Twitter: Your New Location Service Provider


Twitter has just announced a developer preview of tweet by location.

We’re gearing up to launch a new feature which makes Twitter truly location-aware. A new API will allow developers to add latitude and longitude to any tweet. Folks will need to activate this new feature by choice because it will be off by default and the exact location data won’t be stored for an extended period of time. However, if people do opt-in to sharing location on a tweet-by-tweet basis, compelling context will be added to each burst of information.

By developer preview they mean that it will only be available by API calls. So if you want to take advantage of the new location functionality petition your Twitter client to support it. (Tweetdeck — I am looking at you. Please immediately add reverse geocoded (human-readable) locations that link to a map).

We’re going to release geolocation to platform developers before we add the feature to Most of the mobile applications people use and love are built by Twitter platform developers. Developers will have access to this new geolocation feature early which means it will most likely be available on your app of choice before it’s available on Twitter’s web site. Later, we’ll add it to our mobile web site and as well.

What does this mean? At first it won’t mean much of anything, but soon those augmented reality twitter apps will become accurate, you’ll be able to call up geo-specific twitter searches for a restaurant review, mashups like Twittervision (image above) will become easier) and services like DIY Traffic (Radar post) will be able to more accurately vet data. And that’s just as a consumer and not as a contributor.

To fully support location in their data Twitter will have to add more support in their search (right now “Near:<city>” is the only supported command). You can expect lat: and long: to show up shortly.

Where it will really get interesting is if you opt-in. You will be creating a trail of mini-reviews and news as you go through life. Initially Twitter will not have privacy controls. Once you opt-in your lat-long will be shared with anyone who is pulling your account via the API (and eventually the website). You’ll start to announce your location with each Tweet. Your friends will always know where you are. You will be announcing when you are home and when you are in another country. I hope that many Twitter clients (ahem, Tweetdeck again) let me opt-out of sharing my location per Tweet. In time Twitter should definitely add the ability to choose the level of granularity (exact, neighborhood, city, etc.) to expose.

Twitter recognizes that location is a sensitive and powerful data type. They will be providing their devs with a handbook on how to deal with it:

As part of our Geolocation efforts we will soon be publishing “Geolocation Best Pracitices” to guide everyone through issues like security and privacy as well as discussing some ideal experiences for users. Topics will include things like storage of location data, what to do with a user’s historical data, how to present the concept of geotagging and more. The guide will create a framework from which we can address the challenges that come about when dealing with something as sensitive as someone’s location while hopefully allowing everyone enough creative freedom to create their own experiences around it.

This sensitivity to location comes from key-hire Ryan Sarver (@rsarver). Ryan recently joined Twitter from Skyhook Wireless. He is an organizer of WhereCamp and has spoken at Where 2.0 the past two years.

Twitter’s location support puts it in competition with location-based social networks like Loopt, Pelago and Brightkite. It gets even more interesting if services like Fire Eagle (quite possible) or Latitude (not currently possible, but probable) start to take in Twitter as a source. Or it’s quite likely that Twitter will become the default provider of location to other services (exactly Fire Eagle’s purpose). Will location become accessible via Twitter Connect? Will Twitter, the microblogging service also become your location service?

(I’ve added developer information and links after the jump)

Here’s the developer announcement from Ryan Sarver. Lat and long parameters will soon be added to the Twitter Status/Update REST API. A geo-enabled tweet will be in GeoRSS. Here’s an example:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>


<created_at>Tue Apr 07 22:52:51 +0000 2009</created_at>

*<geo xmlns:georss=”“>*

*<georss:point>37.780467** -122.396762**</georss:point>*




<name>Doug Williams</name>




  • One addendum is that a lot of emails already have something you can guess a location from, the client IP address header.

    Not all messages include this, but a surprising number do and once you have the client IP you can use your favorite geo-location services to pull out a decent guess at the place (modulo all the problems with ip-based guesses).

    I haven’t got a use for this in my projects, but I’m surprised I haven’t seen anyone else using it. Anyone know any projects I’ve missed?

  • “…but soon those augmented reality twitter apps will become accurate…”

    Will they though? I mean at the precise level that everyone is expecting based on the youtube videos that are being circulated (i.e. sitting in a bar and placing a tweet with a face). The hardware on the phones themselves doesn’t really allow for it, does it?

    Wrote more about it here…

  • Den

    Here is an example – local twitter messages:

  • Wow!!! I live in the south and you’ve got some of us beat down here. Looks absolutely fabulous!!!

  • Ian

    As neat as this is, the lack of privacy is a bit unsettling — especially as twitter still hasn’t implemented extended validation ssl or anything beyond an optional https log-in (which isn’t valid through apps like tweetdeck). Of course there’s the question of what the harm would be if someone were to get a hold of your location through a tweet…I guess it’s just an issue of, as stated above, privacy.

    “In time Twitter should definitely add the ability to choose the level of granularity (exact, neighborhood, city, etc.) to expose.”

    Absolutely, as well as offer better encryption to ensure that no one that you don’t want to share this info with can access it.

  • Really great news on so many fronts. The street as platfom ( just got alot more interesting.

    Thumbs up to @rsarver

  • A nice approach to bring the potential of the location to the social communities.

    When we have the locations we can bring the power of GIS and start to make some interesting spatial analysis!


  • I would say that this was an application whose time had come, long ago. I am glad to see Twitter catching up. Now if they could just set up a decent revenue model :)