Twitter helps users track tweets by location

Follow that tweet! Twitter working on new API that will pinpoint Twitterers' whereabouts

Interested in tracking the Twitterers in your city or even your neighborhood? Or maybe you want to track the tweets sent from an area where there's a major event or disaster?

If so, Twitter is moving to help you out.

In a blog post yesterday, Twitter Inc. co-founder Biz Stone said the company is working on a new API designed to enable developers to add the ability to include the latitude and longitude of a Twitterer's location. The API will require that users activate the feature. When activated, the feature will let users switch from reading tweets from certain people to following tweets from a specific area.

"Twitter platform developers have been doing innovative work with location for some time despite having access to only a rudimentary level of API support," wrote Stone. "Most of the location-based projects we see are built using the simple, account-level location field folks can fill out as part of their profile. Since anything can be written in this field, it's interesting but not very dependable. A new API will allow developers to add latitude and longitude to any tweet."

Twitter seems to be following other online companies, like Google Inc., in making location information available.

In February, Google unveiled an upgrade to Google Maps called Google Latitude that allows people to track the exact locations of friends or family through their mobile devices. Google Latitude not only shows the location of friends; it can also be used to contact them via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail.

A week after that announcement, Google unveiled a Gmail tool that can now show the location of e-mail writers. The feature is designed to use public IP addresses to determine the writer's location and then append the city, region and country names to the user's signature.

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., said it's a good move for Twitter to include the location information, since it adds a new piece of information to help people trying to document an incident via Twitter. The feature should help people virtually witness an event while it's actually happening.

"This is a very interesting and important extension to the Twitter platform," said Olds. "While many might see it as just another bit of trivial information that can be broadcast to the multitudes, consider how it might be used in critical situations. Tweeters can pinpoint exactly where incidents happen, or where medical assistance is needed. Think about how this could be used in a disaster with people being able to tweet for help."

Stone noted that the new geolocation API will be released to platform developers before it's added as a feature to That means it probably will be available on various applications before it shows up on the official site, he said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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