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Yahoo's Fire Eagle Soars Onto Facebook, Firefox

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This morning Yahoo has released a pair of new applications that tap into Fire Eagle, Yahoo’s ambitious geo-location system that allows a wide variety of web services to share your location data (after being granted permission to do so). The new applications include a rich Facebook application called Friends on Fire and a Fire Eagle extension for Firefox that allows users to update their location directly from their browser without having to leave the site they’re viewing.

Of the two, Friends on Fire for Facebook is the more consumer-friendly. The application allows you to pinpoint your current location on a map, as well as view the location of your friends (shared either through the Facebook app or any of the other 70+ supported Fire Eagle services). You can also append notes to any point on the map regardless of your current location (for example, I could tag my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, or point out a park where my friends should meet up later). The bottom of the app offers a listing of your friends’ recent locations and notes, and the app can also optionally syndicate your actions to Facebook’s news feeds.

The Firefox extension works as advertised, offering a handy button at the bottom right corner of your browser that can be used to update your location. Unfortunately, getting it installed is a bit of hassle. Because it is an ‘experimental’ extension, you’ll need to first register with Mozilla. Then you’ll have to enter your Yahoo ID. If you don’t have Mozilla’s Geode location-services extension installed, you’ll need to grab that too. Given all of these hoops, I think the only people who are going to install this extension for now are the people that really want it. But once you’re set up, it works like a charm.

On the development side of things, Fire Eagle has also rolled out a number of new features. The service now supports a new ActionScript library that makes the service more accessible to Flash developers. Fire Eagle has also implemented support for XMPP (used by many instant messaging systems) to offer real-time updating. Finally, the service will soon be able to associate location coordinates with nearby restaurants and locations.

Fire Eagle continues to innovate, but it still faces some challenges, the largest of which is that most people probably don’t have too many friends who are using it quite yet. Geo-location is quickly gaining ground, but until it reaches critical mass the odds of randomly running into a friend for an impromptu get together are so low I doubt many people will take the time to manually update their location. And the fact that some these services are also segmenting their audiences (Google’s new Latitude service doesn’t play nice with Fire Eagle) isn’t helping.

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