Google is making it easier for you to find out where you are, with the introduction of My Location for the desktop. First introduced in late 2007 as a tool for Google Maps for mobile, My Location offered directions by triangulating your position based on surrounding cell towers. My Location for the desktop uses Wi-Fi access point information instead of cell towers, but just like the mobile version, My Location on the desktop drops a little blue dot onto your approximate location in Google Maps.
As Google pointed out in its blog post, My Location for the desktop can be a great tool when you arrive in an unfamiliar town and want to get an idea of where you are. Just click on the dot in the upper left-hand side of the map between the zoom and pan tools, and, after you authorize Google to continue, your location will appear on the map. Google says it takes your privacy very seriously and will never use your location information without your permission.
Once Google has located you, it’s easy to survey your surroundings and get a sense of where you are. If you’re in town for a conference, you can see how far you’ll have to travel to get to your meetings or find that hot restaurant you read about. Once you’re done exploring the map, just click on the My Location button and the map centers itself back to your location. Click the button again, and the blue dot disappears.
For My Location to work, you need to have a Web browser that supports the W3C Geolocation API such as Google Chrome or Firefox 3.5. If you use Internet Explorer or an earlier version of Firefox you can also download Google Gears to get My Location to work. Google finds your location by getting your Web browser to deliver location information based on the Wi-Fi access points around you. If there aren’t enough Wi-Fi points to get a fix on your location, Google can also make an estimate based on you IP address — although these estimates can often be wildly inaccurate.
It’s also possible that My Location may not work at all, in which case you can set your default location on Google Maps and then activate the little blue dot. In my tests, My Location worked well; I was sitting in a public cafe with several Wi-Fi access points around me. The only problem was that my dot kept moving down the block from my location every few minutes, and then came back to the correct spot again (I’ll have to ask Google if it sells leashes for My Location dots).
In addition to My Location, Google earlier this year introduced Latitude: a social networking version of My Location that lets friends share their locations with each other and which works on both Mobile devices and personal computers. If My Location and Latitude aren’t enough location fun for you, Google will also let you attach your location to your Gmail signature.
My Location wasn’t the only service Google introduced yesterday; the search giant also introduced the capability to search for Creative Commons photos in Google Images.