A history of SMS geotagging

When we were designing the GeoSMS standard we looked around for other examples of SMS geotagging to see if it had already been done. It turns out there were quite a few previous applications, but nothing with a published standard.

In early 2007 the E-TEN Glofish M700 was launched, one of the first GPS-equipped smart phones to hit the market. Bundled with the phone was an application called Location SMS that let you send your GPS coordinates in human-readable form.

Based solely on the screen shot, it seems to use the reader-friendly B DD:MMSS.SS format to represent the location.



The TrekBuddy application, which runs on Java-enabled GPS devices, has had an SMS capability since September 2006. The SMS format wasn’t officially published, but it was mentioned in a forum post

$TBMYT,1179735361,5000.29965,N,01749.65780,E,Be quick*00

  • Header $TBMYT or $TBIAH – TrekBuddy My You There or I Am Here
  • Timestamp in secs (currentTimeMillis / 1000)
  • Coordinates in the same format as in NMEA
  • User message (ie. “Be quick” in this example)
  • And end as NMEA (*00), but checksum is not implemented

The GeoSMS service was established by Coldbeans Software, a Moscow-based company, in November 2007. If you send an SMS of the form *location* message to +7909 921 3670 your message will be displayed on their on-line Google map at the specified location.

Although this is technically a published standard, the definition of location is “anything understood by the Google Geocoding API”. This means the receiving application needs an internet connection. It’s also not that accurate, unless you want to specify your location down to the street number. In which case, why bother with geotagging?

From the same group of Muscovites came another GeoSMS service in September 2009, part of their Geo Messages suite. This is an HTML5 application that lets you send your current location, formatted as a bit.ly-compressed Google Maps URL.

Google Maps URLs, to be honest, are probably the best way to send a location to another person given the currently-deployed handsets, since they have the best chance of being displayed correctly. But they aren’t suitable as a geotagging standard because they require the receiving device to have internet access, and they rely on a proprietary Google interface. The use of bit.ly has similar problems, plus it’s at the mercy of the Libyan government.

Finally, there’s the GeoSMS Android application, released by Geeksville Industries in March 2010. This application also uses Google Maps URLs to encode the location.



About geosms

A PhD Candidate in Geospatial Sciences, at RMIT's School of Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A history of SMS geotagging

  1. Sailor Rob says:

    I have been trying to find a solution for tagging my current location for readers of my sailing blog. I want to be able to send my position via text message and have it automatically update my position on a google map (or something similar). There are plenty of apps to do this, however I need to be able to just send a simple text without using a special app, as I have to use a sat phone to send it from the middle of the ocean. Could you possibly point me in the right direction? You seem to be an authority on the tech.

    • geosms says:

      I don’t know what technology is available, but if I was hacking something together I’d do the following …
      1) Come up with a really simple coordinate format that I could type into a satphone. e.g. “145.02 -31.53 “.
      2) Write an Android smartphone application that listens for those messages and updates the website accordingly. The Android phone would stay at home, powered up, with a wifi connection.

      Because writing Android apps is fairly labour-intensive, I’d probably just write a simple redirection app that pushes the SMS to the website via HTTP GET and let a server-side script handle all parsing and updating. Come to think of it, there are probably commercial SMS-to-URL services out there who will do the redirection for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s