Where It’s At

If Web 2.0 is all about the tools and technologies that allow users to freely create, share, and connect around content, as well as interact with content companies, then the next evolutionary step is Mobile 3.0, which places location and the mobile device at the core of this exchange.

The advance of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology makes the vision of location-aware content a reality. Already, major handset makers have built GPS receivers into select devices. Nokia, for example, has location-enabled its N95 device and the aptly named Nokia 6110 Navigator and has acquired mobile mapping and solutions company Navteq for a cool $8.1 billion, underlining the key importance of location in the content and services mix.

Indeed, the powerful combination of location and personal mobility empowers individuals to inform others of their experiences when they’re on the move. One result is bound to be a new kind of content creation that will increasingly encompass microblogging and updates on the author’s experiences that are linked to the precise time and place, encouraging nearby peers to join in.

As Michael Halbherr, director of location-based experiences at Nokia, puts it: “Location is destined to sit at the center of a new kind of user-generated content assembly line. If I find cool places, I may want to share them with good friends or add comments and publish what I have found for everyone to see.” Nokia’s own survey of 9,000 regular technology users goes one further, identifying a trend to “circular” content creation, where people not only create and share their own content but also remix it, mash it up, and pass it on within their peer groups or back to a content site. Location could rise to play a central role in this new form of collaborative and contextual social media.

At the other end of the spectrum, location is also set to be a main ingredient in mobile content services. For now, some content companies choose to partner with mobile operators. It’s a strategy that ensures reach but could become pricey as some operators charge a fee for each request content companies make to their networks to find the current location of the consumer in question.

Consider Rightmove, the U.K.’s No. 1 property website. The company recently inked an exclusive deal with mobile operator Vodafone to launch a mobile service with a “find me” facility. This advanced function lets subscribers ask the Vodafone mobile network to pinpoint their locations using satellite technology and then show them all available property in the area. The service directs queries back to the nearest Rightmove agent.

But what about other content companies that may not have the clout or the patience to seal a deal with a major mobile operator? Fortunately, pathbreaking technology is coming online that will enable companies (even individuals) to deliver a location-aware experience via the mobile web.

One high on my radar is Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company—whose investors include Intel and Nokia—that has quietly and cleverly developed a game-changing, software-only positioning system that leverages Wi-Fi technology to deliver precise location data. The company, which has been mapping Wi-Fi networks in all of America’s most densely populated areas and is now expanding to Europe, has created a reference point that can help location-based applications orient themselves when GPS won’t work.

Since technology relies on Wi-Fi rather than satellites or cell towers, it paves the way for ordinary developers to location-enable content without having to pay for operator assistance. This is because Skyhook can location-enable any site with just a few lines of JavaScript. After a user allows his or her location to be shared, the content provider can tailor content to that location.

Ted Morgan, Skyhook Wireless CEO, recently told me that his technology has piqued the interest of content companies who see his approach as one that will allow them to offer content directly to the consumer, bypassing mobile operators and any other gatekeepers that might want a piece of the action. The current client list includes publishers, social networking sites, and technology providers. Morgan revealed that Skyhook is also in discussions with a long line of content companies, as well as mobile search companies, that see the value of delivering results relevant to the searcher’s exact location.

The real prize may be the payoff that could come when content companies can deliver location-aware advertising. In this scenario, brands and advertisers could fine-tune their mobile marketing campaigns to target users with location-specific offers and messages. Anything else is, quite frankly, spam.