Archive for August, 2010

Twitter Geolocation features (and LBS generally)

Posted in technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by bytor

Location Based Services (LBS) seem to be all the rage these days. As the web becomes more and more something that is accessed when you are mobile, this may become more important and useful. The “darlings” of LBS are Four Square and Gowalla, but there are a number of other services in the same space such as Google Latitude, Loopt, BrightKite, Yelp etc., and recently of course Facebook announced Facebook Places (and all the usual privacy outcries that follow any FB announcement duly materialized).

Since November last year Twitter has also enabled geotagging (or geocoding) of tweets via their API. A number of third party Twitter apps had already offered such a feature but now it is an “official” part of Twitter. However, if you look at your Twitter stream you probably notice that few people actually routinely enable the geotagging on their tweets. Is this deliberate? Maybe most people didn’t even realise the feature was there? Unlike Facebook, Twitter didn’t enable the feature by default – you have to specifically enable it in your settings. Yesterday, tech commentator Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) tweeted a question asking why people were reluctant to geotag their tweets. He got some interesting responses and posted a “cinch” (a short audio clip) discussing what people’s concerns were, why he felt that geotagging data if more widely used, could add value to the twittersphere, and how Twitter (the company) might improve it’s uptake. It’s worth a quick listen.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Broadcasting your location all the time is only of use if either you have lots of friends/acquaintances that circulate in the same vicinity (town/city) and you might wish to serendipitously bump into them, or you want to get some info about your locality (like offers of discounts from shops, or realtime news of events near you)
  • Most of my 200+ followers are not people I know in real life. My IRL friends on twitter number about 5 and they are hundreds of miles away from where I am. Some of the other followers (people I have only known via twitter) I wouldn’t actually mind meeting IRL, but since Twitter is an open system and a lot of my followers are probably random strangers I have no wish to always let people know where I am.
  • Certainly I don’t wish to make public my home location (for the same reasons above).
  • When I am “out and about” sometimes I turn on geotagging on my tweets, but this is really just a short hand for me to say “look where I am and what’s going on here”. For example if I was in London and came across an interesting or unusual sight or happening. It’s not because I expect to meet any of my “followers” 🙂
  • The whole “it’s an invitation to have my house broken into” doesn’t really seem that credible. First, It assumes that all your followers all know your home address. (Maybe if you do tweet your location all the time then they will know this, but in that case more fool you). Second, it assumes that among your followers you have randomly acquired one (or more) who make it their business to robs houses. Thirdly it also assumes that just because you are out, there is no-one else at home, and that you don’t have a neighborhood watch system or an alarm. Maybe if you are an obviously wealthy person (e.g. a TV/sporting/movie celebrity) it would be worth some speculative burglar scouting opportunities this way but for the average Joe, it seems unlikely.
  • A slightly different point that Scoble makes in his “cinch”, is about people’s attitude to risk. Most people really can’t evaluate relative risks and just act on instinct (or media/internet scaremongering). Sorry that’s just how it is.