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Yahoo's Fire Eagle takes flight

Tool automatically updates Web, desktop and mobile apps to show location of users

By Heather Havenstein
August 13, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Yahoo Inc. Tuesday announced the general availability of Fire Eagle, a tool that provides an interface for updating, managing and storing information about locations. The tool can also automatically add the data to geo-aware Web, mobile or desktop applications.

Fire Eagle also provides developers with easy protocols for adding location-based information to any networked service, said Yahoo. For example, Fire Eagle can help users find the physical location of their friends or of services or local information.

Fire Eagle, which was built at Yahoo's internal Brickhouse incubator for start-up projects, allows users to authorize automatic updates of their location, or to do it manually. They can also opt to hide their location, change preferences for sharing their location or delete any stored personal information, Yahoo said. Since its private beta launch in March, Fire Eagle has been integrated into more than 50 live applications, including Dopplr,Pownce, Movable Type and, through the platform's API, Yahoo added.

"Fire Eagle allowed us to easily add location data to Pownce using their simple API," said Leah Culver, co-founder of Pownce, in a statement. "Pownce users can now say where they are and geo-tag their notes, which adds a new dimension to the service."

Pownce is a social networking and microblogging site launched by Digg founder Kevin Rose.

Other services based on Fire Eagle that were built during the beta period include:

  • Dopplr, a service that allows travelers to share travel plans others.
  • Lightpole, a mobile application service provider that distributes location-specific information to mobile devices in real-time.
  • SPOT, a satellite messenger that sends users' GPS location and custom messages to family and friends or emergency responders over a satellite communications network independent of cell phone coverage.

Frederic Lardinois, a blogger at ReadWriteWeb, noted that Fire Eagle could create serious privacy concerns as a central hub for sharing locations across applications, but added that Yahoo has made privacy an important focus of the platform.

"Right upon sign-up, users are given the option to receive regular e-mails from Yahoo to see if they are still comfortable with sharing this kind of information," Lardinois said. "If you do not respond to this e-mail, Yahoo will automatically disable your Fire Eagle account. Yahoo also allows users to turn the service off when they want to keep their location private."

He also noted that when it first launched Tuesday, Fire Eagle had trouble keeping up with a rush of new users.

"Once it is running smoothly again, we would not be surprised if Fire Eagle could make good on its promise of becoming the central clearinghouse for location services," Lardinois added. "Already, close to 800 developers are working on applications that make use of Fire Eagle in some form or another."

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