Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Milestones in the History of Geo-Locative Services

I've been recently researching the history of location-based services (LBS) and locative media. I previously blogged about the definition, terminology, forms, and examples of these, but I have not examined their origins.

As with much of digital media, it is surprising how poorly this history is documented. Wikipedia remains the best, and frequently the only, source of historical information, but at times it makes contradictory or unsupported claims (such as "the first X"). I tried to find at least a couple sources for the history below.

Below, I compiled a list of key milestones in the innovations that made consumer locative media and LBS possible. The focus is on consumer applications, particularly ones related to place or geo-targetted information.

Essentially, five streams of innovation needed to come together to make geo-locative services possible:
  1. Geo-positioning technology
  2. Internet
  3. Mobile communications and computing
  4. Digital mapping and geocontent
  5. Graphical interface and interaction design
In compiling this list, I was surprised at the degree to which innovations arose from around the world. I've included the countries of origins, but if not stated it is the U.S.

I don't go back to the invention of the map, telephone, or the concept of the computer, but pick it up as the technologies begin to converge...
  • 1940 to 1980: Computers introduced and gradually became smaller, smarter, faster, cheaper and easy to use - leading to the personal computer revolution of 1980s (Computer History Museum)
  • 1950 to 1960: augmented reality (Wikipedia) and RFID technology begun (Landt)
  • 1960: Canadian government in Ottawa developed first operational computer Geographic Information System (Wikipedia)
  • 1965 to 1968: Douglas Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute develops and presents the first working computer with graphical user interface elements (Britannica & Utah State U.)
  • 1969: ARPAnet launched, first multiple site computer network, precursor to Internet (Webopedia)
  • 1970 to 1980s:  Touchscreen devices developed & perfected (Bill Buxton)
  • April 3, 1973: Motorola executive made first ever cell-phone call (to competitor Bell Labs) (CNN)
  • February 22, 1978: First GPS (Navstar) satellite launched, owned, and operated only for U.S. military; 24 satellites would be launched before network completed in 1993 (Wikipedia)
  • 1980 to 1990: RFID became commercially mainstream (Landt)
  • 1981 to 1984: First laptop and tablet computers launched (Wikipedia)
  • 1984: Apple's Macintosh personal computer first affordable computer with graphical user interface; it sells very well and convinces people of merits of GUI (Britannica
  • 1986: One of first wireless data technologies launched by Sweden's Ericsson(Wireless Week)
  • 1988: Canadian company, BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion), was first North American company to develop wireless data technology (CBC)
  • 1989: World's first commercial, handheld GPS receiver, Magellan's NAV 1000, released (Time)
  • Christmas 1990: Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau brought World Wide Web to life from CERN, Switzerland (Scientific American)
  • 1991: Internet (then in form of NSFNET) made available for commercial use (Computer History Museum)
  • June 1993: One of first online, static maps launched by Xerox PARC (Wikipedia)
  • 1994: Bluetooth, international standard for short-distance wireless data transmission, invented by Ericsson (Mashable)
  • August 16, 1994: IBM & BellSouth released world's first smartphone and first phone with a touchscreen, Simon Personal Communicator; it had cellphone, calendar, note pad, game, etc. and optional memory card for maps, camera, music (although it wasn't called smartphone as term not used until 1997 with Ericsson's GS 88 Penelope) (Wikipedia & Bloomberg)
  • 1995: First built-in GPS device, GuideStar, offerred in production vehicle, GM's Oldsmobile Eighty Eight (PCMag)
  • 1996: U.S. Federal Communication Commission requires all cellphones to pinpoint users for emergency response, drastically increasing ubiquity of locative technology
  • February 5, 1996: First consumer-focused online, interactive map launched by MapQuest (AOL & About.com)
  • 1997: Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers published WiFi standard; companies soon launched WiFi enabled products (Economist)
  • July 1997 - U.K.'s Trafficmaster released world's first live traffic information available via GSM cellphone (using own positioning method, not GPS); as first killer app of telematic devices it drove demand (Trafficmaster & Communications Today)
  • 1998: Standards published to enable mobile Internet browsing, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) (eHow); in 2000 I developed one of Canada's first WAP sites for movie listings & reviews
  • 1999: Headmap Manifesto published by Ben Russelll; it presented influential vision of ubiquitous & locative technology (Technoccult)
  • 1999: Weather Channel launched possibly first platform-independent consumer LBS; in Jan. 2013 their app surpassed 100 million downloads (Weather Channel)
  • February 22, 1999: Japan's answer to WAP released, i-mode gained international popularity, but now only used in parts of Asia (Telegraph)
  • May 1999: Palm VII released in U.S. and has LBS capability via zip codes positioning (Navipedia)
  • June 1999: World's first cellphone with GPS functionality when Japan's Seiko Epson introduced 290g Locatio, also possibly world's first LBS as included locative mapping & wayfinding, geo-targetted weather forecasts, and proximal restaurants, hotels, & points of interest (Time/CNN)
  • October 1999: Europe's first phone with GPS and likely first ever proximal "friend finder" feature when Finnish company Benefon released “Esc!”(Global Positioning & Navigation News, 1999, vol. 9, iss. 1)
  • Late 1999: After innovations in paging technology, BlackBerry released BlackBerry 850 Wireless Handheld; the widely-successful "Crackberry" combined e-mail, organizing features, wireless data network, & QWERTY keyboard (a rarity) (CBC)
  • 2000: Dodgeball launched, early geo-social service and arguably first to reach large scale popularity, users texted their location to discover nearby friends & venues (Wikipedia)
  • May 2, 2000: American government allowed everyone complete, precise access to GPS service
  • May 3, 2000: First geocache hidden, in wilderness of Oregon by Dave Ulmer who then invited people online to find it via GPS devices (Geocaching.com)
  • October 2000: Nokia, Motorola, & Ericsson founded "Location Interoperability Forum" to spur development of LBS (Global Positioning & Navigation News, vol 10, 20 & 22 )
  • 2001: First cellphone with GPS in U.S. released, Samsung's SPH N300 in Rhode Island (Wireless Insider, vol. 2, iss. 38)
  • November 1, 2001: "Can You See Me Now," a mixed/alternative reality game first played in Sheffield, UK - one of first such games to use online location tracking (Blast Theory)
  • 2002: Dutch company TomTom released their first navigation product for PDAs; Navigator was one of first affordable portable (and suitable for in-car) GPS devices (TomTom)
  • June 2002: One billion mobile phone users worldwide (eMarketer)
  • June 2002: 200 companies joined to form "Open Mobile Alliance" to consolidate standards for mobile development (OMA)
  • August 2002: Wherify Wireless made children's watches with GPS for parent to track kids (BBC)
  • Fall 2002: First doctoral dissertation about LBS published in ProQuest (leading dissertation publisher), "Discovery and adaptation for LBS" by Todd Hodes, Berkeley, Computer Science
  • 2003: One of the first locative history projects; launched in Toronto [murmur] collected oral histories of places and via unique phone numbers & plaques, people could use mobiles to hear stories of place in situ, project spread across Canada, Ireland, Australia, Scotland, U.S. & Brazil (murmur)
  • 2003: Japanese first to use smartphones to scan QR codes to receive online content; QR codes were invented for Japanese auto industry in 1994 (Wikipeida)
  • July 2003: Locative media term coined by Karlis Kalnins for Latvian workshop (Leonardo)
  • June 2004: One of first locative art projects presented; Christian Nold's London UK based project Bio Mapping used galvanic skin response & GPS to map people's emotional response to specific locations (Observer)
  • July 2004: I Love Bees, one of most popular, early alternative reality games with locative elements (e.g. GPS) begun (Wikipedia)
  • August 9, 2004: OpenStreetMap, open-source global online mapping project started in U.K. (OpenStreetMap)
  • August 16, 2004: Plazes released, German company pioneered and popularized geo-social networking (Wikipedia)
  • April 8, 2005: HousingMaps.com launched, first Google Map mash-up (before their API released) using Craigslist housing listings; it allowed people to search for housing via online map (Programmable Web)
  • May 2005: Chicagocrime.org launched, crime data mash-up with Google Maps (Holovaty)
  • June 29, 2005: Where Conference (formerly "Where 2.0") convened, arguably leading conference in this sector (though SXSW is close)
  • June 28, 2005: Google released Google Earth, enabled widespread access to satellite imagery (Google)
  • June 29, 2005: Google released API for Google Maps, spurred innovative online map mash-ups (Google)
  • November 2005: Google released Maps for Mobile (Google)
  • November 2005: Wikipedia page created for locative media
  • Late 2005: GeoNames.org launched; a wiki gazetteer based in Switzerland with over 10 million place names in database - this leading source of free geocoded data enables many geo-services
  • 2006: Labs set up to examine mobile and locative technologies through art and research (both called "Mobile Experience Lab" and both appear to have started in 2006) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ontario College of Art and Design University
  • Feburary 2006: Finnish company, Nokia, first company to offer Near Field Communications capable mobile, 6131 (NearFieldCommunication.org)
  • May 18, 2007: Russia made its satellite navigation system, GLONASS, freely available; launched in 1970s for military use, it's only alternative to GPS - until Europeans complete Galileo in 2019 (Wikipedia)
  • June 1, 2007: Busted by LBS - Plazes CEO, Felix Petersen, called in sick to one conference then checked-in on to another on his geosocial app, but got caught (TechCrunch)
  • June 29, 2007: Many Asian smartphones already had built-in accelerometers for positioning & navigation, but iPhone introduced it to Western users (CNET)
  • September 25, 2007: First issue of Journal of Location Based Services
  • August 2, 2007: Vancouver based SciFi author William Gibson wrote "Spook Country" featuring locative art prominently (Boston Globe)
  • December 2007: Dopplr launched and pioneered social navigation and geosocial networking; based in UK & Finland, it was bought by Nokia to wither (Guardian)
  • January 2008: Kenya's post-election violence prompted volunteers to map reports of violence received via mobile users, later they created Ushahidi, open-source platform for similar crisis mapping (Ushahidi)
  • 2008: First doctoral dissertation on locative media published in ProQuest, "A brief history of the future of urban computing and locative media" by Anne Galloway, Carleton University, Ottawa
  • July 10, 2008: Apple launched App Store to promote apps; although first for mobile apps and they revolutionized app distribution, the app directory concept existed years before, such as Toronto-based Tucows' listings of freeware/shareware launched in 1993 (Wikipedia)
  • September 23, 2008: Webby awards announced new category for "best use of GPS or location technology"; first awarded to Adidas Marathon Run Tracker and People's Voice award to Palringo Local (Webby)
  • August 28, 2008: Flickr introduced ability to geocode photos by placing them on a map, combined with reading geocodes automatically taken by mobile device cameras; within 1 day over a million photos are geocoded, eventually leading Flickr (founded in Canada) to become one of largest sources of georeferenced content (Flickr)
  • March 14, 2009: Foursquare launched at SXSW conference, resulting hype helped it become arguably most popular LBS (PC Mag)
  • June 19, 2009: Augmented reality browser, Layar, launched and freely available, popularizing A.R. apps (TechCrunch & Layar)
  • End of 2009: Locative apps gained ubiquity as five of top ten apps in Germany, U.K., and France centered on location or navigation (Navipedia)
  • 2010: Proclaimed "year of location" after high-profile launch & popularity of many LBS
  • January 12, 2010: Earthquake in Haiti, triggered global efforts to map problem areas via web-platform Ushahidi and SMS updates from Haitians, resulting crisis-map aids relief workers and demonstrated potential of such technology (National Geographic)
  • February 2010: Privacy concerns of public check-ins brought to attention with launch of Dutch website, Please Rob Me; it scrubs Foursquare & Twitter to determine empty houses (Telegraph)
  • April 3, 2010: Tablets finally caught on with the release of Apple's iPad (TechRadar)
  • June 4, 2010: China banned Foursquare after virtual Tiananmen Square protests (Telegraph)
  • June 24, 2010: Gyroscopes to orient devices were common in consumer electronics (e.g., Wii) and digital cameras, but it was Apple iPhone 4 to include in mobiles and soon all mobiles had them (EETimes)
  • July 2010: Having installed Fourquare a month prior, I received notice of nearby special supposedly of interest to me, for a plus-sized women's clothing store (I'm not a plus-sized woman); location-based advertising has a long way to go - Luckily, a fellow Torontonian founded Location Based Marketing Association shortly thereafter
  • December 2010: "Mother of all geofencing pattents" awarded to Where after applying for it in 2005. Geofences are gaining popularity for geo-targetted marketing campaigns, child and friend tracking, and proximal alerts. (TechCrunch)
  • January 2011: 41% of Canadian smartphone owners had a Blackberry (Ipsos)
  • May 2011: X-Men First Class film promoted with "smart posters" that once tapped with a suitable mobile device activate online content; first U.K. marketing campaign to use this tech (Proxama)
  • November 2011: Google released indoor maps for mobiles (Google)
  • January 2012: 34% of Canadians owned a smartphone (33% are Blackberries, 28% Apple, 31% Android); 10% owned a tablet (Ipsos)
  • February 2012: 74% of US smartphone owners accessed location-based info (Pew)
  • May 2012: Groupon launched LBS for users to see nearby deals (PCMag)
  • Spring 2012: Canadians spent 2.8 hours per day on smartphones, 2.4 hours on tablets (Ipsos)
  • April 2012: 55% of US adults accessed Internet on mobile; almost double from 2009 (Pew)
  • June 2012: Foursquare had 2 billion check-ins and 20 million users (CNET)
  • August 2012: Indoor positioning = last holy grail. Nokia, Samsung, & Sony joined forces to make indoor locative technology a reality through their In-Location Alliance (Computer World)
  • August 13, 2012: Google bought travel publisher Frommers for $25 million, having previously bought restaurant reviewer Zagat in 2011 (Forbes)
  • December 2012: 87% of U.S. adults had cellphone, 45% had smartphone (Pew)
  • February 2012: China had one billion mobile users, first country to reach this level (Forbes)
  • March 15, 2012: In-car GPS device instructed Glen Farrelly to drive onto non-existent road and into active volcano in Hawaii; Glen used own judgement & survived (unlike others)
  • September 2012: One billion smartphones used globally (Bloomberg)
  • January 2013: 31% of US adults owned a tablet (Pew)
  • February 1, 2013: Mobile app Path fined $800,000 for privacy violations; it was also found that Path shared users' locations even when users opted out of this (NY Times)
  • February 3, 2013: After waiting a few weeks for my invitation to Ingress, Google's new location-based game for mobiles, I finally got in. A scifi narrative encouraged people to explore their world and join a global fight, using app's locative interface. (TechCrunch) Hyped as first game with potential to make location-based games (aka alternative reality) mainstream.
  • February 11, 2013: For the first time in Canada, I noticed a "smart poster" - for a Toronto production of The Wizard of Oz. I tapped my Nexus smartphone to the poster and instantly got ta page for ticket info. Although, this technology worked much more quickly and easily than scanning a QR code, the resulting page I received was generic and boring - demonstrating that even if the tech functions the campaign strategy and content execution must also work.

This list is a simplified account and is by no means definitive. And, considering how poorly documented the history of this sector is, some of these details cannot be considered infallible.

All this considered, I could really use some help verifying, correcting, and expanding this list - so please leave any suggestions below.


Anonymous said...

Quite a good timeline but very US-centric. Looks like you forgot all the key research and LBS art projects that were going on in Sweden for instance.

Glen Farrelly said...

Thanks for the feedback. I tried to broaden the geographic focus - but English literature does tend to focus on innovations in the U.S. and U.K.

I didn't forget the key LBS projects in Sweden as I hadn't heard of them. Can you provide any of their names or details? As I'd love to include them.