Community: A Scientific Study And Location-Based Opportunity (Or Invasion Of Privacy?)
Two weeks (and a day) ago, in the first of my then-two-part ‘Community’-themed post series, I pointed out what a different (and, I believe, richer) experience online gaming against other human beings is as compared to the traditional human-versus-computer alternative. Coincidentally, and courtesy of the fine folks at Ars Technica (with additional discussion at Slashdot), a just-published research paper backs up my opinions with some intriguing hard data. For one thing, human brain activity varies depending on whether or not the person whose noggin is being analyzed believes that he or she is playing against a machine or another person, and there’s also a noticeable difference depending on if it’s a ‘he’ or ’she’ being observed.
Also, my earlier writeup had suggested that one weakness of a silicon-based opponent is that its burgeoning artificial intelligence could in fact be a liability, causing it to not be able to mimic the unpredictability of a flesh-and-blood adversary. To wit, I wrote:
Artificial intelligence enhancements (the result of both more sophisticated software algorithms and the beefier CPUs that make them feasible) may ironically degrade the human-versus-computer experience. Human beings are erratic, after all; sometimes they make brilliant moves, and other times they suffer serious stumbles. That unpredictability in a human competitor is, I’d argue, key to the richness of the contest against that human competitor versus a PowerPC CPU-fueled alternative.
However, quoting the Ars Technica introduction (emphasis is mine):
At its simplest, winning most games comes down to one thing: outsmarting your opponent. One of the appeals of networked games, however, is that doing so is generally considered to be much more challenging when your opponent is a human instead of a machine. Even the best algorithms can fall into predictable patterns, and few of them are able to recognize any habits that human players fall into.
John Timmer’s piece therefore provides both an interesting adjunct and counter-point to my hypothesis. One the one hand, Timner agrees that even the best AI code isn’t sufficiently spontaneous. On the other hand, he points out that the human beings also tend to go down the overly habitual rabbit hole at times…albeit still in a decidedly un-machine manner.
My January 22nd writeup extrapolated observations of family members’ enthusiasm with the Xbox LIVE service to a bigger-picture challenge to include social networking features in your future hardware and software design projects. Two weeks later, Google unveiled a primo example of exactly what I was talking about. The ‘Latitude’ add-on to Google Maps for Mobile (which I’ve discussed before) optionally enables you to both report your location-of-the-moment to friends, associates and family members and to ascertain their dynamically updated whereabouts. There are, of course, potential privacy implications, in line with past Google-crafted offerings, therefore the optional emphasis. But I can imagine younger generations in particular glomming on this thing big-time. Qualcomm, like Google Maps, offers location-based nearby service recommendations (restaurants, upcoming events, etc) by virtue of a March 2008 technology acquisition of Xiam.
Google Latitude reminds me of several conversations I had with vendors at CES, notably a lengthy one with the folks from Global Locate, a GPS technology provider which Broadcom acquired in mid-2007. I noted and they concurred that GPS silicon and software adoption is rapidly broadening beyond traditional standalone receivers. Mobile phones, as many of you already know, are increasingly becoming GPS-augmented, and digital cameras are also starting to embrace the GPS trend. Witness iPhoto ‘09, a keystone member of the latest generation of Apple’s lifestyle software suite, which lets you organize your images based on where you took them. A number of online photo sites also let you search for others’ shots based on GPS coordinate metadata.
Apple’s upcoming OS 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’ reportedly embes the CoreLocation API framework currently found in the iPhone, according to developer leaks. Netbooks provide another potentially compelling destination for GPS silicon, since their form factor, weight and connectivity options translate to a highly mobile usage assumption. Price pressures are substantial, of course, but the incremental GPS cost could be counterbalanced by location-based service revenues (provided either by the computer manufacturer or by a partner). And keep in mind that GPS isn’t the only way to triangulate your position. Nearby cellular base stations and Wi-Fi access points (assuming they’re in a particular service’s database) can also provide useful geographic clues. In fact, many GPS providers also tap into these additional resources to acceleration the acquisition and improve the accuracy of location search results. Skyhook exemplifies this multi-information-source trend.
Social networking-inclusive technology is a burgeoning wave, and location-based services are at its crest. How can you catch this trend without being submerged by your customers’ Big Brother (advertiser, government entity, etc.) worries?