One of the big, unanswered questions in the local search space is, Who’s going to do the best job of marrying location with real-time context. Twitter is hardly the first to try, but it may have the best chance to succeed. On Monday, the company announced Twitter Places, a new feature that’s being rolled out on both twitter.com and mobile.twitter.com to users in 65 countries over the next week.
Twitter Places, in a nutshell, gives every location its own Twitter page. For now, that page — which you reach by clicking “Tweets about this place” as seen in the image above — is basically a search results page showing tweets and check-ins. More on that later.
Users can attach their tweets to a Twitter Place, be it a local business, a museum, a stadium (as shown above in the image provided by Twitter), or any other specific place.
To use Twitter Places, you’ll need to enable Twitter’s “tweet with your location” feature, and then click “Add your location” under the text area on your Twitter home page. After that, clicking the location brings up a list of nearby Twitter Places:
There’s also a search option at the bottom, and if you don’t find your current place, you can add it directly into Twitter’s system yourself. How very Foursquarish!
As I mentioned above, clicking on the “Tweets about this place” link only takes you to a search results page with tweets and check-ins from that location.
But there’s so much more Twitter could do.
Twitter Places is integrated with both Foursquare and Gowalla, and Twitter’s announcement cites “key data partnerships” with Localeze and TomTom. In other words, even before this becomes widely available, there’s already a rich database of locations in Twitter’s system. It appears that every place has a unique identifier; witness these results from search.twitter.com that associate Twitter’s headquarters with a single ID string:
With that in mind, consider this: Much like Google Places gives every location in Google Maps its own page, Twitter Places could do the same thing inside the Twitter ecosystem (an idea that was likely first floated more than a year ago by Steve Espinosa). Rather than having each Twitter Place merely show tweets and check-ins from that spot, Twitter should have the capability to create a business/location profile page. Its partners on this project — Localeze, Foursquare, Gowalla, and TomTom — have plenty of data that Twitter could use. Twitter can provide the real-time, word-of-mouth conversation around any business, while the others provide basic business data, directions, check-in/activity trends, and more.
Twitter, at minimum, could create something that might exist somewhere between a complement and an alternative to Google Place Pages.
But it could also challenge Google’s local dominance in some ways. The public may come to rely more on a Twitter Place page for an up-to-the-minute snapshot of a local business (complete with the latest tweets and check-ins), rather than a Google Place Page — many of which often show reviews that are months or years old. Businesses that tend to attract a lot of real-time conversation and check-ins may be as interested — or more — in using their Twitter Place page as a marketing tool than their Google Place Page.
Google has already been trying to marry its business and maps data with real-time context via Google Buzz on Maps, but after its poorly executed launch, Buzz has essentially failed to capture the public’s interest. Twitter has much more momentum here than Google does with Buzz.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Facebook. It has a massive user base and plenty of local data about its users, plus a growing number of local businesses already marketing on its platform. There are hints that Facebook has big plans in the local space, but its ongoing privacy problems may be slowing down any move in that direction.