Yahoo's Fire Eagle takes flight for location services

Yahoo on Tuesday announced general availability of Fire Eagle, which enables users to their mark their location on the Web and is being leveraged in applications such as travel and messaging systems.

Yahoo on Tuesday announced general availability of Fire Eagle, which enables users to their mark their location on the Web and is being leveraged in applications such as travel and messaging systems.

Featuring an API, Fire Eagle acts as an interface for managing and sharing location information. Users can authorize Web, mobile, or desktop applications to update location, and they can do it manually on the Fire Eagle Web site or mobile sites.

Fire Eagle enables developers to build geo-aware applications, letting them focus on location without having to build the infrastructure to handle users' locations, Yahoo said. Yahoo has set up the Fire Eagle Developer Center, featuring documentation, support, and code for building location-aware services.

"Fire Eagle is a way for [people] to take their location to the Web," said Tom Coates, head of product at Yahoo Brickhouse, which shepherds startup projects. The software features privacy controls.

"Essentially, Fire Eagle is nothing more, nothing less than a store for a user's location," Coates said.

Users can put in a name of a place and a street address and it updates location, said Coates. "What's more interesting is how it works as a switchboard," for location, he said.

One action includes enabling users to make their make their location available via their mobile phone.

In a beta release since March, more than 50 sites and services have been using Fire Eagle already, Coates said. Some of these companies lauded the service during Tuesday's launch event. .

"[Fire Eagle] solved all the hard problems with location for us," providing a simple API for access to information without having to deal with irrelevant items, said Mike Malone, of Pownce, which provides a service enabling users to keep in touch with friends and share messages and files.

Detailing obstacles Fire Eagle addresses, Pownce provided examples of location configuration difficulties, such as which city named Springfield is relevant, since there are multiple cities with this name.

At Six Apart, the company has integrated the Movable Type blogging software with Fire Eagle. "It makes it easier for bloggers to have correct location information on their blog, within their posts, being able to geo-tag their content," said David Recordon, open platforms technical lead at Six Apart.

Outside.in's Radar application is a personalized local news service that shows what is going on near a user's location. "Obviously, Fire Eagle is crucial to the success of what we're trying to do," said Mark Josephson, CEO of Outside.in.

A blogger and industry analyst at the event later commented on what he sees as the uniqueness of Yahoo's project.

"There are other tools that identify location but none that do it in specifically this way," said Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, in an e-mail. "The attention to privacy is noteworthy as is the concept behind Fire Eagle. The challenge will be to build user awareness and adoption in the near term."

Yahoo's Fire Eagle open API also is a differentiator, he said.

Sterling cited Apple's iPhone as also having location capabilities, offering GPS and triangulation to passively identify location. Google's My Location tool also enables location services via triangulation, Sterling said.

While Sterling noted that users may fail to update their location, Coates said Yahoo offers reminders to users.

Although Fire Eagle technology has been accessible free of charge, monetization opportunities could include Yahoo fitting its own ad-driven Web properties with this technology or selling advanced developer tools geared to Fire Eagle, Coates said.

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