Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Plazes And SMS

In the spirit of following through, here’s an update on the auto-location thing I was writing about last week. I asked a question on the Fire Eagle website about how to update via SMS, and I got a helpful email from one of the Fire Eagle team, the man himself, Tom Coates, suggesting I use Nokia’s newly acquired German-based location service, Plazes.

Plazes will allow updates from SMS, and it can update your Fire Eagle location. So after reading the Privacy Policy, I signed up. Another login and password for my list. Still, I’m following Bruce Schneier’s advice on all these passwords, so it’s not too much of a problem.

Once I’d signed up, I asked Plazes to “plaze” me. This used a slightly different method from Fire Eagle, which just asks for your address and then parses it in a similar way to Google Maps. In contrast, Plazes asks for a location name, like “My Office” and then tries to ascertain a location. It then asks you to fill in the address gaps. It calls these location names “plazenames” and stores them, and allows a “plazename” to have a history of who has been there. This location history is something that Fire Eagle doesn’t provide, instead only storing the current location. Plazes allows you to set your locations to public or private, but still, I think I prefer the Fire Eagle model.

“Plaze Me”, “Plazenames”, I’m not sure about these words. They require more effort to say, because of the “Z” sound requiring more pressure in the mouth. It makes me want to say “plazenamez” and you end up sounding like Timothy West in that Tales of the Unexpected where he turns into a bee.

Making up new words for your users to adopt is a bit awkward. “Google” has become common due to it’s simple ubiquity. I use Twitter, but I don’t like saying “my tweets” preferring “my twitter updates”. “My Tweets” sound like something Fergie would sign about. It reminds me of that extremely irritating series of adverts for NatWest bank in the UK, which kept saying that other banks’ branches were being closed and turned into “trendy wine bars”. They kept repeating this in the hope it would become a catchphrase. They even went as far as having an actor (playing another banks customer) say to camera, “…and now my branch has been turned into – you got it! A trendy wine bar“, at which point he was joined by a huge mob of extras yelling the catchphrase like this was a margarine commercial or something. If enough people yell it, it becomes a catchphrase? Nope, doesn’t work like that, sorry. Never mind the fact that wine bars weren’t trendy any more at that time. Ad companies. So wrong. So smug. (end of ranty digression)

The idea was to set my location in Plazes by SMS, then have Plazes update Fire Eagle. I set this up easily with the Fire Eagle authorization.

I first updated my Plazes location from the web. I called the location “PB San Diego” and gave it the address. I set my location as this place, and it showed up as 401 B Street, San Diego. Correct.

NB: this is a published address for PB, and the fact I work there is in the public domain. No-one cares, but it’s out there.

I then checked my location on Fire Eagle, and something was wrong. The location was set to 1198 4th Avenue, which is the same intersection (4th & B), but the wrong building. It’s across the street, and not where I am.

Next I tried an update to Plazes via SMS. I texted “at pb office on 401 b street in san diego” to the Plazes SMS number. I got an SMS response after a few seconds (I wonder if I can turn that off?) which read, “You’ve been placed at PB San Diego on 401 B Street”. I checked the Plazes website location, and it’s correct, with the exact correct address. But when I checked Fire Eagle again, I found the same problem. It’s shifted me across the intersection.

Plazes integration to Fire Eagle is broken. Something about how Plazes communicates addresses to other sites is mixing the address up, or “paraphrasing” it in a way I don’t like. I’ll perhaps try some other addresses, but at the moment, I won’t be using this method.

Peter made a good comment about the previous post on this subject.  He said that this was like “voluntary tagging” in reference to the tags they attach to criminals to track them. Big Brother and all that. It’s a good point, but not a worry for me in this case. Centroid will only send the location SMS when I set it to, and only when I specifically tell it what address to send. Fire Eagle doesn’t keep a log of locations, and can be set to forget your location after a period. The privacy policy is sound, as one would expect from a member of the Open Rights Group Advisory Council.