24 January 2010

Twitter: Why Twitter Wants to Know Where You Are

24 01 2010 - Ever since the introduction of the location-aware tweet, we’ve been curious as to why Twitter wants to know where we are. The release of Local Trends holds the key to unlock that answer.

Now more than ever, where you are is more important than what you’re doing. So as location-sharing is poised to be the breakout technology trend of 2010, the Local Trends feature points us to look towards the future of local services brought to you by Twitter, made possible by the location-aware tweet.

In fact, we’ve actually been gifted with quite a few clues when it comes to Twitter’s local agenda. Here we’ll look at the milestones on Twitter’s path to conquer local and use those pieces to fill in the bigger puzzle.

The Path to Conquer Local

1. Introduction of Location Aware Tweets

In the beginning there was the tweet and on the seventh day the tweet became location-aware. In fact, the invention of the location-aware tweet was a pretty monumental day for Twitter because it marked the first public step Twitter made that clarified their agenda to invade the hyperlocal niche market that’s already so desirous to companies like Yelp and Google.

Months later the feature is underutilized and still opt-in only, but its usefulness has yet to be fully demonstrated. As you’ll see, the push to make location-sharing via tweets commonplace is one that’s been building over time. We’re still just in the early days.

2. Developer Access to Local Trends

Developers were gifted with the precursor to Local Trends in early November via the refreshed Trends API. As we noted then, the API created the opportunity for Twitter developers to build functionality into their apps that would filter trends based on a specific subset of locations around the world.

3. Mixer Labs Acquisition

Twitter isn’t the type to make acquisitions, but when they do they’re a big deal. Their purchase of Mixer Labs — makers of the popular GeoAPI service — gives the company technology that is laying the foundation for the future of Twitter location services.

GeoAPI is a reverse geocoder, which means it can take the actual location (the exact latitude and longitude of your tweet) and transform that to identify a particular physical location. Their database includes 16 million businesses and supports layers from Flickr, YouTube, and even Foursquare, to add rich media context to neighborhoods.

GeoAPI puts Twitter in prime position to turn location-aware tweets into entities that possess tangible value.

4. Local Trends Rollout

One of our location predictions for the year is that Twitter will build their own LBS app. You should treat the Local Trends rollout as a sign of the times, and proof that Twitter is serious about serving the local niche.

The initial local addition to Twitter trends is big news, but it’s small in terms of the big picture. Right now users gifted with the new feature can set and change their location to filter trending topics by location. It’s a dandy feature that adds real context to trending topics and could help acclimate new users to the value of Twitter by being able to quickly ascertain what’s popular nearby.

Rest-assured this is just the beginning. Also note that is part of the bigger push to encourage you to share your location (via tweets).

5. The Road Unknown

Granted we can only speculate at this point what the rest of this location road looks like for Twitter. In some ways, we have to assume that they’re still figuring out the road map for themselves. But given what we know, we see Twitter’s interest in location evolving as follows:

- Place Data: Local Trends are topics that are trending in cities, but Twitter knows more than they’re showing. Now that they have GeoAPI in their arsenal, Twitter is in a place to aggregate tweets around location but at a much more granular level than cities: think physical places and even events (based on time). It’s powerful information that will become more apparent as we all adjust to the concept of Local Trends.

- Tweets as Place Check-ins: This is the obvious next step that we’ve been talking about for months. The tweet as a place check-in would be made possible by the place data that Twitter has access to. It would be one part Google Near Me Now and one part Foursquare, and either automatic or manual based on user settings.

- Local Ads: We don’t know what Twitter advertising will look like, but we can safely assume that location data will help Twitter connect advertisers to Twitter users by their location.

- Local Business Services: Everyone from Yelp and Foursquare to Google are trying to serve local businesses. Google’s pushing their Place Pages like never before and finding as many ways as possible to push those pages in front of consumers when and where they’re most relevant. When it comes to Foursquare we’ve known for quite some time that they’ve been focused on serving local businesses. Now we even know that their business dashboard, complete with analytics, does exist and Tasti D-Lite may be the first business to get to use it.

As for Twitter, they’re positioned better than anyone to roll out business services that serve local retailers. We know business services are on the road map, but what we envision is something even more tailored to local interests that combines data from check-in tweets and place data in a business dashboard. Such a dashboard could not only display analytics and information around tweets coming from a place of business, but the effects and influence of those tweets based on who’s tweeting what, and where.

[Image courtesy of iStockphoto, allsee]


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