Every point on the earth can be described by a latitude and longitude. (Pedantically, you actually need to specify a height too). The latitude tells you how far north or south of the equator you are, and the longitude how far east or west of Greenwich, London.
But why would you use geographic coordinates rather than street addresses? Well, there are a number of reasons:
- Not every location has a street address. What about providing a location for a breakdown service? Or routing an ambulance to a car park in a rural area? Or delivering a pizza to a bench in a park?
- Entering a full street address on a mobile device is inconvenient but most mobile devices now include GPS and so know their geographic coordinates to high precision.
- There are circumstances under which a street address may not be sufficiently precise – in a large apartment complex or industrial site you may want to know the precise location of the main entrance or reception.
- In some countries the addressing infrastructure is not fully developed such that even a house on a well-made road does not have a universally recognised street address.
This list of use cases highlights a couple of requirements for businesses to benefit from geographic coordinates.
Firstly, consumers need a way of discovering their geographic coordinates. In the past this was quite tricky; finding your latitude required the use of a sextant which measures the height of the sun above the horizon at noon. Finding your longitude was even worse, it was a problem that took several hundred years to solve conveniently in the end it came down to being able to measure your time precisely and compare it to the time at Greenwich.
However, nowadays many of us carry a smartphone around with us, which can provide our latitude and longitude to an accuracy of 5 metres or so using Global Position Systems (GPS). Our web browsers support geolocation services which will provide geographic coordinates in the absence of a mobile phone, although accuracy will vary.
Secondly, service providers such as Loqate need to be able to link geographic coordinates to street addresses. This process is known as reverse geocoding, taking an address and converting it into geographic coordinates is known as geocoding. To do this we need a reference dataset which relates geocoordinates to street addresses.
Loqate is now adding functionality for consumers to “use my location” in order to provide an address. We take the device location and do a reverse geocode lookup to find street addresses and populate your web form.
All of this is transparent to the end user because of the work we do in the background. The user clicks a button, a short list of addresses appears and they pick the one they want. Simple.
Watch this space for more on this functionality...