Twitter Geotagging Live on Foursquare, Gowalla

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-11-20

Twitter Nov. 19 released its geotagging API to programmers, but users won't yet be able to access location-based services from the Website.

The feature, which allows users to selectively annotate their tweets with their exact location and provide more context to users about their surroundings, has been implemented on Twitter applications such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Twidroid and Seesmic Web.

To protect users' privacy -- not everyone wants everyone who is following them on Twitter to know where they are -- users must opt in by going to their Twitter settings page and clicking "Enable Geotagging." The settings page also includes an option to let users delete all historical location data from their tweets 30 minutes.

Twitter even updated its privacy settings to cover the geotagging base. Twitter's Geotagging API engineering lead Ryan Sarver explained in a blog post:

"The added information provides valuable context when reading your friends tweets and allows you to better focus in on local conversations. Now you can find out what live music is playing right now in your neighborhood or what people visiting Checkpoint Charlie are saying today about the anniversary of the Berlin Wall."

Twitter executives, who yesterday also shifted the company's goal from letting users tell each other what they are doing to letting them answer what's going on, are obviously ecstatic about the geotagging feature because it enables Twitter users to add context to, well, what's going on.

Imagine a friend is out Christmas shopping on 7th Avenue in New York City. She sees a pair of shoes that she loves. She can tweet about the shoes, mentioning the store's name, and the "where" of where she found the shoes gets answered after a fashion.

Friends who follow that Twitterer won't have to ask which store location she was at. They'll see exactly where she is. Serendipitous discovery evolves into sharing. Creepy? Perhaps, but likely only to someone who wouldn't opt in to use such a service in the first place.   

Geeks are also giddy about the geotagging feature, noting specifically the opportunities on the application development front this feature will afford them. In the best post on Twitter geotagging, ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick explained:

"Want to know when you're near a certain type of public event, great wine shops or deals at Macy's? How about when friends, close friends or friends-of-friends are near? It's not hard to imagine a bot that you subscribe to on Twitter, that then auto-subscribes to you, notices when you "check in" at a new location and automatically sends you a reply when whatever or whomever you're interested in is near that location."

Twitter isn't the only social networking service with such designs. For its Google Latitude location service on Google Maps, Google launched location history so users can see where they've been and when.

Privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation are experiencing acid reflux over this snowballing trend of location-aware services.

Fortunately, providers such as Twitter, Google, Loopt and Brightkite have been very careful to implement provisions to preserve users' privacy. And it all starts with opt in. If people don't want to be tracked digitally, they don't have to use the services.

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