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Twitter's not in the location game

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9 December 2010


Twitter is not in the location game

Yesterday evening, there was about 1 Tweet per minute in the whole of London that contained location (long & lat). The amount of Tweets associated with Twitter Places (even big ones like Highbury) were somewhat higher – but not my much.

In fact it is safe to say that the paucity of location or Place data is so bad, that using Twitter for location based services and tools is all but pointless.

RAAK is lucky enough to be one of the Alpha testers of DataSift. The great new web platform that allows you to filter Twitter streams in real time based on a number of metrics. It’s not unlike Yahoo! pipes which allows you to mash-up & query feeds, but potentially more powerful.

At a recent Twitter Devnest, Nick Halstead, founder of DataSift and previously founder of TweetMeme, spoke of the possibilities of this new tool. One could for example draw a polygon around Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and get all the Tweets from there, he said. Pretty cool, and a prospect that should make marketeers & application builders salivate.

Last night Arsenal played in the UEFA Champions League at Emirates and it was the perfect time to test DataSift. We set up just such a filter, and we thought, why not make it even more interesting by finding the most Retweeted Tweet, originating from the stadium. Or how about finding the person in the stadium with the highest Klout Score or PeerIndex Rank? DataSift makes that an easy proposition.

But we got no Tweets returned. We scaled down our lofty ambitions and just asked for Tweets from within the stadium. We managed to get just one! This one – generated by FourSquare!

The Tweet from the Emirates stadium

The Tweet from the Emirates stadium

We cross checked this with the Twitter API. Running a few tests on Hackney, Greater London and the Emirates Stadium as a Place. The conclusion. DataSift is not broken.

Twitter, although it’s ideal for mobile use and should be ideal for location is just location poor. And Places poor as well.

That is very unfortunate.

If you’re not public, you can’t be found

In What would Google Do Jeff Jarvis makes the point that default design decisions of web services and tools often have imported ramifications. He mentions how when Flickr – the photo sharing service – was launched, all existing photo uploading sites had as their default setting the keeping of photos private. Flickr decided to make the default picture setting public. And that bit of uncommon wisdom set off explosive growth in the service.

Twitter needs to rethink location and places. It should give it far more prominence on Twitter.com, their mobile apps and make sure it works and is usable. And more importantly the default should be location is on, with the option to switch it off.

Only then will there be an eco-system, a critical mass, on which interesting location services and tools can be built.

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