Fire Eagle on Facebook, Competing with Twitter for Geo-Data?

Yahoo launched Fire Eagle last fall as a location-based “switch board” of sorts, enabling individual users to take control of the geo-data they’re pushing out across the social web. As developers of sites and applications began using Fire Eagle to extend location-based features to their own end users, we saw in interesting interaction between these three aspects of geo-data as a service such as Fire Eagle actually helped individual users become more comfortable with sharing geo-data.

As Fire Eagle has recently launched an application of its own on Facebook, I interviewed Tom Coates, head of the Fire Eagle project, to learn more about the goals of Fire Eagle and its aims for growth.

Kristen Nicole: Fire Eagle recently added support for Facebook’s Platform. How does this integration work?

Tom Coates: We built Fire Eagle to be a place for people to store information about their location. They can update that information in dozens of different ways, and once they’ve got it in Fire Eagle they can then share it with services all over the web. You can think of Fire Eagle as a switchboard or a broker. With Fire Eagle we’re focused on giving people control over their data – including how, when and where their location is made available.

Friends on Fire is an application we built so people could use their Fire Eagle location on Facebook. It helps people find their friends, share their location and coordinate with one another.

  • You can share your location with trusted friends on the map, updating either from Facebook or from any Fire Eagle-compatible mobile application or website.
  • Post changes to your location (neighborhood or city) to your Facebook wall
  • Post short messages or ‘signals’ on the map and your wall – which can be used to leave comments or tips or to organize social events and parties.

Kristen Nicole: How has Fire Eagle fared since launching last autumn?

Tom Coates: We’ve had a lot of early success with developers – I think we have reason to be proud of the reception we’ve had. There are more than seventy applications that use Fire Eagle in our application gallery at the moment, and thousands of developers who have requested API keys so that they can explore the possibilities of the platform. We’re pretty happy about how everything is going.

Kristen Nicole: For users that are still warming up to the idea of location-based features, how have you handled your product roll out, especially with an audience as large as Facebook’s?

Tom Coates: You’re absolutely right that it’s still early days for location-based services, but it’s definitely an exciting area with all kinds of potential. We spent quite a lot of the first time with Fire Eagle working with the developer community to get engineers and partners excited about what you could do with location.

We’ve only just recently started rolling out the project to a wider audience. We’re obviously aware that people experimenting with location services at the moment are likely to be early adopters.

That’s good – we want their feedback and their enthusiasm – their insights are really important to us and make it easier for us to find the right balance for a wider audience. Having said that, we’re really proud of our work on Facebook and think it has all kinds of potential.

Kristen Nicole: In terms of Fire Eagle’s growth how does Facebook integration fit into the larger picture?

Tom Coates: Fire Eagle really has two major objectives – to make it easy for people to capture, manage and use their location all over the web and to make it easy for developers to build applications that can use that location without having to do all kinds of incredibly complicated work building updaters and working with very complicated geo data.

Every application that people make draws more people into using Fire Eagle and that makes it more attractive for people to build against.

And more importantly, with an application like Friends on Fire we can also point to the kinds of things you can do with Fire Eagle. One of the reasons we built Friends on Fire is to show that Fire Eagle can work with any social network out there. We’d love to see people using Fire Eagle on MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, bebo – all over the web.

It’s really a virtuous circle. Everything that someone builds that uses Fire Eagle pushes forward everyone in the ecosystem – it gives users more things they can do, and brings developers using Fire Eagle more location-enabled users.

Kristen Nicole: In supporting Facebook, do you see location-based status updates via Fire Eagle as competing with Twitter?

Tom Coates: Fire Eagle itself is just concerned with people using and sharing their location. That’s our focus. But with Friends on Fire we got excited about the possibilities of people using a status update to coordinate a drink or a party or to meet up with their friends. It seemed like a natural fit for the project within the context of Facebook.

We think there are just as many opportunities for Fire Eagle to work with Twitter and we’d be absolutely delighted if they wanted to do so.

In fact, there are lots of services out there already that help people join Fire Eagle and Twitter together in various ways – lets you update your Fire Eagle location from Twitter, EagleTweet keeps your Twitter location updated with your Fire Eagle one and Fire Eagle updaters like Sparrow and Voila make it easy for people to update both Fire Eagle and Twitter’s location fields at the same time.

The whole point of what we’re doing is that almost *any* site or service could be made better or more interesting if it could add in a user’s location – whether it be search sites, maps, weather and traffic services, social networks, bookmarking sites, photo sharing sites, music sites. Anything really. The one update of your location on Fire Eagle can permeate all of your favorite services, making them all better and more useful.

Kristen Nicole: What are the ultimate goals of Fire Eagle?

Tom Coates: The idea behind fire eagle is simple we want a way for people to easily update, manage, and share information about their location – and in a way that puts them in control of their data and privacy. We want to geo-enable sites and services all over the web. A lot of geo services fail at the moment because it’s too complicated to get them all set up and running. We’re hoping that we can kick-start the whole area by making it possible for a user to get access to all the potential of this area with just one updater.

For further background, check out the video below from my one-on-one interview with Tom Coates at the Fire Eagle launch: