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Skyhook Upgrades Location-Aware Browser Toolbar

Users can use the service to find nearby friends through location-based social networking, and advertisers can use it to pinpoint ads to users based on where they are.

Skyhook Wireless on Tuesday introduced a new version of its location-aware Internet browser toolbar Loki.

The software relies on Wi-Fi rather than GPS to determine user location, and adds a variety of new features aimed at enhancing location-based advertising and social networking.

Loki now offers an opt-in feature called Location Pull that lets Web sites request a user's location in order to return location-specific Web pages. For example, the social location service can show Loki users whether their friends are nearby without requiring users to first log on and submit their whereabouts—Location Pull handles this automatically.

Loki also lets users share their locations using SMS.

The new version of Loki adds local advertising to the Find Me page that users load to pinpoint their locations on portable devices such as notebook PCs. "We're seeing click-through rates on location-based ads of 5% to 7%," says Jed Rice, VP of market development for Skyhook Wireless, noting that online ads typically see click-through rates closer to 1%.

The Skyhook Wi-Fi Positioning System has advantages over satellite-based GPS signals, says Rice, notably its ability to work indoors or out. Currently available to over 65% of the people in the United States, Skyhook continues to expand the reach of its system around the globe. Rice says that the five largest metropolitan areas in Canada will be covered by January.

Loki requires Windows XP SP1, and Skyhook is working to provide support for PocketPC, Windows Mobile, PalmOS, MacOS, and Linux. A recently developed extension for the Firefox/Minimo mobile handset browser should help extend Loki's reach to more mobile phones.

Rice says its Wi-Fi Positioning System will soon be integrated into a major IM client, most likely AOL Instant Messenger, and that a major handset equipment manufacturer will announce that it has integrated the system into its dual Wi-Fi/cellular phone hardware at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

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