LAST WEEK TWITTER announced the upcoming release of its geo-location api. The new feature set will make Twitter truly ‘location aware’ and reportedly has numerous developers salivating over the prospect of building applications to harvest, analyze, mash up, and display this additional data stream. When released for users the location feature will be turned off by default and even when you opt-in Twitter says that a user’s location won’t be stored for long. While we can foresee many positive outcomes of this new development, we also understand there may be some risks.
First, it is worth noting that Twitter has had rudimentary location awareness for a long time. When you optionally filled in your location in your profile, you elected to pass on information that is now a part of the twitter data steam. However, as this information is user dependent, answers vary, sometimes spelling is off, and other times it is simply left blank it makes this information less than dependable. Never-the-less, with the data that is available several apps are able to sort tweets by general location. In fact, one of our favorites for identifying local twitterers, TweetLocal, was discussed in an earlier post.
At this point it is also worth mentioning another location aware app that we are quite fond of. While not strictly a twitter app, BrightKite does interface with twitter in some really great ways and helps illustrate some of the potential for Twitter’s more robust new location features.
The BrightKite site states they are about, “connecting with the people and places around you. We’ll help you spend more time with your friends, show you new places and introduce you to people in your neighborhood.” When you sign up you can grant BrightKite access to your twitter account so that when you send a message to BrightKite it shows up on your twitterfeed. You can choose to share your location, post a picture and share a comment. Being a social network in its own right, you can connect with others, make friends, share comments and one of the more useful features is access to notes on locations from other users which we’ve found most helpful when searching for good grub in unfamiliar neighborhoods. They have a great iPhone app but you don’t need a smartphone to use the service. Visit BrightKite for more details…now back to the Twitter location API.
According to the Twitter blog the new geo-location API will enable twitter to “… add latitude and longitude to any tweet.” This is a far more accurate way of sharing location and holds the key to a rich set of features. Imagine what generating of feed of local twitter users that is truly dependable might mean for local businesses. Consider also the range of uses for a company that has large team of traveling sales or delivery people. How might the reporting of disasters or other international breaking news change? Really, we could be seeing the rapid expansion of the twitterverse as we now know it.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates and cautious people will and should be concerned enough to look deeper. Twitter tells us that the location data won’t be stored for long. However, what assurances will we have from those 3rd party applications that receive and mash up the data? How long will it be stored by them? Right now…we can’t answer that question.
In our minds we can see some of the potential misuses of this information which makes us slightly cautious. Opportunities would seem to abound for stalkers as well as the much less threatening, but equally vile, horde of twitter spammers. We also can’t imagine too many celebrity tweeps will be opting in for this service anytime soon. And, if they do, will it be interpreted as anything other than a beckoning call for the paparazzi to come and snap some pics?
Certainly there is some conjecture here as well as the potential for real benefits for Twitterers the world over. We look forward with some optimism for the new location features and will also be looking very closely at the terms of service agreements for any third party apps that intend to receive our location data.
So, what do you think? Do you see only roses or do you foresee demons as well? Do tell.