A conversation with Cyril Houri about annotating the planet using a GPS/WiFi/cellular hybrid

Today's podcast with Cyril Houri, founder and CEO of Mexens Technologies, advances a story I began telling in early 2005 about annotating the planet. The problem was, and still is, that there aren't very many people with GPS devices. Cyril's system, Navizon, aims to bootstrap us out of that situation. The idea is to incent people carrying the fairly small number of GPS-equipped mobile devices (PocketPCs, cellphones) to map the locations of both WiFi access points and cell towers. Then people using vast numbers of devices on WiFi or cellular networks can use location-aware applications without having to own GPS gear.

There are two incentives to contribute to the mapping effort. First, the Navizon software is free to users of compatible GPS-equipped devices. (Otherwise it's a one-time $20 license.) Second, you earn points for contributing the locations of WiFi access points and cell towers to the Navizon database.

With or without onboard GPS, the software provides a few basic applications: location-based search, geotagging, buddy tracking. But Houri says that an API that's due to be revised on Monday enables developers to write their own applications that presume a GPS. If there isn't a physical one present, and if your region has been mapped by the Navizon collective, these applications will use a virtual GPS instead.

What if your area isn't covered yet? You've gotta love this bit of advice from the Navizon FAQ:

You can either:

- wait for someone else to map your area


- map your area yourself by getting a GPS device. You can even get one for a few days, drive around with Navizon running with this GPS and then return it. This way, you will have built your own virtual GPS in your area.
Funnily enough, that's just what I did back in early 2005 when I made my original GPS-enhanced mashup. The low-end GPS gadget I'd bought wasn't very useful, so after I collected my waypoints I returned it.

This time around, it might be worth hanging onto one, at least while the alternate location networks are being bootstrapped. Beyond that I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I am sure it's going to be interesting.

On a related note, I'm continuing to find reports about successful use of GPS receivers on airplanes. But maybe not for long?

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/09/22.html#a1528