You're walking down the street. Your phone buzzes, a map or a screen overlay pops up and you're shown a note left in that location by one of your friends - along with an ad for your favorite pizza. Walk into the pizza place and your phone buzzes again - your friends have something to say about the guy behind the counter. That might have sounded far-fetched a few years ago, but it doesn't so much anymore, does it?
18 months ago Yahoo! filed a sophisticated patent on VIRTUAL NOTES IN A REALITY OVERLAY and that patent was published last week. Check out the patent sketches below.
The technology envisioned by the team of senior researchers who filed the application is reminiscent of now-available apps like Loopt, BlockChalk, Junaio and others. The whole vision of location, social and advertising features put together, however, may be quite unique. The patent also goes beyond location to include notes tied to mobile objects like cars and people.
Update: This report at first mistakenly claimed that the patent in question had been granted. In fact it has merely been filed and published. The US Patent Office customarily publishes patents 18 months after they have been filed, then evaluates them as soon as it is able to afterwords. (Usually not very soon.) Given the pace of web technology these days, that process sounds absurd, but I apologize for reporting on it incorrectly anyway.
The technology described in this latest patent isn't just location-based social networking, or Augmented Reality "air tagging" - it includes social graph analysis, permissioning, expiration dates, contextual advertising and more. It's not just text notes, it includes methods of augmented reality with photos, videos and more. While the most popular mobile augmented reality apps on the market today focus on text on top of locations - there's no reason why reality can't be augmented in other ways as well.
There's no indication that the technology exists yet outside of the patent application and sketches below, but if Yahoo! could put together such an integrated vision of location-based features then it would have a very interesting service on its hands.
This vision puts emphasis on limited visibility of public notes based on the social connections of people doing the reading and writing, on the use of the tool for communication between people more than for public graffiti, on notes tied to entities and not just to places and on advertising based on a reader's past expressed interests. That sounds like the kind of thing Facebook might do with its inevitably forthcoming location services.
Will anything come of this patent? It's hard to say, since it's Yahoo, where genius flowers but then too often gets left out in the cold to die. Just two months before this innovative patent was filed, were were heralding Yahoo's brand new Location Database API as a would-be fountain of location-aware apps. Almost two years later, though geo is hotter than ever, it seems that nothing much has come of that effort. (Please, correct me if I'm wrong about that.) Six months ago we ran an article titled Yahoo! Launches Major Challenge to Facebook Connect. That doesn't seem like such a hot topic anymore, either. We asked Yahoo! for comment this morning about this latest patent and haven't been put in touch with anyone yet.
None the less, these are some very interesting ideas. Someone is sure to build something like this very soon. Maybe it will be Yahoo.
Watch this space for ReadWriteWeb's next public event and future research reports on Augmented Reality and geolocation.