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Twitter: Geotagging and Local Trends

Last week, Twitter announced that it would soon enable its users to follow “Local Trends.” What does these mean exactly? Users will have the option to leave Trends at the default worldwide setting (translation: the “Trending Topics” you see to the right of your screen are the aggregate keywords, hashtags, etc of all Twitter users worldwide), or instead choose from various countries, or cities to see what the trending topics are more locally. If you aren’t familiar with how this works on Twitter, I’ve provided a screenshot of my Twitter account (@ElzbthMllr) from earlier this week that illustrates both what Trending Topics look like and the option that allows you to set your location to receive Local Trends.

Also related to location, Twitter has a feature called “Geotagging”, (see second screen shot below) in which a user has the option of enabling a feature that would allow for third party applications to annotate the users tweets with exact location information. It’s important to note that is in an opt-in feature, which means the functionality of it is off by default. In its blog about the introduction of Geotagging, Twitter writes that geotagging allows you to “tweet about places and add context to your tweets, connect with other users at a local level, and join the local conversation.” Off the top of my head I can think of one particularly popular third party applications that would benefit from this geotagging, FourSquare (a location-based social networking “game” that allows users to check in to locations via their mobile devices) but no doubt there are numerous others.

Throughout this travelogue I’d like to investigate what possible effects could evolve from the fallout of allowing users to follow local trends and the increase use of geotagging. For example:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to each of these Twitter features?
  • Will it confirm certain suspicions related to location-based tweeting that have been discussed (for example, the majority of people who tweeted about the Iranian revolution were not actually tweeting from Iran)? But even if that’s true, so what?
  • What’s the relationship between geotagging and web metrics?
  • How can the use of third-party applications that are made possible by geotagging help (or hinder) certain advocacy efforts, such as raising money for Haiti.
  • What effect, if any, would the “local” aspect of geotagging have on journalism?
  • On the screenshot you can read “The process can take up to 30 minutes.” Is this acceptable? What are the implications of that from a security standpoint, eg for protestors, etc.

Aside from exploring these questions, I might consider investigating and researching the intersection between geotagging, local trends and privacy. Potental issues for exploration with respect to privacy/location include:

  • Who has access to your tags that are geotagged? Just your followers? All users? The big-whigs at Twitter?
  • What can Twitter do with your tweets?
  • If you delete your account what happens to those tweets? Who controls them?
  • What are the privacy implications of all of this data? Is there there some sort of precedent for this?

If anyone has any ideas about which direction might be more interesting or more relevant to this class, please let me know. Or any readings or postings that have been done on this subject that might help inform my research adn thinkings on the subjects. I feel like I could attack this from either a privacy standpoint (which is clearly in my frame of reference due to this week’s readings about Google), or from the issue of advantages/disadvantages to geotagging and local trends. It’s also quite a large topic area so I may need to narrow it down a bit.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. mushon 00:22, Feb 1st, 10

    This is interesting, especially with “realtime hyperlocal news” being hot buzzwords. I’m skeptical though, too often the trending topics are just confirming the chatter more than informing it. The NY local trending topics doesn’t seem very different than the global one. Wha percentage of my tweets are location specific? How can they be differentiated? In some sense, isn’t the attempt to contextualize the tweet noise locally just producing more noise?


  2. ElzbthMllr 09:04, Feb 1st, 10

    My hunch is that you’re right about contextualizing tweet noise. I’m also interested to the extent to which the trending topics reinforces or maybe doesn’t, the demographics of Twitter users. I know there is data on who is using Twitter (mostly older white well off males), but is this demographic changing, and can you see that in the kinds of trending topics…

  3. Alexandra Cale 14:57, Feb 1st, 10

    I wonder how effective the feature will be, actually. I mean, if New York City is considered local I think you’re not going to find it very helpful. New York is a huge city – and so are some of the other cities listed. As Mushon said, if Twitter was truly giving me “hyperlocal news” I would expect it to be my particular neighborhood, not just the entire 5 boroughs.

    I thought your Iranian revolution example was interesting to consider. I definitely look forward to reading more about this in your future travelogues.