset.

The FireEagle approach is also interesting as it acknowledges that cell id is not the only source of location information these days. Smartphone apps can often interface to GPS chips (or external Bluetooth GPS) and extract the location information, communicating this via the data channel to a web-based component. Technologies also exist to geolocate via an IP address, or via the pattern of WiFi hotspots you can see around you, a technology used in the Apple iPhone. You could even geolocate yourself by manually "putting a pin in the map". All of these sources of location can be "inputs" to FireEagle, giving a high quality of location information that should work as well indoors as well as outdoors.

It will be interesting to see what app designers come up with over the next couple of years, when they start to use location information as a dimension in applications. You can imagine how location information could be used to improve the relevance of Internet search for mobile users, and how the location of your "buddies" might change your interaction with others while you're on the move.