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Goin' Geode: Mozilla Firefox Now Location-Aware

Mozilla Labs rolls out Geode to give Firefox location-awareness capabilities.

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With the alpha release of Firefox 3.1 quickly approaching, Mozilla is planning to support the new WC3 Geolocation Specification, which will allow Web browsers to request and be granted access to an individual's location.

Mozilla is using Loki's Skyhook technology to map Wi-Fi signals in the area to an exact location, local neighborhood or city. Users, of course, will have the option of not providing any information to the service at all.

Mozilla claims that while most GPS services can take up to 45 seconds to locate a user, Geode uses Wi-Fi signals—which can lock onto a location inside a second.

It's also worth noting that any user location information is sent to the provider, Skyhook. That means location and IP address. Potential users who are leery of giving out privacy information beware.

Potential developers looking to start playing with the location-awareness functionality in Firefox can take advantage of an early implementation of the W3C Geolocation Specification, add it onto their version of Firefox and begin locating.

Geode is just one of three Web services in the early phases of offering location awareness. Pownce is a service that allows users to send photos, music and events to users. The idea behind Pownce is that by including location specifics to communication, the recipients can get the context behind what is being sent.

The other Web service generating location buzz is Yahoo's Fire Eagle. Fire Eagle is a service designed to interact with other Web services and update them with your location. There are already a handful of social networks that are playing nice with Fire Eagle—Phazes, Brightkite and Rummble among them.

Adding location awareness to everyday Web browsing has the best intentions in mind: to bring disparate users in a common location together in order to facilitate and foster community.

But privacy is a tricky thing.

Phazes, Brightkite, Fire Eagle and Geode all allow users to broadcast only the information they want to share. And each stresses that it protects the privacy of users. They have to make that promise; in fact, their businesses are built on protecting user information because if that trust is broken, they will fall apart.

Whether or not any of these services will be adopted and take on a Facebook- or MySpace-type lifestyle remains to be seen. Mozilla Labs' initiative with Geode is admirable, but getting users to embrace location mapping or location awareness still seems a few years out at the earliest, because, right now, there's no compelling reason to share location information.

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