Plustags: A proposal for a standard for location based services by short messages

in blog •  last year  (edited)

At the end of 2014, Google Zürich invented the Open Location Code standard, casually known as Plus-codes, explained at and already implemented in Google Maps, OsmAnd, and the Cape Verdean postal service. A Plus-code can be long or short, the long variant being 8 characters, a plus sign and then two other characters, with the possibility to add a last character for a precision of about 3x3km. The precision of the described location is going from less to more precise from left to right. It is possible to pad a part of the code with zeros and to leave the part after the plus to achieve lesser precision. In combination with a local reference point also a shorter form with only the last 4 or 6 characters before the plus is possible (or even only 2, although this might be a source of mistakes in practice.)

For the purpose of this proposal the long codes are expected to be used because they can be parsed to one more or less exact location. The idea is to use these Plus-codes just like hashtags in order to tag a message with a location. Because the codes are quite short, this can be used on services with short messages like Twitter, Mastodon and SMS as well as Blockchain networks like here on Steem, which provides true P2P use for this system.

To make both searching easier and provide enough privacy by not being too exact in public, it is recommended to pad the location to a slightly bigger region. To accomodate for border regions of blocks, a code should be assumed to cover its own block plus the 9 blocks around it. Where this makes sense e.g. with ride sharing, an inexact distance from the middle point of the block can be added in the form +100km. A message can also contain several plus codes where that makes sense, possibly with a prefix like from:00000000+00 to:00000000+00 etc.

Further properties of the message can be defined by hashtags. Every search can be for either offering something, or trying to find something. To indicate this property I recommend picking one of #want, #free and #paid. The price can be indicated with the amount followed by the currency code. I recommend using the three-letter code in order to avoid confusion with the usage of $ for both USD and MXN for example.

Follows a list of proposed hashtags for common services, and a syntax for common properties of these requests/searches:

  • #checkin to indicate that you are at a specific place or region, or travelling a specific way. Can use together with e.g. #meetup
  • #host for offering or finding a place to sleep. The rest of the message can contain properties like 3p for 3 persons, 2d, 2w, 2m, 2y for 2 days, weeks, months, years, 3r for 3 rooms, #couch, #bed, #room, #apt, #house and #cosleep for the housing arangement etc.
  • #ride for ridesharing/hitchhiking. Prefixing the pickup and destination region with from:, via:, to: and region: (for uber-like region-bound services).
  • #event to advertise something happening in a specific region.
  • #cache for geocaching.
  • #market for buying/selling things. Use hashtags like #new, #used, #good, #parts
  • #property for buying/selling houses and other geographical property. Similar properties like #host can be used in describing the property, together with hashtags like #garden, #garage etc.
  • #rent for renting houses and when you look for a house/room to rent. Same properties can be used.
  • #help for requesting help with something at your location, or proposing to help people.

Recommended is to add a date/timestamp like until:2018-08-28 to indicate when a proposal expires, or from:2018-08-28 or at:2018-08-28T14:00Z to indicate the time from when the proposed service is valid.

To improve findability, the hashtag #plustags could be added, but this is not required.

Why would you do this? By using this style of creating messages, you can use existing search tools to find offers on public and private forums (also e.g. big chats with a search function) while people can start creating indexing and search tools around this format to make it even easier to find these options, wherever they are on the internet. You can also add metadata in said format to existing posts or on existing websites on the internet to make searching for these properties easier.

Because I am playing with Progressive Web Apps, I am thinking about creating a PWA that uses the Steem API to search for plustags on Steem for all these mentioned goals.

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