Next time I'm looking to hit the town, I'm going to fire up the just-released BarBird iPhone app - a smart little interface that lets you map, view and filter Twitter updates from nearly 10,000 bars and restaurants in 50 cities around the world.

Twitter is a remarkably easy way for small business owners to use SMS or Facebook to publish their specials, event promotions and other information that makes it easier to identify spots that you might want to patronize. BarBird is like a geo-aware, semantically smart, venue-update browser on your phone. I like it. It's been fun to test so far.

In addition to the mobile app, BarBird also offers a website interface - though I've found no reason to use that - the phone works better. BarBird loads up a Google Map for your surroundings and displays recent updates from bars and restaurants. Each update is placed on a map and represented by a different icon depending on what kinds of language the update uses. You can choose to filter to view only updates concerning events happening tonight, discount specials, live music, ladies' nights, no cover events or happy hour deals.

Hopefully more kinds of filters will be made available in the future. I'd love to be able to view Tweets near me concerning particularly exciting meals. I'm really into hyper-local news, as well as food and drink - so this seems just like a little neighborhood newswire and real-time guide to me.

You can also view the updates in list form and the app makes it easy to access all a venue's Tweets, their Google Places information and reviews (look out, Yelp) and get directions to the venue.


Above: A Tweet about meat.

Saying these kinds of combo-apps are more appealing than Yelp is no exaggeration. It's one thing to read long-form reviews of a restaurant, it's another to be able to read tonight's updates from a bar that posted by SMS or Twitter app. This combination of technologies really lowers the barrier to publishing updates for small businesses.

Of course all of this presumes that small businesses will use Twitter. If they get results, presumably they will. Apps like BarBird, or integration of this kind of feature into other apps, could help make that more realistic.

Building the Listings

How did BarBird index 10,000 venues from 44 US cities and 6 cities outside the US? That's an interesting part of the story as well. Co-founder Pierce Lamb says that craftiness went a long way.

The company was able to build such a large data set so quickly by leveraging user-generated categorization on Twitter, in the form of Twitter Lists that users curated for their own uses on Twitter. By finding collections of Twitter accounts labeled with titles like "Portland bars," (or whatever the city might be) BarBird was able to collect a large number of likely topical Twitter accounts at least ostensibly connected to a type of business. The team then queried Google Maps to see if each Twitter username captured returned a street adress; if it did not, then it was tossed out.

The self-funded team plans to offer venue owners a free analytics package and rely on advertisements as their business model. The nice thing about BarBird is that the Tweets are already out there - this app just finds them and organizes them in a relavant context.