Yes, Fire Eagle's cool. It also freaks me out
Of course it's the future. But at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, the truth is that the announcement leaves me ill at ease.
Fire Eagle, Yahoo's new geolocation service, is fresh out of the company's Brickhouse development team, and third parties are lining up to cut deals.
Who can deny that location is going to become increasingly important for Web services? In the initial rush of coverage, MG Siegler correctly noted that Fire Eagle essentially serves as the intermediary between services offering that geolocation capability and those wishing to make use of it. (Fire Eagle's not an original idea. There's also Loopt, a cell phone-based service that allows people to track and communicate with friends, as well as Whrrl and Brightkite.)
So this is progress? Maybe it's just my particular hangup but, truth be told, knowing that "they" (and that includes friends and family) may be watching me does not fill me with much enthusiasm. Sometimes it's comforting just being off the grid. I don't think I missed something growing up in a Fire Eagle-less world and I'm in no hurry to change now.
From a business perspective, Yahoo probably has a winner. Whether it's Fire Eagle or a better, similar incarnation by someone else, this is another signpost of a future where we choose from a panoply of location-based services. From what I understand of Fire Eagle, I can't find any evidence that it won't succeed. Already, more than 50 services make use of the Fire Eagle technology and more will follow. Unfortunately, don't you just know that some marketing go-getter is going to figure out a way to exploit location-based programs to shove targeted advertising (and spam, naturally) down our throats as we navigate around town. Again, you don't have to play. And you can shut the darned thing off for a time. Still...
The reassuring part is that Fire Eagle is permission-based. And Tom Coates, who joined Yahoo from the BBC to serve as product director at Yahoo's Brickhouse, said all the right things about protecting privacy rights at the Fire Eagle debut. The service does allow you to restrict location reporting or even shut it down for a period of time. Without that variable privacy feature, Fire Eagle would be one more hellish intrusion into our already over-snooped, overwrought lives.
So now, Yahoo's (rightly) taking a "let 1,000 flowers bloom" approach by opening up the APIs to the rest of the Internet, and the wisdom of the free market will decide the matter. For better, or for worse. We'll see.
(For more, check out what Webware's editor in chief, Rafe Needleman, had to say about the pluses and minuses of Fire Eagle on the CNET News Daily Debrief.)