Thursday New Tools Feature: Location, Location, Location

The big news in geek-land this week is the recent release of Google's new location-based mobile application, Latitude. Latitude is a mobile social networking app for smartphones that allows your friends to see where you are in real-time, and vice-versa. Users see a little mug-shot of the people nearby, and have the option to text, call, email, or IM them by tapping their picture.  

latitudeNDN and NPI have written a lot about the importance of mobile technology and its effect on the political landscape. Location apps will add another layer of complexity to the picture. Today, location-based mobile social networking is still an emergent technology, with most users being early-adapters and geeks. Google's entrance into this space is likely to help get location-based networking off the ground (although tech reporters are quick to point out that, without integration with the main social networks like MySpace and Facebook, these apps remain limited in their utility).  

In this experimental stage, the uses and etiquitte for location-based services have not yet been fully identified and codified; for a fascinating and slightly creepy introduction to the location revolution, read the recent Wired feature, "I Am Here: One Man's Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle." Novelty aside, they are mostly limited (for now) to random meet-ups with friends in bars. However, I believe they have real untapped potential for organizing purposes, potential that we are really only beginning to understand. 

One of the challenges for progressives of all stripes (not just politicians) in this new political era is to understand how technology can broaden our reach and our horizons while making our world phenomenologically smaller and more inter-connected, and how we can utilize these advances to enhance solidarity and promote political and civic participation. So go get Latitude (or Loopt or WhosHere or Brightkite), play around with them, and start thinking about what comes next.