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Case study: The story of Geoloqi and geolocation technology

Software development startup Geoloqi claims to be re-inventing the way companies build location-aware apps. We take a closer look

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In the late 1990's, organisations began moving sales brochure information to the Web. Business processes moved next, then social and collaborative work.

Today the push is for mobile applications. With such technology, your refrigerator can message your cell phone when it's time to buy milk. If the application is location-aware, it could do this while you pass, or are at, the grocery store.

The next frontier for software development may just be geolocation. There are problems, though. While GPS capabilities are standard in smartphones, how applications interact with those GPS features is not.

Companies have to develop separate code bases to deal with GPS functionality for each supported interface, including native Android, iOS and the Web. While applications can ask "Where am I now?" asking for push notifications on arrival, or triggers, are not built directly into the operating system. To simulate them, companies have to re-invent the wheel, or, at least, build their own code libraries.

Geoloqi, a scrappy startup in Portland, Oregon recently acquired by Esri, claims to have a fix for all that.

Getting to Geoloqi: Look for the Lego

The Auditorium building in downtown Portland. Geoloqi is on the third floor.

Most of the companies I visit have a large corporate office in an office park. Geoloqi, on the other hand, is in downtown Portland, on the third floor of the Auditorium Building. Take the elevator to the third floor and enter a different world.

The company is small, with only seven employees at this point. Three core employees-founders Amber Case and Aaron Parecki and first employee Kyle Drake-did most of the development. Case, the CEO, meets me in the small reception area as the rest of the company meets in the large office to perform a design review.

The office is designed as two logical spaces. The outer area includes a small reception area, Case's private office (used for meetings) and a couple other meeting rooms. To get to the real action, we go behind an unobtrusive area and enter the back, which has a row of two large, short cubicles, a kitchen, the door to the server room-and a play space for Legos.

Amber Case describes the layout of GeoLoqi's back office.

Case explains that the single most valuable thing at GeoLoqi is productive programmer time. The company honors this through its office design choices: Programmers get a personal space that's twice the size of what I usually see (and with plenty of space between desks), a bright office environment full of natural light and huge rolling white boards. Most importantly, social spaces are physically separated from work places so programmers won't be interrupted.

After our quick tour, Case takes me to her office to tell me how GeoLoqi got started-and where it is headed.

The how and why of geolocation

Case begins by noting that handheld, Web-enabled devices make up half of new device sales. That percentage is rising, too-and leaving traditional desktops laptops in the dust. Mobile phones are becoming the default way people interface with the internet, Case says, and in an increasingly complex world, filtering by location becomes important.

Most geolocation, she continues, is polling-based. Get on a bus, for example, and you need to be constantly aware of the next stop, or else check your phone every few minutes, to make sure you don't miss the right stop. This interrupts your thinking, which the GeoLoqi staff considerers a sort of evil: Interruptions mean you can't get things done.

Feature: 21 Awesome GPS and Location-Aware Apps for Android

Instant messages present the same problem. If you're late for a meeting, you text the person who's expecting you to let him know you're stuck in traffic. This begins half an hour of back-and-forth IMs.

The alternative is something Case refers to as "calm technology." On the bus, you could set up a trigger to tell you when the bus is approaching your destination; in the car, you could publish your location on a mapping application so your friend can see your location and gauge your progress.

Building a real-life Pac-Man

Case refers to herself as a "cyber anthropologist," meaning she studies how humans use software. Her expertise is in usability and user interaction. It is Aaron Parecki, GeoLoqi's second founder, who built the proof of concept enough to attract investors and customers.

The teamwork is by design. Case says she was looking for a partner who was serious about coding and probably a little shy. She began giving talks and competing in events in order to meet this unknown partner. Once she met Parecki, they built a core software development kit that enables mobile application development and began competing in local hackathons and Startup Weekend events for prize money and notoriety.

One of the earliest tools they developed was a game called Map Attack, a sort of real-life Pac Man. Competing teams run to specific points on a grid. Map Attack overlays both the points and the grid on Google Maps so teams can observe each other's progress. At the end of the time period, the team with the most points wins.

MapAttack at WhereCamp 2011 from aaronpk on Vimeo.

Having heard that story and watching a demo video, it was time to ask how Case and Parecki built the system.


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