Location and the Web Are Quickly Merging

Today we have a guest post from Adam DuVander. We’ve asked WhereCampPDX participants to talk about what they’re excited about right now, and this is the first of the set.

There’s no doubt that the Web has recently gone more mobile. Many of us have Internet access just about everywhere we go. Over the last year, we’ve also gone the other way: location is making its way to the web, on any device. Any simple web page can now access its user’s location with a few lines of JavaScript. That is, in the paraphrased words of Joe Biden, a pretty big deal.

When I first started writing my mapping API book, I wondered whether I was too late to the map mashup game. Much of the interesting stuff was done in 2005, right? Now that the book is done, I’ve realized it’s perfectly timed. Because every lesson in web mapping is now ripe for mobile integration. And where the mobile web used to be thought of separately from the “real web,” developers are starting to treat them similarly. The tools support this change.

Consider Google Maps V3, which began as a mobile platform. The team built its maps from the ground up, supporting it separately alongside V2 for a year. Then, in May, Google announced that V3 was the way forward for every platform. What’s good for the mobile web is also good for your laptop or desktop.

Mapstraction, the open source wrapper library, continues to be a good choice for navigating the quickly changing seas of web mapping. I use it wherever I can, because if you write it once for Mapstraction it will work in about a dozen mapping APIs. If you already need to switch from Google Maps V2 to V3, I recommend using Mapstraction to save yourself the trouble of rewriting whenever V4 comes along.

A similar single interface has made a huge change, especially since iPhone supported browser geolocation. Many websites are starting to support it, for both mobile and regular browsers. For example, twitter.com lets you add locations to tweets, a feature first relegated to the API (which meant only mobile apps supported it). MapQuest uses the same code to help auto-fill directions and Google Buzz uses it to add a location context.

We’re also seeing location’s importance to the web in the way APIs are being made available. Where Google once wrapped everything in JavaScript, it’s now making mapping services available as REST. Other companies are following suit, including location-sharing services like FourSquare. The data is being freed from the native app, so that we can use it however we please.

There are two months between now and WhereCamp PDX. That’s plenty of time for location and the Web to meld together all the more. I look forward to discussing it–and the intriguing issues that arise because of these changes–when we convene for the third annual event.