I don’t mean to scare you, but there’s a faceless entity that knows you better than your friends, your spouse, and even you: your technology. As the Internet and phones weave into your life, they know your purchases, tastes, friends, messages, and more. The result is terabytes of data that form a remarkably detailed picture of who you are.
Josh Kopelman describes services that use this “data exhaust” as the implicit web. Mint does it for your finances, Xobni for your email, Skydeck for your phone, and Amazon for your purchases. One of the last largely untapped data mines is your physical location history. Over one hundred million smartphones and the rapid growth of mobile GPS enable a new opportunity: analytics for your location.
Imagine the potential of a startup offering this kind of analytics. Let’s call it LifeTracker. It would be an application for any GPS-enabled phone. Once you sign up and enter demographic info, LifeTracker would pull your location in the background with current resolution of 10-100 feet. The Palm Pre and Google G1 already support background processes, which will likely force Apple to expand its lame Push Notification to do the same.
LifeTracker would have standard privacy controls and offer a variety of interesting benefits on its app and website:
Travel analytics: LifeTracker could use the rate of change in your GPS data to approximate when you’re driving, running, walking, and standing still. LifeTracker could estimate how many calories you burn, faster routes to work, tax-deductible driving miles, and whether it’s cost-effective for you to buy a hybrid. Just for shiggles, you could learn how much life you waste in gridlock and red lights, maybe nudging you into biking.
Experience analytics: LifeTracker could use where you go to suggest new things to try. Run the Stanford dish often? Maybe you’d like Windy Hill. Travel from San Francisco to Santa Cruz beaches? Fort Funston is closer to you. Financial trackers like Mint can offer suggestions from your purchases, but LifeTracker can use your experiences.
Aggregate trends: LifeTracker could suggest things you might like based on the location history of people like you. Other twenty-something New Yorkers who dance at Copacabana also drink at the Flatiron Lounge. Other Los Angeleans that frequent Dodger Stadium also play ball at Sunland Park.
Tracking friends , finding lost phones, and receiving local coupons are also useful services but with more competitors. LifeTracker takes the more unique tack of analyzing the location patterns of your life.
It also avoids two pitfalls of mobile apps: It doesn’t require other users or manual effort to be useful. LifeTracker works with a base of one, and users could receive reports without visiting the app or site again. That’s a lot more compelling than services like Foursquare that require constant care and feeding.
Yet, in the upcoming rush of location services, it’s hard to know which will appeal most. In the California gold rush, it’s said the biggest winners weren’t miners, but the sellers of picks and shovels. On the web, APIs are developers’ picks and shovels. The big opportunity of LifeTracker is exporting location data to other services. Platforms are more lucrative than applications, and location analytics could be the Trojan horse. Surprisingly, outside of mobile hardware makers, advanced location APIs aren’t common either.
There’s a wealth of ways to monetize LifeTracker: targeted advertising, revenue sharing on local purchases, and reports for firms that want the big picture of a locale’s activity. Personal data drives so many innovations, it is the oil of the 21st century.
LifeTracker still has a few risks. Distribution has been a slog for location-based apps. Sites like Yelp that use location data may offer promotion and social features that could drive a measure of virality. Privacy hawks squawk about technology’s intrusion into our lives, but those arguments continue to fall on deaf ears when consumers see value. People would swallow cameras and implant mind readers if they saw benefits to analyzing their insides (and they will). Existing players like Loopt and Google Latitude could feasibly offer analytics but seem content to focus on social networking.
Location services have always seemed just a year away from mainstream, but it looks like their time has finally come. The startup that analyzes and especially exports location data has the chance to make a mint of its own.
What do you think?
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Mark Goldenson believes that wherever you go, there you are. He is starting an innovative venture in health care. To submit an idea for the What’s Next series, email Mark at email@example.com. Selected ideas will receive attribution.