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The location-based future just got closer

That the internet is the same for everyone, wherever they are, is one of its defining features.

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But increasingly your location matters, and will alter what you see online.

Two events last week offer a preview of the web’s location-aware future. Social network Twitter started telling users the most talked-about topics in their vicinity. Meanwhile, Canadian newspaper publisher Metro teamed up with location-based social network Foursquare to offer users restaurant reviews based on their GPS-enabled phone’s location.

Those may seem small changes, but they mean people’s web experience is becoming inextricably linked with where they are, not just who they are. It’s not just the addition of new features to these services that is making them more location-based; users are adding to the trend by changing their online behaviour.

People are now thinking locally about their use of the global network, says John Breslin, co-author of The Social Semantic Web and an electronic engineer at the National University of Ireland, Galway, adding location-awareness to their own contributions. For example, by tagging a Twitter update about an event you are attending with its location, “you’re beginning to go beyond fun” and are adding important contextual information to the filters you apply to streams of data.

That could be empowering for some people, says Bharat Bedi, an emerging technology consultant at IBM Hursley in Hampshire, UK. For example, people with physical disabilities could easily obtain information about accessible places and routes based on where they are, he says.

While location-based services have been tried before – typically from businesses looking to advertise their wares – what is significant today “is the intent”, says Bedi. Users are actively sharing their location as a way to specify the information they want to receive, whether restaurant reviews or the most-shared gossip in their city.

Advertisers may gain too, but for now the growth of the location-based web depends on users’ appetite for new ways to filter their online experience.