RealTime IT News

Yahoo Brings 'Friends on Fire' to Facebook

Yahoo has greatly expanded the potential reach of its Fire Eagle location-sharing service by adding Facebook to the fold. Yahoo's new Friends on Fire application for Facebook, announced today at the SxSW conference, joins a growing list of real-time, updating services like micro-blogging hit Twitter.

The head of Yahoo's Fire Eagle project, Tom Coates, says Friends on Fire will facilitate the kind of meetings with friends and colleagues that typically happen more randomly when you bump into someone you know on the street or in a coffee shop.

"I'm very excited about being able to bring the location bits from Fire Eagle to the world's largest social network, Facebook," Coates told InternetNews.com. "You can show your friends exactly where you are and leave notes and signals, like 'Do you want to meet here for drinks this evening?' It's quite fun."

Fire Eagle gives users granular control over how much information they want to broadcast, starting with the very broad level of in the U.S., down to state, city, neighborhood and street level. You can also specify that certain groups or friends get different geo-location information.

Analyst Michael Boland thinks location based services are still best-suited to early adopters, but eventually Fire Eagle, Friends on Fire and others in this genre will gain far more mainstream appeal.

"For now you have to sign up for Friends on Fire or download the browser extension Yahoo also just announced for FireFox, so there are a few moving parts consumers have to deal with," Boland, a senior analyst with The Kelsey Group, told InternetNews.com. "It's a very cool idea, but you have to be proactive to get it."

And while there may be more automated ways to add location-awareness, service providers have to be careful to let users know what they're getting – or choose not to – due to privacy concerns.

Boland notes location-awareness features are rumored to be included in the next version of the Macintosh operating system, Snow Leopard, as well as the forthcoming Windows 7 from Microsoft.

Yahoo's announcement comes at a time of growing popularity for Twitter, the most widely-used of many micro-blogging services. Boland thinks Friends on Fire is a good complementary service to Twitter. "It gets at the hunger a lot of people have to update their status, which is a feature Facebook already offers, but this is map-based, so you can really get that location angle."

Coates noted Fire Eagle is an open platform that he's anxious to see extended to other platforms. "We'd love it if Twitter worked with us," he said. "We’d have no problem with that. We want to extend to social networking platforms, mobile and elsewhere."

On the mobile front, Coates mentioned there are several applications published by independent software developers using Fire Eagle, including Sparrow and Voila, for the iPhone.

"We're cool with that," he said.