24 Nov

Net-Local Tweeting

So there is a lot of buzz about Twitter’s new location API released today.  Not quite yet a feature of Twitter.com, the now available API will allow developers to collect location metadata from each tweet, expanding the utility of individual tweets beyond the list of one’s followers.  Who’s tweeting nearby can actually be an interesting search string.  Location data will not be included in the tweet itself, but will travel along with the tweet, just like a time stamp.  This is going to be an opt-in technology – so how widely its effects will be felt is still to be determined.

Despite the immediate scale of its saturation, location-based tweeting is a big move in a digital culture still cozying up to location awareness.  The thing that is most compelling about Twitter’s new feature is its behind-the-scene-ness.  Location is not going to be a central feature of tweeting; it’s going to be just another piece of information captured along with digital activity.  By placing location in the background, it stands to more expeditiously bring location data into the center of the Internet.  When location data ceases to be something we protect as a representation of personal privacy, the Internet can rid itself of its aspatial qualities and better integrate itself into the everyday life of individuals and communities.

There are privacy concerns here and I have no doubt that the debates about this new feature will disproportionately focus on them.  But it is important that just as we consider protecting the limits of the person (in that we shield the individual from contextual intrusion), that we also consider the extensibility of the person (in that we understand the potential of integrating the person with their context).  Twitter might be the service that normalizes location awareness in our social media tools.  It also just might be the service that normalizes location awareness in our personal interactions with our surroundings.