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March 21, 2009 / Jim Fenton

Geographically Relevant Tweeting

This morning, we had a power outage at our home.  One of the first things I usually try to determine is whether the outage is local or widespread.  If it’s local (perhaps a nearby tree that fell?), I need to make sure that the power company knows about the outage and expect that it might take some time to repair, especially if there’s a storm underway.  If it’s a widespread outage, it’s probably better if I leave the power company alone because they already know about it.

One of the more interesting uses for Twitter is for sharing information about emergencies.  A number of municipalities and news media have Twitter feeds for this purpose.  But this uses Twitter as a broadcast medium, rather than enabling users to get information directly from other users.

During the outage, I used my cell phone to check Twitter Search for other word of the outage.  Here are some of the tweets:

The power is out (down?)

Our power is out. No ETA yet on restoring it & no clue why. This is going to make for an interesting day.

This isn’t particularly helpful.  I don’t know whether these tweeters are on the next street, across town, or are talking about a completely different power outage.

A good location add-on to Twitter should have the following characteristics:

  • Entirely opt-in on a per-message basis
  • Adds modestly to the size of a tweet
  • Provides a consistent format for location so that multiple location-based tweets can be correlated or displayed in a mashup

This week a friend of mine, Tim Burks, introduced a location-based service called .  It allows a user to create a tinyURL-like link that can be included in a tweet to indicate one’s location.  As the name suggests, is targeted around the use case of telling your friends where you are so that they can join you (for coffee, for example).  I think it has considerably broader applicability, and meets these requirements well (although I’m not sure about the mashup part — yet!)

Tools like this enable new and interesting applications for Twitter.  I wonder what’s next.

One Comment

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  1. Don Parsons / Mar 24 2009 1:58 pm

    A number of people I know here in the Houston area started using Twitter in a similar way the night hurricane IKE came through. Also, it helped people we know outside of the area get periodic status on how we were doing. It was pretty cool.

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