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Searching Twitter For Places Just Got Easier

Earlier this week, Twitter quietly announced new features for developers that make it easier to search for tweets according to location. The move, though not earth shattering in its own right, highlights the continual shift of Twitter away from being a communication tool to that of an information hub.

The announcement highlights a number of partnerships with location-based services like Gowalla, Localeze, OpenTable and TomTom, among others, that Twitter developer advocate Matt Harris says will “serve as a foundation for a number of exciting features we have planned to help users find what’s new in their area and around the world.”

Twitter began offering the ability to tag Tweets with specific places last June, including Gowalla and Foursquare integration, but until now developers had to search for tweets in relation to places according to the correct service, not the place itself. Now, according to the documentation, Twitter supports both Twitter place IDs and IDs from partner providers. In this week’s announcement, Harris writes:

To make it easy for you to use the large data set, we’re using an index that combines the IDs across different partners into one. This means you can use the IDs from your preferred partner’s dataset when using Twitter Search to find Tweets about a specific place.

In this way, Twitter can act as a connector of services – a one-stop shop for place data. You can check in with Gowalla and then have that place data easily accessible for use with another service as if you had checked in with Twitter itself. By making its database of places relational, Twitter is positioning itself in much the same way Facebook has with its Places product.

Mick Johnson, co-founder of Whereoscope, told us that he saw this as a move to help attract developers.

“Twitter is fighting the place database battle by giving app developers a ‘zero-cost’ way to adopt,” said Johnson. “If you’re Gowalla, you get all of Twitter’s data while retaining the option to switch out, because you’re still using the same ID. Conversely if you want to integrate with Facebook, you don’t have a way out afterwards.”

Basically, Twitter is doing the work of relating different places on its service, so location services don’t have to commit to using its places IDs and risk alienating itself with other services. Currently, Twitter has announced partnerships with 13 companies, giving developers the ability to search by their place IDs in addition to Twitter’s own IDs.

Will a move like this be enough for developers of location-based services? Or will the sheer size and breadth of Facebook’s social graph overpower any ease-of-adoption on Twitter’s end? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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