Integrating location-based discovery is the most under-utilized tool in social technology. Listening in on social conversations taking place across the globe, sorted by location and events feels revolutionary—a "Thomas Edison-like opportunity," one investor said about its potential with Instagram. It does come with some concerns, as the ability to do so does feel a little like the thing Batman created and then made Morgan Freeman destroy at the end of The Dark Knight, as I wrote back then in the Instagram piece.
Well, we will likely soon see how the public feels about it as Twitter is testing out a new local discovery feature. Here are the details, from All Things Digital:
According to multiple sources, Twitter is in the process of testing a new feature that lets you discover tweets from people within a certain distance of your location. The idea is to surface relevant activity based on where you are in the world, serving up tweets from others around you — whether you follow them or not.
The feature, as I understand it, came out of the company’s recent hack week at the beginning of this month, where a few engineers worked on projects related to local discovery. A number of employees have been testing the feature in the Twitter app ever since.
The type of tweets you’d see, ideally, are the most relevant ones nearby, especially when they follow a trend or a flurry of closely connected activity. So a football game or a concert, for instance, may be a great use case here.
What will be interesting—besides whether or not Twitter inserts the tweets directly into users' sacred timelines—is the auto-discovery based on users' interests. Of course, it'd be easy for Twitter to pull up relevant tweets from the stadium or arena for anyone who's actively engaged with their team's accounts, but in sports there are opportunities beyond that. For example, Twitter could help identify sports bars where there's a large contingent of fans taking in the game, possibly even identifying watch parties if, say, you live in Seattle but you're a huge Green Bay Packers fan.
There may be a big problem here, and that's this:
Twitter users have to choose to include location data in their tweets. It's set to not be included by default. Imagine the uproar if, in pushing this potential new feature, Twitter switched the default the other way.
So with Twitter already culling location data (if users choose to share it), it must be using it, right? That's true, it is. Here's a search for tweets within a mile of Safeco Field. There are even existing apps that will show you tweets nearby any location.
And that's why, as I mentioned, the most interesting part is the execution of the auto-discovery. It isn't just something "cool" that'd enhance—greatly, albeit—the value of the platform. There's money to be made here. In looking more large-scale, I'm sure teams would love to easily see—and push—the best tweets coming out of their stadium. And on the smaller side of things, imagine a sports bar looking to promote the fact that their establishment in downtown Seattle is drawing a large group of Packers fans on a regular basis. I'm sure they'd pay something to push that out to other Green Bay fans in Seattle.
It's worth noting, however, that this is still a product in the relatively-early stages of development. It, as mentioned above, came as a result of a hack week at the beginning of April. But even though the feature is young, it's hard to argue that there isn't some big potential here.