Twitter's plans to let its users attach geographic coordinates to their messages have external developers very interested at the possibilities this new geolocation functionality will open up for their applications.
By the company's own admission, geotagging in the popular microblogging and social-networking service has been a rudimentary and inexact affair, dependent on a text field that users can leave blank or fill in with anything they like.
However, Twitter announced last week that it will soon let users stamp their postings with precise location data, and give external developers access to that data via a new geolocation API.
The news has thrown many developers into an intense brainstorming mode, thinking up ways to enhance existing applications and build new ones that use this location data.
Michael O'Connor is extremely excited about the potential of the Twitter geolocation API to enhance his application Myallo HotList, which is awaiting approval for the iPhone application store.
Myallo HotList shows the locations of users' friends and favorite places on a radar-style map, whose blips change color -- from bright red to light blue, with shades of orange, yellow, and gray in between -- to reflect their "hotness" depending on how close or far they are. The location data comes from the one stated on Twitter profiles.
"That's why Twitter's improvements in geolocation mean so much to me. The more people who report their locations on Twitter, and the more timely those locations, the better and more accurate Myallo HotList will get," said O'Connor, president and developer at Leptonic Systems, in an e-mail interview.
O'Connor expects that the geolocation API will make it easier for his application to determine whether a location is exact, vague, or just a funny phrase. It will also be useful to know the date and time of a geotagged Twitter message.
"With each tweet, a location, date and time could be available, and you could map the route of a person as they travel," O'Connor said, adding that he has no current plans to add this to his application.
One feature he does expect will be enhanced is Myallo HotList's ability to "discover" nearby entities by calling up data from the Yelp customer reviews site and displaying them as hotter or colder on the map based on distance and reviews.
"It appears I can do a very similar thing with Twitter. I could have it scan for nearby tweets and put them on the radar. And the contents of the tweet and/or profile could help rate the hotness of the person," said O'Connor. For example, if a user has told the app that he is interested in tweets related to iPhone, and a nearby user sends a Twitter message such as "I like my new iPhone," it might highlight that person with this similar interest in the neighborhood.
"Finally, I think this will encourage many more people to include location information. The more the merrier!" he said.
Twitter's geolocation functionality could have a significant impact on developers and users, because it has the potential to bring together the online and the real worlds, a big step forward in social networking, said IDC analyst Al Hilwa.
"Combined with mobile devices, it allows people to bring their online persona with them into the pub, the public square or even to the next-door neighbor. It really could spark a whole host of new applications that are scenario-specific," Hilwa said via e-mail.