There are a lot of people actively using Google Latitude — 3 million, in fact. But maybe “active” isn’t really a good word for how they use it, since Latitude is a location-based service that’s passive. That is, it is continuously updating your location in the background. You don’t check-in (at least not yet), so there’s not much to actually do. But a new feature today makes this passive service much more interesting.
The new Location History Dashboard gives you a number of ways to view your location history. If you’ve recently gone on a trip, for example, you can see step-by-step where you went and when. It’s a bit like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs — only there are no birds to eat them.
Latitude has actually had this Location History feature available as an experiment for a little while. But with the changes today, the data is presented in a much more compelling way. For example, at the top of the Dashboard, you can see how many miles in total you’ve traveled with Latitude turned on, and how far you are from the moon. This Dashboard view will also highlight interesting trends for your travels.
Simply put, it gives me a reason to want to use passive location. It’s a bit like Foursquare’s new robust history, but with an engaging map element — and of course, it works without you having to worry about explicitly checking-in.
The key to this, in my mind, is that this data is private: it’s for your eyes only (at least right now). Some people don’t like Latitude because it tracks you passively, and some people think they’ll forget to turn it off. But with a feature like this, it gives me a greater incentive to leave it on all the time. It’s like a travel journal that you don’t need to think about.
And if there’s some place I want to erase from my history (not sure why, but there may be reasons), you can do that from the Dashboard too.
Naturally, for this to work you’re going to need a device that allows for location to update in the background. Right now, this means Android phones and some BlackBerry phones. With the iPhone 4.0 OS software due this summer, background location will be possible too — but Latitude doesn’t have an iPhone app. At least not yet.
This new feature is still in testing mode, so there are some bugs, product manager Steve Lee warns. And he notes that after you enable Location History in your Latitude settings, it will take a bit of time (a few days — maybe up to a week) for the results to start showing up in a reliable way.
And, of course, he’s quick to point out the privacy settings. Given what’s happening with both Facebook and Google surrounding privacy, this is something users will obviously care about. (And there’s probably a reason we haven’t seen Facebook’s location service yet.) Latitude is “entirely opt-in only and your location history is available privately to you and nobody else,” Lee notes.