Mozilla adds geographic tagging to Firefox

Mozilla has released an add-on to its Firefox that enables the browser to automatically pinpoint a user's location through Wi-Fi signals.

Geode is an experimental add-on to explore geolocation in Firefox 3 ahead of the implementation of geolocation in a future release.

Geode is an experimental add-on to explore geolocation in Firefox 3 ahead of the implementation of geolocation in a future release.

Mozilla has released an add-on to Firefox that enables the browser to automatically pinpoint a user's location by communicating with Wi-Fi signals so Web sites can provide customized content to users.

The add-on is now available through the Geode project from Mozilla Labs, according to a blog posting about the technology.

Geode is based on a W3C specification called Geolocation API, which provides "a set of verbs and commands that a Web site can use and a browser can understand" to exchange geographic information, said Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox development at Mozilla.

Once Geode is installed, users will be asked to provide location information when they browse to a site that can communicate with the Geolocation API. They can choose to provide an exact location, a neighborhood, a city or no location at all, depending on their preference, Beltzner said.

A Web site can then use that information to provide customized local content, such as a list of local restaurants or other relevant businesses. Eventually, Mozilla hopes to expand this capability to allow, for example, an RSS feed to determine whether a person is at home or at the office so it can deliver the appropriate feed.

Geode is an early version of support for the Geolocation API that Mozilla plans to support natively in Firefox 3.1, Beltzner said. The company will preview Firefox 3.1 in a beta that will be available next week. The final version of Firefox 3.1 is scheduled to be available in early 2009.

There will be some differences between how Geode works and how the implementation of the geo-tagging technology in Firefox 3.1 will work, he said.

For one, Geode uses location information only from a company called Skyhook Wireless. Skyhook provides a location system that allows any mobile device with Wi-Fi, GPS (Global Positioning System) or a cellular radio (GSM/CDMA) to determine its position.

In the case of Geode, Firefox communications via Wi-Fi signals with Skyhook, which then determines a user's position. This means people must be using a Wi-Fi network from a wireless device or notebook computer for the position to be located by the service.

Firefox 3.1 will receive location information from a variety of sources which may or may not include Skyhook and GPS signals, Beltzner said. "We're trying to figure out what the default set of location providers should be" by putting the technology out ahead of time for users to experiment with, he said.

In the Firefox 3.1 beta, Mozilla will direct users to a Web page that offers different location providers that have yet to be determined, and they can choose whether they want to use them or if they want to set their default location themselves, Beltzner said.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

IDG News Service
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