3 Reasons Google Isn't Too Late With the Latitude API

When Google first launched its location-sharing service, Latitude, developers were left wondering how to access their users' data. Now, over a year later, we finally have a Latitude API. But we also have a number of other similar services that have better traction and are arguably more fully featured.

FourSquare and Gowalla have both become popular because of the experience they provide as users share their location. And each has an API, which lets developers access the location data below. And it's the data that's interesting--more users, more data.

Still, there are a few reasons I believe Google brings more than a me-too service to location-sharing:

  1. 1. Google is thinking beyond the check-in. Latitude is set up to share simple geographic coordinates. There's no finding a venue, adding a venue, or selecting a venue. FourSquare and Gowalla might say their services demonstrate engagement with a business. However, Google is thinking a step further, toward more passive location sharing. This shows in the types of applications suggested in the announcement post. And, as with most things the company does, it will solve the check-in with technology. Its new Places API can "snap-to-place." Expect this incorporated into Latitude.
  2. 2. Google is putting privacy first. When Latitude launched, I wrote that Google is opening location-sharing doors. A big player supporting location means that conversations about privacy will become more mainstream. Google's Latitude API announcement post makes clear that the users are in control of their own location data.
  3. 3. It's Google. Is there any market where the search giant doesn't have a chance? The company has a huge userbase and many have an existing social graph in place (such as GMail contacts). Despite some who are wary of giving their own data to Google, the average user is probably more likely to choose Google over a lesser-known competitor.

The API requires Authentication for all commands, using OAuth. From there, applications can both read and write to the API, meaning developers could create a Latitude client and Latitude could be incorporated into apps like Check.in. A history of a user's location is also available, but only if the user has enabled the feature. Check our Google Latitude API profile for more.

While the API does not provide friend locations, Latitude has that data. The Platform was released as a Labs project, so expect this and many other features added as developers provide feedback to Google.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Location-based App Contest LocationWild Starts Saturday