Twitter Places: To Check-in or Not to Check-In?

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Steven Duque is a Wall St. Cheat Sheet Contributor from Living in the Future.

A Giant Enters the Landscape

Twitter announced on its blog that it’s rolling out an optional location identification feature across 65 different countries to help provide context to tweets.

According to the post,

“…you can tag Tweets with specific places, including all World Cup stadiums in South Africa, and create new Twitter Places. You can also click a Twitter Place within a Tweet to see recent Tweets from a particular location.”

A well-strategized foray into the geo-local hotbed, Twitter positioned itself as the unifying piece between the two most popular geo-local players: Foursquare and Gowalla. The move gives users access to standard Tweets and check-ins from Foursquare and Gowalla, if users click on a Twitter Place, many of which correlate to check-in points generated by these services.

Stripped of virtual goods and rewards (which, in recent times, have demonstrated tremendous economic potential in the West, after a long history of success in the East), Twitter Places could be the singular feature that renders these services irrelevant, as late-adopting geo-local media users shift toward a community with a markedly larger user base. Despite the laudable achievement that  Foursquare accrued users at an initially faster rate than Twitter, the fact is that the competitive landscape is significantly different than it was for Twitter in 2006.

Some, like GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram, look at Twitter’s move as ensuring the longevity of Foursquare’s and Gowalla’s services. Integrated into Twitter’s offering, they will have a place for their own niche, given their gameplay lure that Twitter lacks. Perhaps.

My intuition, however, is that Twitter aims to relegate its would-be competitors to the world of interesting but subservient sub-brands. While I believe that virtual goods and its cousins have yet to reach a saturation point of unearthed demand in the West, I do believe that the space lies across a tech-loving threshold that many potential users are unwilling or don’t care to cross. I may be wrong, though. Hell, FarmVille is a pretty big deal.

The Different Faces of Geo-locality in Social Media

Geo-locality is undeniably one of the hottest sources of conversation in the social media world. But how, as a concept, it is best utilized and, for lack of better words, serves as an indispensable function remains as unsettled as the Wild West. That is, the question remains: why should we care about geo-locality?

To that end, I’ll assess potential uses and share some thoughts on different applications of geo-local functionality in social media.

  1. Sharing relative position to ongoing deals: In my mind, this application has the most promising potential for monetization, and many are already of the same mindset. Charging businesses for places in the virtual geography of the commercial world, companies like Yelp are releasing powerful mobile applications that can show people’s locations relative to ongoing places where they can spend their money. Add the ingredient of people wanting to share deals with others (getting validation of their value-seeking mindset), and you’ve got a good reason for social geo-locality.
  2. Making news about large-scale events discoverable: Proclaimed as a powerful tool to monitor the goings-on of the World Cup, Twitter Places (as well as other geo-local functionalities) enables users to follow large-scale events in real-time from the perspectives of those there. While a bright idea, I wonder whether this is actually a service that many should care about, as real-time updates and streaming online video are nearly ubiquitous and available from sources that are much more informative than a person’s Twitter feed.
  3. Broadcasting to your social network: While Foursquare and Gowalla have unearthed a significant amount of demand for broadcasting one’s location to her social network, I struggle to believe that this is something the general public will ultimately want in a big way. Frankly, there are many points in the day where I have no interest in telling everyone in my social network where I am. The key winners if I’m wrong about this trend: parents and stalkers. The key losers: those who want private lives.
  4. General context to commentary: Most useful to the Twitterers with proclivities to comment about varying internal states and sights and sounds of surroundings (who, unfortunately, are many), providing general context to commentary isn’t the least reasonable application of geo-locality in social media. The real question, however, is whether the tell-all generation will continueon its merry way or pull back once it realizes that it’s not the best idea to broadcast every aspect of one’s life to her social network.

The Linchpins of Geo-locality in Social Media

Whether these applications of geo-locality will succeed hinges on the general public’s sentiments toward a couple broad trends, I think.

  1. Privacy: Traditional paradigms of private life are now challenged everyday by the titans of social media, with Facebook leading the way. Personal boundaries are increasingly stretched, but there are some signs of push-back. The adoption of geo-locality in everyday use will largely be a consequence of whether people will want to share their location with others. Unless a better array of tools to segment and target one’s social networks arise, I predict that the answer is ‘no’.
  2. Sharing useful info with others: That people want to help others with useful information may be the saving grace of geo-locality in social media. Whether citizen journalism or sharing great deals, people seem to want to tell others about useful public information. That is, when witnessing a public event or participating in a public activity (such as shopping), my intuition is that people are more inclined to share their locations with others.

How this all plays out remains to be seen, but I’d to hear your thoughts in the comments section on what the future looks like as we live it.

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