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Twitter turns on geolocation functionality

Feature enabled for external applications

Twitter is now allowing its externally built applications to provide geolocation features to end-users, after announcing its intention to do so in August.

The functionality is provided via a specific geotagging API (application programming interface) that external developers can use to build geolocation features in their applications.

Some applications like Birdfeed, Seesmic Web, Foursquare and Twittelator Pro already have activated geolocation features.

"We are really looking forward to seeing the creative uses emerge from the developer community," wrote Twitter official Ryan Sarver in an official blog post on Thursday.

For end-users, geotagging is disabled by default. They can turn it on by going to their Twitter 'settings' section. Twitter plans to activate geotagging on Twitter.com later. For now, it's limited to third-party applications.

With geotagging functionality, developers could let end-users append location coordinates to their Twitter messages and let them search for posts generated specifically from a particular physical place.

For example, a Twitter user could find what people are posting from the place where an important event is happening, or what people are saying about a specific restaurant or store.

Geotagging adds an important spatial dimension to the Twitter user experience, which has had a strong real-time component from the start.

"A lot of what has made Twitter compelling is obviously this flow of real-time information, but what has been a problem is all the noise you get," said industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence. "If you search, say, for 'Boston', you get lots of stuff that's not particularly relevant nor interesting to you. Now by filtering by location, it makes it more interesting. You can get more targeted and reliable information."

Given the broad and active ecosystem of external developers that has sprouted around Twitter, Sterling expects interesting uses of the geolocation API to start to emerge quickly.

To reduce the chances of privacy and security fiascos, Twitter has been in close contact with developers via its discussion forums and wikis. It even published a best-practices guide for the geolocation API.

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