Twitter's geotagging powers could transform the lifecasting service into something extremely powerful. And the company's just taken the first steps to making this happen through its own Web page: It's turned on Tweet mapping.
Twitter's geolocation code has been enabled since late 2009, ready for third part developers to build the right hooks into their smartphone app code that grab the user's location from AGPS tech and whizz it off to Twitter HQ. But that's about all that happened for a while, until just recently the company slightly adjusted how it deals with a user's geotagging data—making it comply with a common standard, and enabling a layer of user decision-making as to how much location data is revealed to the World.
But now Twitter's added the system to its Web page, and has turned on a little blue-colored icon next to Tweets in your Tweet stream that come with associated geotagged data. Hover your mouse over the icon, and you'll be rewarded with a pop-up map that reveals where the Tweet originated from, leveraging Google Maps tech from the search giant's own location-based APIs. You'll also get Tweet maps for people who merely assign their Twitter account location to one near you, even if they've disabled per-Tweet location data, and that may make things a little confusing.
The net result is similar to the effect you can currently get via some of Twitter's numerous third-party apps, and even in the augmented reality Twitter360 app, or AR browser Layar—via plug-ins like Tweetaround—giving a very neat "who Tweeted nearby" video-overlay view of the world through the smartphone lens.
The company hasn't implemented any sort of "search nearby" system yet, however. This would really be the secret sauce that could turn Twitter into a powerful hyperlocal news-discovery or PR-promotional vehicle, much the same way that I've already speculated Google could go with its Buzz lifecasting system. And this is where Twitter's geo-tags raise some questions. Because Google's loving the Tweet feed, which is powering its real-time search systems rather nicely at the moment, even while it's launching Buzz as a sort-of-competitor to Twitter. And Twitter could be aiming for hyperlocal news and possibly targeted advertising...which is very much Google's game. It's even using Google's code for the location-based data on the Twitter Web page. Pulling all this together, and what you've got is two companies, each with valuable assets, gently maneuvering to try to steal bits of each other's territory, while simultaneously collaborating to deliver a neat real-time Web search facility to the public. How this plays out, nobody knows. But as Twitter slowly ramps up its location powers as it certainly looks like it will (perhaps next requiring users to opt-out of transmitting location data, rather than opt-in) then the Google/Twitter relationship is only going to get more complex.
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