Plazes

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Introduction

I got interested in Plazes at reboot, and I've been doing some work with the Plazes API. I'm participating in the new CodePlaze.com effort to document Plazes development efforts, and I've been blogging about my own experiments.

What's Plazes?

Plazes is an elegant, simple "geolocation" system that enables interesting "location based services" to be created.

A location based service is a "digital something" that reacts to your location. You're walking by a restaurant, you get reviews from others on your cell phone. You're at school, you see a list of your friends studying in the library. You're traveling in a new city, you find free wifi access points.

For systems like this to work, your digital device -- your laptop, cell phone, PDA, tablet, whatever -- needs to "know where it is." This is a more difficult nut to crack than you might think. Newer mobile phones, for example, have some "figuring out where they are" abilities built into them, but this information is rarely opened up to developers to build applications around, no doubt because mobile providers have plans to sell the information to us in future.

Plazes' elegance lies in its solution to this problem. It's built around the notion that every router connecting to the Internet has a unique identifying number called a "MAC address." Unique in the world. So Plazes is built around identifying the MAC addresses of the routers and tying them, in a central web-accessible database, to information about their location.

This location database is built manually by Plazes' users. When a new "plaze" is identified by a user, they can name it, describe its location, add comments, and add photos. Subsequent users who connect through the plaze can add new comments, photos, etc. and edit the location's information.

When you "join Plazes" by registering at the Plazes website, you can download a little piece of software called a "launcher" that does all this "figuring out where you are" work for you, sends the information to the Plazes server, and identifies you to the world as being "there."

What's in it for you? Me?

What I have been struck by in watching Plazes is that no one has been anywhere near me, hence, a bit like being the only one in a town with a telephone and no one to talk to! --Buzz

I blogged about a story of how I used Plazes to find others at my hotel. --Peter

Plazes Hacking

The codeplaze.com site is the centre of third-party Plazes hacking. I've been blogging about some of my Plazes experiments:

Code Snippets for Various Scripting Languages

Various Plazes tools depend on the presence of the arp command in the OS to obtain the MAC address of the default gateway. And various implementations of arp return results in their own fashion. I'm starting to assemble a list Variations on ARP to aid in developing a standard library of code that will allow all variations to be used.

I've written a variety of scripts to enable interaction with the Plazes system:

Google Maps Experiments

Weird Stuff

Plazes Evangelism