Max Gladwell

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Twitter Local Trends: The Dawn of Geospatial Awareness

January 23rd, 2010 by Max Gladwell · 6 Comments

Twitter’s latest geolocation feature, Local Trends, starts us in the direction of geospatial awareness.

How relevant or useful are Twitter’s trending topics to you?

There was a time when the Twitter ecosystem was more contained and trending topics was generally useful or at least interesting. As this screenshot shows, it’s become useless. The mainstreaming of Twitter on an international scale has had an adverse effect on this data-driven feature.

It stands to reason that the personal relevance for trending topics will be inversely proportional to the size and volume of the aggregated input, which means the value is diminished as Twitter gets more popular. As of this writing, the only real-time info we can glean from trending topics is that none of them are relevant to us.

This week, Twitter started rolling out a geographic filter for trending topics called Local Trends. We’re eagerly awaiting for it to be activated on Max Gladwell’s account. You’ll find the new feature in the sidebar with Lists and Trending Topics when it’s enabled.

It will function by manually setting your location (city) as the default. Local Trends will then list the most popular topics for all geo-tagged Tweets in that city (as we understand it). You will also be able to view Local Trends for other countries/cities. It appears that the city level will be as deep as you can go at first, but it should get more granular over time with the possibility of selecting a custom area according to a neighborhood, county, or perhaps multiple cities. This data will be incredibly valuable on a micro as well as macro level.

What does it mean for you? First, it adds local context and relevance to Twitter. It helps you cut through the noise and filter the fire hose that is Twitter in a very meaningful way. As we discussed in our geolocation trend piece, it contributes to the goal of geospatial awareness i.e. access to a lot of real-time information within an immediate geographic radius. This is really what geolocation is about. Foursquare, Gowalla, and geo-tagged Tweets are all means to this end, and that’s where most people miss the point and potential of the trend.

If your assumption is that geolocation will be niche because only so many people will be willing to share their location and use these services, then you’re missing the big picture. Geolocation doesn’t need mass participation to be valuable for pretty much anyone, and you don’t need to actively participate to realize its value. Twitter’s Local Trends is a prime example. You don’t have to enable Twitter’s geotagging feature to use Local Trends. You don’t even need a Twitter account because this information can be available through search and the Twitter API. What type of information?

It can range from concerts, political rallies, and nightclubs to traffic jams, amber alerts, and natural disasters. It can reflect the current sentiments or political leanings of a neighborhood, town, or entire region. It can become a huge boon to anyone looking to organize flash mobs and Carrot Mobs. Local businesses can also benefit from this in many ways, so there is tremendous commerce potential.

Granted, a critical mass of Twitter users have to activate geo-tagging for this to be broadly useful. According to TheNextWeb, only 0.23% of Twitter users have done so, and many clients don’t yet support the feature. When this reaches 1%, we’ll start to see some real value, and achieving 10% (by our estimation) will deliver universal value.

How can Local Trends and geospatial awareness further sustainability and positive change? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Tags: Geolocation · Lifestreaming