Twitter turns on maps feature for its web site, but not for search

Twitter now lets people see maps of where geotagged tweets were sent from on its web site. (They briefly showed off this feature yesterday. It’s now turned on permanently.)

The story began last year, when the company enthusiastically launched a location API that let users attach their location to tweets. “Everyone should do this!” co-founder Biz Stone told VentureBeat in an interview.

Startups like Seesmic and Tweetdeck were quick to build features around the new data. But it’s taken months for Twitter to finally show geotagged tweets on its own web site.

Starting today, if you see a tiny blue location icon next to the attribution on a tweet, you can hover over it and a map will pop up, showing where the tweet was published from. It’s a nice addition based on the Google Maps API, which helps the web site catch up to the experience other companies already provide based on Twitter’s data.

But Twitter’s current method of geotagging is far from what the micro-blogging service needs to be a real player in location.

First, the new maps feature isn’t turned on for Twitter’s search results. The whole point of location-based search is to be able to find what’s actually happening around you right now. Instead, Twitter tosses a few such tweets into a wash of noise for any search in downtown San Francisco. For example, here’s a search for tweets in VentureBeat’s ZIP code. It makes a pretty demo, but you’ll get a mix of results — tweets that were actually sent from downtown San Francisco within the last hour, drowned out by tweets from people who claim on their profiles that they’re in downtown San Francisco (even if they’re really on a business trip in New York.)

By contrast, try the ‘Nearby’ feature on Google Buzz’s mobile web site. You’ll get content that’s actually been sent from around you because it’s verified by GPS. Buzz doesn’t have anywhere near as many mobile users as Twitter, but that’s all the more reason that Twitter’s location features should be even better than Google’s.

Furthermore, Twitter needs to make geotagging much more mainstream. Only people who tweet from their phones, and who learn that they can go to their account settings and click the button “Add location information to my Tweets,” will have their location attached to their mobile updates. For everyone else, Twitter uses the location set in their account profile for search, which means a lot of noise for curious searchers.


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