Why Google Latitude breaks for me

This morning Google Latitude was released to the iPhone. I will use it, but it’s totally breaking for me. Here’s why:

1. Google Contacts breaks at somewhere over 10,000 contacts. It stops letting you add new contacts. It doesn’t even break gracefully or consistently. Over on Google Buzz I was adding new people to follow at a rapid rate and then things just started going wrong. People wonder why I use Twitter over Google’s services and this is why. I’m following 28,000+ on Twitter and it doesn’t break. Google’s services do and inconsistently too. Makes me not rely on Google for anything. I actually went through and deleted thousands of contacts (mostly added from Google Reader years ago or Google Buzz) just to make it work and I’m not likely to add new people in. Which leads me to the second point. This is really a major downside of Google mixing social news systems like Buzz into my business and family contacts along with location services. I’d rather decouple those like I can with Twitter and Foursquare. Why? Because even if they DO break in the future, they won’t take down my business contacts. Google, in deciding to build all these into one system at http://contacts.google.com really makes the whole mess a single point of failure that’s already bitten me.
2. The UI for adding new people really sucks. It is forcing me to go through friend requests one at a time serially. So, if I need to add a real friend, like my wife, I can’t without first going through hundreds of requests. Compare to Instagram and you’ll see the folly of that.
3. There isn’t value to sharing where I’m at all the time. I look at my friends on Google Buzz. Does it really matter to me that I know where they are? No. It only really matters if they are open for a meeting, if they are in the same neighborhood as I am, or if they are doing something “braggable.” I’m not freaked out by sharing where I’m at, like many other people are, but I just don’t get any value out of it.
4. Because it runs all the time it uses some of my precious battery life. Enough said. The value I get out of it isn’t worth the battery savings.
5. My favorite content pushing services don’t post to Google Latitude. I use Instagr.am, for instance, to push photos to various places on the Internet. Most notably Tumblr and Foursquare. Google Latitude can’t apply.
6. No way to say “make my location totally public.” That’s what I really want to do. Why? So services could make a heat map of where I’ve been, which really is a fingerprint and you could compare that fingerprint to other people and find commonalities. How many BBQ places have I and Kevin Marks visited, for instance?

A far better way to follow me if you really want to know my location is Foursquare. Why? Because I use a variety of services to shove my location there, like Instagr.am, Foodspotting, and Gowalla, amongst others. Plus, I have 11,000 friends on Foursquare and it hasn’t fallen apart yet (and even if it did, it doesn’t mess with my contacts system that MUST be usable because I rely on it for other tasks).

Yes, I know, only me and maybe 20 other people in the world have some of these problems. But, really, why bet on a system that has these kinds of problems? Especially when better location-based services exist? That said, I’ll run the app once in a while to see how things change.

How about you? Are you using Latitude? What are your reasons for or against it?

Oh, and if you need to let a close personal friend see where you are, for some reason, then Glympse is a far better (and more secure) way to do that.


27 thoughts on “Why Google Latitude breaks for me

  1. Downloaded and playing with it currently. No real use except maybe to keep your Google Profile up to date on where you have been (only real reason I use it). Google should have pulled a SimpleGeo, used this latitude data and allowed devs to pull the information. Odd move, but so has so many of Google’s in the past 6 months.


  2. Checking services (ie Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook) force the end user to do something in order to use it. If you forget to check in, the service is useless. Latitude just handles it for you, the only time you have to do anything is if you don’t want anyone to know your location.

    As far as your issues:

    1. The average user does not have over 10,000 contacts.
    2. The UI for adding people is fine if you don’t have 10,000 contacts.
    3. The value of sharing all the time is that you are letting the computer do the work, instead of you having to remember to check in and then wait for it to show up in twitter or facebook.
    4. It does use battery life, but it has setting to manage it. I would guess the net result is about the same amount of power as turning your display on to check in to Foursquare every place you go.
    5. I am not sure you understand the purpose of Latitude, it’s not just a prettied up twitter clone or a fledgling social network, their are already services for that.
    6. Who wants their location to be public all the time. As for the rest of this, such as history and location alerts, they exist. Did you actually look at the Latitude site before you started this rant?


    1. There’s a reason why checkins are more important: you will check in if you are open to serendipitious meetings. Latitude doesn’t communicate ANYTHING about how open I am to meeting. Foursquare does. And it’s happened over and over and over that I’ve gotten value out of meetings because of checking in. I use Latitude often too, but haven’t gotten a SINGLE thing “back” from the network. The value in letting your wife/family/friends know where you are is very small.

      Sorry, Foursquare uses a LOT less battery. There are only three places a day, at most, that I want to share with everyone on the network.

      Like I said, Glympse is a far better way to let someone know where you are. Why? Because the personal risks of letting people know where you are is just too high. Most people won’t add a business contact, or an associated person to it. It just won’t be used, according to my interviews with hundreds of people. Facebook is the one that most people will try using anyway. Google’s Latitude just doesn’t provide much value and is rife with problems.


  3. Comparing Latitude to Foursquare is apples to oranges. Foursquare is first and foremost a game…not just a geolocation service. It’s about mayorships, badges, and promotions. A fair comparison would be to Facebook Places.

    Anyways, your bringing up a non-issue. The majority of people don’t have 10,000 contacts.


    1. I totally disagree. I don’t use Foursquare to play a game. I really don’t care about being mayor anywhere. I use it for two reasons:

      Serendipity around people. I check in to see if there’s anyone interesting nearby.
      Serendipity around place. I check in to see if anyone has left me a cool tip about the neighborhood I’m in.

      That’s it. Anyone who says it’s about the game isn’t really paying attention. The game is lame. Oh, and, you forget about the deals you can get just by checking in. Something Google doesn’t yet do.


      1. It’s funny how you think that foursquare is not about the game? Everyone else cares about being the mayor and competition is fierce. But what you are doing is using its “power user” features and it really seems like what your looking for a completely different service. Hopefully, someone will build a service that lets you define places you will be and when you are “open” or “closed” for business. I guess what you really want is plancast to implement a location based service.


  4. I only use latitude when my family calls me for directions to somewhere. Instead of asking them where are they now, I simply fire up latitude and check to see if they are on my list. Can any other service do that? If so sign me up. Btw you are on my list on latitude so if you ever get lost in Philly let me know, lol 🙂


  5. I’ve used Latitude since it launched publicly and the only value I’ve gotten out of it is to make a personal heatmap of where I’ve been (and the utility of that is questionable). I briefly had a jerry–rigged setup that updated my twitter and foursquare locations based on Latitude but kept running into a very stupid problem. Latitude (and Skyhook) have no common sense when it comes to geocoding your location. So if the last 100 updates over the previous day have you in Miami Beach, and then you come near a wifi hotspot which is erroneously geocoded to Natick, MA both services will report that as your location, instead of throwing out the obviously bad reading.

    I don’t see how Google can do anything useful with personal geolocation services without getting the privacy police tackling them. So Google locks down the service and makes it as difficult as possible to accidentally spill your current location, making the service much less useful, and probably not even coming close to placating the privacy police.


  6. Sorry, but nobody cares if it breaks over 10k contacts. If you have this, and ever worse, FOLLOW this, you are getting absolutely no relevant information nor contacts from your accounts. Contacts are not supposed to be a yellow pages, but rather a easier way to bookmark the people you communicate often.


    1. That’s how YOU use contacts. Not the way I use it. I am a networker and a journalist. I have a lot of people who I need to call in the industry and, over the years, I’ve collected more than 8,000 business cards by meeting people face-to-face. Nice to know you don’t need these features. But many of us do (especially if you are an executive in business).


  7. Get a life! 28k people?? I bet u dont know 27,950 of them!! Wich gives you tops, 5 friends, which probably hate your guts, cause every time you go out you can’t put down the freaking devices!!
    There’s hope!!
    Go fishing!!


    1. Heheh. Actually, I hand added every single one of them. They are mostly developers, executives, press folks, or other tech geeks. I have more than 8,000 business cards, so have met many times that number face-to-face.


  8. To be honest, I’m not sure that Google Latitude is a tool for telling the whole world where you are. I think it’s aiming to solve the problem of “where are my nearest and dearest”. For me, Google Latitude is a great way for my wife to be able to see where I am and where I’ve been when I’m out on my motorbike. I don’t think that 28,000 friends is really what Latitude is really for, IMHO.


  9. Just to be clear – I agree with you that there are probably better services for the amount of people you follow location for, and that Latitude does a good job of solving a different problem.


  10. Edgardcastro: “Again, if you do have 28k contacts you have nothing.” “You’re just inflating your ego with a big addressbook. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    The Google Taliban is enraged.


  11. That’s kinda the best thing about Scoble you know. He not only follows that many people on twitter. He actually keeps up with what they are saying, takes time to curate lists and then goes on to help startups with their businesses. I don’t know how he does it, you don’t either. At the same time there are probably things you and I do that Scoble would probably never get/understand. Point is don’t assume that he has to be at the same standard as you. I’m not saying that standard is better or worse, just different.

    The topic wasn’t about his contact book, it’s about the service as a whole btw. 10k contacts was just one side of it and even that was to explain how Google services break. It doesn’t matter what anyone’s opinion is but Google shouldn’t break at any number of contacts. Oh and there were 5 other points in case you missed the bus.


  12. Hi,

    well there are 2 things I really like:
    1- proximity alerrs:
    a) if someone, that lives close to me is also in berlin or Paris, when I am travelling, I am alterted
    b) if someone not usually close to me is close, I am also alerted
    2- public badge on my blog, so ppl can see where I am (/see at: http://blog.oliver-gassner.de/ )

    What I dislike about Fursquare is that it incited compulsive moble-staring [cause you keep checking in etc.] (something I call ‘iPhone autism’) and that is acceptable in geeky environments but hardly acceptable among ‘muggles’.

    A combination of 4sq and Latitude (where I am automagically checken in at points that I rated or checken in manually before) would be handy.


  13. Most people I know who are on Facebook have 300-500 friends listed, a few have 30-120 (they usually spend no time on FB), and actually a large number of people I know have 900-2500.

    But I know a lot of DJs, singers, directors, songwriters, etc. and they as a class need to be more connected to more people.

    Social utilities like FB are used very differently because people are social in different ways and use utilities in different ways!


  14. Robert, the battery was the biggest issue for me, both on my BlackBerry Curve when I first tried it (and I carried multiple batteries!) and now with my Nexus One.

    Everyone’s given you brief about 10,000 contacts and breaking, but I think if there’s a flaw in your argument it’s in comparing it to Twitter! Twitter’s fail whale is infamous. It hasn’t been bad lately, but for years it was a major issue. So breaking at 10,000 contacts seems lame, but Twitter had a major bandwidth problem.

    I usually have between 800-1300 contacts, but where I have issues with contacts are with syncing. Every platform I’ve used (Mac, PC, BlackBerry, Android) has some problem somewhere in the syncing stream from phone to web to desktop. Things always get out of whack and then when there’s more than one cloud service, it becomes a confusing jumble.


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