Location-based services haven’t yet caught fire, but location itself is increasingly finding its way to web services as a complimentary feature. The latest to use it is the Google Toolbar. If you have it installed, and open Google Maps, it will now auto-center on your location.
That’s a small, but useful feature, but the ramifications of this move are potentially much large. This adds location capabilities to the millions of people who have Google Toolbar installed. You may be thinking that a lot of those users with the latest version of Firefox already had it — but this feature is for Internet Explorer only right now. That, combined with Mozilla’s use of its Geode location plug-in (which again, is built into the latest version of Firefox), puts location on a good percentage of browsers in the world.
And while it doesn’t mention it, that’s important for Google’s own larger purposes. Its recently launched Latitude location-based network is only useful if it can automatically update your location, or make it really easy to do. Up until now, it has been a pain on a computer.
But there are other big things Google could do with location information — such as serve you location-based ads. There are other companies working in that field, but you can bet Google wants to get out in front of them and lead the charge. And with its own toolbar to get your location, it could potentially do that. It also promises the ability to serve up location-based search results with feature.
Google has been been working on location for a little while in the mobile space, but most users are still experiencing the web first and foremost through regular computer browsers. Google’s toolbar pulls location data from both IP addresses and nearby Wi-Fi access points — since most computers don’t have GPS built-in.
Much like it does with Gmail, Google added a “Labs” area to Google Toolbar today, to test this new feature. It also has a new, simple Chinese version of the Toolbar in this Labs area. Both are IE-only for right now, as I mentioned.