Pull out your smartphone and open a map app. The glowing dot at the center of the screen displays your location. Congratulations! You know where you are. Search for an address and the map app provides directions. Map apps help us locate and navigate.
But location information isn't just for maps anymore: it's also social. "Check in" from your phone with Google+, Facebook or Foursquare and your location is noted - and shared.
Tracking and sharing location data used to require complicated equipment and software. Today, you need a smartphone (with GPS, of course) and a data plan. Here are a few solutions to consider for your organization's location tracking and sharing needs.
Coordinate field service teams
Field service organizations desperately need accurate location information for workers. You don't want workers traveling more than necessary. At the same time, you want to make sure the worker sent on-site has the skills needed to do the job. So location tracking and awareness is mission-critical for field service organizations.
Google Maps Coordinate displays worker locations on Google Maps, based on the location of a worker's Android or iOS phone. The system also provides a way to assign and track the status of tasks in the field. (Additionally, Maps Coordinate uses Google+ Hangouts to enable video-conferencing among users.) The system is available at a cost of $15 per user per month.
Share your location publicly or to groups
Foursquare and Facebook both let users share their location by "checking in". Public sharing of location can be quite beneficial: customers might suggest a visit if they happen to notice you're in the area.
For small organizations, using Foursquare or Facebook to share location info might be just fine. But organizations with lots of users have no easy way to manage employee accounts on these services; each user signs up for their own account. (The only way to simplify user management is to use a third-party solution, such as Okta.com or OneLogin.com.)
Google Apps and Google+ might be a better alternative. Organizations that use Google Apps can enable location sharing with Google+. The iOS and Android Google+ apps let users "Check In" and share their "Check In" with any of the user's Circles. The organization's Google Apps domain is - by default - one of those circles. This fact makes it very easy for a user to "Check In" and share their location with a co-worker, their team, or with the public. Users have control as to how private or public their Google+ "check ins" are, which is a very good thing. And administrators can centrally manage user accounts from the Google Apps control panel.
Share travel or trip information
TripIt enables people to coordinate and share travel plans and information. TripIt can be added as a Google Marketplace App, so Google Apps administrators - again - retain centralized control over user account management. TripIt works in a browser and via iOS and Android apps.
Google Latitude, Glympse, and Waze each provide distinct methods of location sharing. Latitude works somewhat like Apple's "Find Friends" application: a user shares their location with a set of friends. Glympse and Waze are more single-trip oriented. For example, you can share your location via Glympse with a colleague for the next six hours. After that, friends can't view your location.
Waze is a mapping app with social features: the app lets you post your current location to Facebook or Foursquare, or let friends see your location during a drive. Then when you arrive at your location, you can quickly "check in".
Hi, I'm here!
So whether you need a complete mobile field service solution or a basic location sharing solution, solid solutions are available. Even better, when you "check in" and share your location to your favorite social network, you'll be "buzzword compliant": you're mobile, social, and local.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.