First Click: Google already knows if our paths have crossed

July 22nd, 2015

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It’s Friday night, late, and you’re sitting at the bar. Bored, maybe a little drunk, you strike up a conversation with the next person over. You start discussing your life, as you do. Your history. And soon you realize that your paths may have crossed at a cafe you both love or a city where you both lived. You try to match dates but you’ll never really know how close you came to meeting. Until now.

Last night Google announced its new Your Timeline feature in Maps that lets you "view the places you’ve been on a given day, month or year." Like most things Google does, it feels a bit creepy, if not downright foreboding in the post-Snowden era. But like most Google services it’s also pretty fantastic when viewed optimistically.

Right now Your Timeline is, as the name suggests, private and only visible to you. But it won’t be long before some enterprising developer (or even Google) offers a way for multiple people to compare location histories and identify dates and places where paths have crossed. Where chance encounters might have happened had fate intervened. I can already guess the name: Our Timeline.

It’s the big data equivalent of discovering your wife (as a toddler) lurking in the background of a childhood photo snapped at Disney World. Or that couple who unknowingly shared the same beach as kids 20 years before their marriage.

Imagine a future where wedding invites arrive decorated with GIFs showing a couple’s divergent location histories merging to form a single path. Created automatically by Google Photos, of course, complete with slideshow.

I can also imagine several dystopian outcomes, too, but let’s just try to stay positive, ok?


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