Yahoo’s Fire Eagle

I just got my invite to Yahoo’s new Fire Eagle web application. (Incidentally, they sent along four others that I can give away to whomever would like one - just contact me). I have to say… I’m impressed!

Fire Eagle is, as far as I know, Yahoo’s first full web app built with Ruby on Rails (they normally use PHP/Python for most of their stuff). The idea behind Fire Eagle is that you can update your physical location via a number of methods, including third-party websites and cell phones, and then display it using a number of methods, such as your blog, your Facebook profile, etc. I’m no fan of Rails, having recently abandoned the platform, but if anyone is going to make Rails work and leave the arrogance of its founders in the dust, it’s Yahoo.

Fire Eagle is fully secure such that only those applications that you “trust” can access (or update) your information. Ideally, you could even use GPS on your phone to do this and it would automatically update your Facebook profile so that only your friends/family could see “where you be at”. Of course, they’ll soon have a function that lets you just text message your location from a phone, or use a mobile website. Or you could update it right in Facebook, but it would also show on your blog, or your company profile page at work. There really is no limit on how you could update or access the information. While you could arguably do this with any social app alone, you would be missing out on all of Yahoo’s built in geocoding and mapping features that are built-in to this thing. In other words, I can type in a street address on my cell phone and it could display on my blog my physical address on a scrollable map automatically (or dozens of other sites simultaneously). I don’t need to worry that the persons who might read the street address might not have any idea where that is.

What I liked immediately which gave me several ideas was using just general cities. While most people will probably develop stuff around exact specific locations (street addresses or GPS coordinates), I saw a very practical business idea out of being able to communicate instantly your general location (city or town) to clients and potential clients. More on this later.

I’m going to be using it for my new company that I just created to try it out (more on the new company later), so I’ll report back. The documentation is extraordinarily clear for both users and developers. With a fully open API, Yahoo is allowing anyone to use the service (once it’s out of beta) for free. As was discussed at the recent Future of Web Apps in Miami, particularly by Leah Culver of Pownce, open API’s that allow other applications to utilize and display data at multiple websites (or any data source such as cell phones) are the future, if not the present. Leah talked about how the first API that Pownce released was rather restricted, but with the most recent update (2.0), you can send data or use data stored at Pownce from a variety of sources. There really isn’t any limit because a well-written API allows other companies and developers (including you if you be’s a smart chap) to write their own integration.

What strikes me most about Fire Eagle isn’t so much how the developers got that right from the get-go. After all, it is Yahoo and they ain’t just sittin’ around eating nachos all day. But with all the hoopla about Microsoft trying for a Sunnyvale land grab, I can’t imagine that an app like Fire Eagle would ever have seen the light of day in Redmond. And if it did, it would be full of proprietary junk that would render it useless from the starting gate.

I’m not trying to bash Microsoft, as they do have some cool stuff they’ve come out with lately, but the “cool stuff” department of Microsoft doesn’t make them any money and is a very small part of the overall company. None of it (so far) seems to have penetrated the rest of its corporate cultural. Buying Yahoo isn’t going to suddenly help thousands of Windows and Office nerds “get it”. A few maybe already get it (and probably keep their heads down and duck into restrooms everytime they see Ballmer coming down the hallway). But the end result, as most of the internet community seems to agree, is that Yahoo will die a slow and agonizing death and such things like Microsoft Live will only marginally improve. Not cool, in other words.

While Yahoo is courting people who have even a worse track record in technology (Murdoch’s MySpace/FoxNews crowd, for instance), my personal feeling is that they stay the course and shun all buyouts and most partial investments (such as the rumored 20% investment by Google). As we small business owners know, the best success is often right after some of the lowest moments. I’ve felt for several years now that Yahoo is working feverishly on blowing the doors off so many heel-nipping competitors. For them to integrate with a corporate behemoth like Microsoft or some old-skool media company (no matter how many MySpace users they have) would be a huge mistake. Keep on keeping on, I say. This Fire Eagle release is just another in many recent announcements Yahoo has had in the past 60 days proving their solid net worth and eye on the future. During the same 60 days, Microsoft got the largest fine ever by the European Union, saw their stock price dive too, and hasn’t announced really much of anything except some lower prices on Vista to try and get more suckers (like me) to upgrade from XP and spend nearly a week of their life in CMOS and FDISK hell and then finally just buy a new motherboard and video card and more memory but decide to get even by tossing XP from secondary machine and switch to Ubuntu Linux from which I’ve been pleasantly happy for several weeks now. But I digress.

I could potentially see Fire Eagle being as big as Twitter (as much as I hate Twitter) within a matter of six months or so. I think it could get much bigger than even that as it is infinitely more useful, and will be very easy to use as various applications get developed for it. The Facebook uses alone at college campuses may overwhelm the Ruby on Rails engine running this thing if Yahoo isn’t ready for it. I’m sure they are, though. I’ll repost here once I have my little use of it up and running so you can see it in action.

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