Mapping Twitter

I’ve been buzzing over the possibilities of mapping Twitter for a few weeks. What Twitter has done is opened a platform for lightweight mobile social messaging, that can possibly be overloaded and extended with new services. There have been numerous projects out there for location based social networking (dodgeball, plazes, many others) but nothing has caught on, for various reasons. Dopplr looks like it has niche potential here as well. So adding mapping to Twitter could be an easy hack, just as adding mapping to flickr was, and it’s happened quite quickly .. Andrew had a geo-twittering round up a couple weeks ago, though already out of date.

My thoughts have been basically, get geo information directly in the Tweets, and tailor location based services to Friends and Followers. TwitterVision has gotten huge attention and deservedly .. it’s like World as a Blog on crack. The excellent thing done here is a way to specify location directly in the text of SMS, as described in the TwitterVision FAQ. This kind of ad-hoc semantics is what machine tags did for mapping flickr.

So the other day I sent out an email to a few folks laying out my ideas. And following that, I decided to try and contact the author TwitterVision, David Troy. Amazingly, he had just arrived in London for a few days work, in offices just half a kilometer away where I’d be in London meeting on Thursday. Incredibly auspicious timing!! And meta-reflective of exactly what the technology is supposed to do. So I arranged to hook up for drinks, hung out after my day meeting observing the flows and bizarre architecture inducing behavior of the ipod styled morelondon complex and thinking about how to map such a space in OpenStreetMap. Got invited up to the check out the jaw dropping view of the offices of truphone and heard about the cheese they make on the side.

Had a good conversation and beers with David and his coding partner, interesting insights into what he’s built and how it is to build services for a twitter with growing pains. He has more in development, and twittervision seems primed to scoop this niche. I’m pondering ways to leverage all this, and Mapufacture updates as tweets seems a distinct possibility.

There’s been some blog speculation on Twitter in disaster response. SMS is one of the very least communication infrastructures that can be relied on in a disaster zone .. certainly it would be available before internet access and the power that requires. Twitter turns SMS into a social networking platform, and I could definitely see some version of that being utilised, especially with location folded in. At Where 2.0, there’s going to be a “Mass Market” demo of technology and standards, possibly a disaster response scenario, and some form of mapping twitter would fit right in.

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