Fixing Geo Location

This is a friendly open letter addressed to all the web browser developers and organizations dedicated to the international web standards, including all the third party developers and companies who work with any kind of geo location information and services in the pursuit to make a polite request to make the life of millions easier.

The current user experience over geo location centric applications is broken in many ways and it is a serious matter that urged to be fixed, let me address the current issues.

The Address Issue

Each country have their own way to manage street addresses, streets, avenues, zip codes, etc. but there isn’t a global standard for addresses, many maps applications fail to find and resolve each country address system and the amount of effort to understand each individual system is just crazy, not impossible but crazy, I live in Guatemala and we have a very disorder system, in our capital we have zones, streets and avenues, but outside we have “colonias”, “residenciales”, “fincas” and places where homes are found by “trees” and “branches” or “manzanas” and “lotes”, some other Central American countries have very weird directions for places, something like “where it was the old cinema, two blocks to the south”, this kind of addresses make no sense but it is the way they found each other.

All digital map applications use a very easy way to find a place on earth with two numbers, a decimal latitude and longitude, this system is way better to find everything on earth, it is easier to send to a friend just two numbers so he can find where I’m located, mobile apps like WhatsApp make easier to share mi current location to anyone on that app.

Google Maps iPhone App, iOS 6 Apple Maps and even Waze make some kind of “translation” of any dropped pin geo location into an address that doesn’t exist at all, I strongly think that it could be easier if all this apps have the option to ignore this “translation” and work on a latitude-longitude basis as a second option.

But the main issue isn’t the address system, is the way geo locations is handled between apps.

The Geo Location Problem

If someone send me his location on WhatsApp on iOS 6 I can only view the location within the app on an Apple Maps frame, if I “copy” the address it gives me a web address to, if someone sent me an email with a location, I have to copy that location and paste it on my preferred maps site or application, if I drop a pin on Apple Maps app and share that pin location it shares a URL to, if I do the same with the Google Maps app for iOS it gives me a shorted link that is redirected to a long URL that leads to, almost the same thing happened on Waze but the web address is resolved into a URL scheme designed for that app “waze://”.

The overall usability and user experience of geo location is broken and shouldn’t.

The proposed solution

Geo location more than an app it is a service, like FTP or Email, and it should be treated like that, if you click on a web anchor that points to an FTP, the web browser either opens the default app for that service or browse the address contents, if you click on a web anchor that has a “mailto:” it opens the default mail app, very easy and very useful way of handling things, it should be that easy to handle geo location coordinates.

There are several URI schemes proposed in many online groups but participating on the slow bureaucracy of open web standards isn’t the best idea, I learn from the history of each web browser, the best way to go forward is by implementing those ideas into the code and into the betas, that’s why I’m writing to you, the lead developers, the people who really can make the change and things happen, the people who wrote the code and can make a little change that benefits everyone.

The URI scheme proposed is quite simple, a decimal latitude and longitude, the most minimalistic form is this:

<a href="geo:14.542607,-90.521373">My Home</a>

If you want to include altitude in meters:

<a href="geo:25.197139,55.274111,584">Burj Khalifa Top Floor</a>

And if you want to specify the altitude in relation to or clamped to ground or sea level, you can add a fourth decimal value for this

<a href="geo:14.584598,-90.486131,25,1">The Old Apartment</a>
  1. Clamped to ground
  2. Clamped to sea floor
  3. Relative to ground
  4. Relative to sea floor
  5. Absolute

So the web browser understand that the “geo:” URL scheme in any anchor is a location and can open the default map application on each device, so if I’m on a desktop computer I can use Google Earth, Bing Maps, Google Maps or any other, and if I’m on a mobile device the web browser opens the default maps app giving an excellent user experience.

Most email apps parse the text making any web address or email address a clickable item, an anchor, this can be also accomplished with geo location numbers very easily using regex, even social sites like Facebook and Twitter could use this geo URI scheme in their messages, posts, updates, etc. making the experience of sharing geo locations something enjoyable, easy and useful.

Software and computers are made to make our life easier not the contrary, the current state of geo location handling is quite bad, it depends on the developers, the magicians who make all this work to fix this and give a great user experience, hope this open letter encourages you all.

This letter is addressed to all web browser developers and app developers using geo localization, if you can get them the message I will be more than grateful, I send the letter directly to the following organizations and individuals:

  • The W3C
  • Dave Hyatt – Safari Lead Developer
  • Brian Rakowski – Chrome Lead Product Manager
  • Ben Goodger – Chrome Project Lead
  • Gary Kovacs – Mozilla Ceo
  • John Lilly – Former Mozilla CEO
  • Mike Beltzner – Former Mozilla Director
  • Mike Connor – Lead Firefox Engineer
  • Dean Hachamovitch – Corporate Vice President @ MS Internet Explorer
  • Niklas Barsk – Project manager Opera
  • Doug Turner

One thought on “Fixing Geo Location

  1. excellent! How about making a list of software that needs fixing? Most can be prototyped via plugins for starters.

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