Gap-aware locators

One notable thing about most location software is that it is usually fairly crude.

Most programmers take the easy route and simply work out the distance between two points via a bit of trig. Some smarter programmers are aware of the Earth’s curviture and bear this in mind.

Usually – this is as far as it goes. The classic “find my nearest” search is great for most places but is a rough ‘as the crow flies’ measurement.

Living for a while on the Isle of Wight, I came to appreciate that while this normally works OK, on an island it’s a profoundly dumb system.

If, for instance, you live in Ryde (north coast of the Isle of Wight) most systems will recommend a shop in Portsmouth or Gosport before the more sensible option in Newport or elsewhere on the island. A bit daft really, considering to get to the ‘closer’ shop might be one or two ferries at the least.

Today, I noticed that the Maplin website actually excludes shops which might fall in the radius of consideration, but are much trickier to get to.

Searching for an item from my Fareham (mainland) address gives plenty of options, but the Newport store (10.7mi as the crow flies) is not included.

Similarly, searching from an island postcode gives the Newport store only as an option.

I suspect that – instead of running calculations by travel time – somebody has manually identified island postcodes, mainland postcodes and separated them by zone so only those postcodes in the same ‘zone’ appear in the search… that’s certainly my first instinct (I’d love to think they’re doing a full journey check, but I somehow doubt it 😉 )

While it’s not perfect (maybe the Newport address could be grouped separately, in case I happened to be going over to the island anyway), it’s a step further than most location-based searches out there.

Google Gears + Demo

Finally, I’m back into doing something that I love – fiddling with new ideas.

Today, Google released Google Gears 0.4 with geolocation. For those of you not yet aware of Google Gears, it’s an attempt by the big G to enhance the client-side with a variety of rich add-ons, such as local databases, offline services and smoother integration with the host OS.

Gears is also available for Windows Mobile devices and, with the addition of geolocation, adds some exciting spice to the mobile platform.

Previously I’ve made aborted attempts to use a combination of Navizon (a mobile tracking service), Fire Eagle (Yahoo!’s location “platform”) and (Tom Taylor‘s very handy directory of POIs). It works to a point, but is a hopelessly elongated way of serving geo-aware content from a web browser.

With Gears 0.4 it’s now possible for the browser to interrogate directly the user’s location, through a combination of cell IDs and GPS (where available). The natural conclusion is to slap this tool onto the front of something like, et voila, you have a location-aware website puling information directly from the client.

Without further ado, check out my painfully basic demo – you’ll need Windows Mobile 5/6 and Google Gears (if it is not detected, it’ll prompt you to install).

As a bonus, the site will also work on your desktop, but I’m presuming that’d only be available with a GPS dongle of some kind?

I’d love to spice it up a bit – actually without presuming too much I’m fairly sure this is a natural upgrade to and other sites… if you have any thoughts feel free to post below 😉