The Meedan Blog Archive

5 ways Twitter location API can help improve global understanding

When I first encountered Twitter's location search, I was awestruck.

Here was a way to filter what people were saying in Tehran just as the post-election protests were gathering pace.

It seemed a great way to get closer to authentic Iranian voices and an invaluable stream which seemed more likely to be reliable.  It helped make the Twitter experience of the crisis so compelling.

Until - that is - activists from around the world suddenly decided to start setting their location to Tehran. Then it became a mess.

The idea had been to help obscure the voices we needed to be listening to so the authorities couldn't catch them.

But it just ended up contributing to the regime's apparent use of disinformation and clouding the muddy waters further.

This use case substantially undermined the value proposition Twitter presented - so I would argue.

So the news that Twitter is to release a Location API is incredible and heralds some really exciting possibilities for sharing information and boosting global understanding.

A user will be able to allow developers to add longitude and latitude to individual tweets.

That means you can show others how you are moving around, and see where other people are tweeting from.

Sounds like great news too for intelligence services.  But at Meedan we believe location is a valuable filter for emerging social knowledge.

This service could herald better understanding between people of different countries and cultures.  Here's five reasons why:

  1. As an event takes place, you will be able to listen to responses from people who live close to that event. That means you'll be able to get closer to how people on the ground are experiencing their reality.  Imagine how this could impact conflict zones and policy decisions where communities are segregated.

  2. You'll be better able to see the people you follow on the move - so there's potential for us to learn better how people respond to other cultural experiences when they travel.

  3. If this service had been around during the Iran crisis, surely it would have improved the reliability of the tweets.  This could be true of any crisis from a contested election to an earthquake. Ok so in protests, security services might delight in knowing where their adversaries are.  But in a natural disaster this tool could really help us move.

  4. With this service, we'll be more able to identify people who likely speak more than one language or experience more than one culture, and interact with them.

  5. Over time, this service could really help us forge cross-cultural cross-language groups and networks that are only just starting to emerge on the web.

If you have other ways you think this will help people understand each other round the world, add a comment.