Dec 14, 2010

google latitude pm ken norton responds

You know what I love about blogging? That I can toss off a quick kneejerk post about the new Google Latitude iPhone app, and get a thoughtful and well-reasoned response from Ken Norton, the product manager of Google Latitude.  (It probably helps that Ken's a friend; I don't think I have every PM on every Internet product reading my blog...but hey, a boy can dream.)

Ken's comment is on the original post of course, but it's worthwhile promoting it to the front page so that folks consuming the feed get the benefit of seeing it.

Since I'm the PM for Google Latitude, let me try to respond.

I've never been one to let the mainstream media dictate my product positioning, so let's set that aside for the moment. Here in the High Tech Octagon we sometimes overlook and important fact: for the majority of consumers, a mobile phone is a tool for staying in contact with close friends and loved ones. Yes, it's hard to believe when the echo chamber is awash with people using smartphones as a megaphone for broadcasting their every movement and whim to the entire planet.

Latitude has never been a product intended to be used with many, many people. It is, quite simply, a way to keep in contact with a very few number of your closest friends and family members. How do consumers do that today? With voice and text messages - "when are you leaving?" and "where are you?" and "how far away are you?" Just yesterday I received a testimonial from a user who got off at the wrong train station and was completely lost. He called his wife who was able to use Latitude to find his location and rescue him. We hear stories about former abused partners who share their location with a best friend just in case. I'm a cyclist and it gives me (and my family) peace of mind to know they can see where I am when I'm riding or driving to events.

Furthermore, Latitude has a pretty sweet "single player experience." Even if you're not sharing with anyone our History Dashboard is incredibly useful and magical. Privacy has been a *feature* of Latitude since we launched - you have complete control over who you're sharing with, you can choose to share your closest location, city-level or hide. We also send you email reminders when Latitude is enabled just in case you forgot, or in the event that somebody has enabled it on your phone without your consent.

Latitude isn't trying to be Twitter, and it's not Foursquare. That's not the point. So rather than asking "why would I want to share my location continuously with the entire world?!" ask yourself "would it be useful if I could continuously share my location with my best friend/spouse/partner/parent/loved one?"

Here's my response to Ken...

I understand the benefit of Latitude, and also the challenges of communicating those both inside and outside of the Tech Octagon. Frankly, I think the user model and benefit of Latitude ("let me make sure my close friends and family know where I am") makes a lot more sense for average users than the check-in model of Foursquare or even Facebook Places. And I get the privacy controls, and honestly do appreciate the periodic (monthly?) reminders I get from Latitude about what information I'm sharing and with whom.

My kneejerk reaction was to the continuous sharing. I understand how there would be benfit of doing that with (very close) friends and family. And I'm sure at some point I will turn that feature on (or turn it on for my kids) and will appreciate it. But I can't be the only one that has a visceral reaction to real time location sharing *with Google*, which is necessary and obvious to share that location with friends & family through Latitude. I'm happy to be accused of playing inside baseball here, but at some point people are going to want to know if / how that location data is being used at Google to make other services (advertising) more effective. The Mobile Privacy Policy is reasonably broad on this point, and all the help docs are solely focused on how you have control over what information is shared with other users, and how they can see / not see that data.

And note to self: less kneejerking next time.

More comments welcome.