Twitter Flexes Its Location Muscle, Tests Out Highlights Of Live Events Happening Near You

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twitter nearby eventsYesterday we reported how Twitter was testing out a new Trending box for TV programs to run at the top of your timeline; today we’ve spotted a test for yet another new feature: alerts for live events that are happening right near you.

Like the Trending TV feature, proximity-based alerts are organized around hashtags — in this case for actual, in-person events nearby rather than TV programs. They are one more example of Twitter’s play to be the platform of choice for discussions about all occasions — real and virtual; how it can be a powerful player in location-based services; and how Twitter could use new formats like this to drive revenues in the form of paid placements.

As with yesterday’s test, the nearby-event feature was spotted on Twitter’s iPhone app, this time by TechCrunch’s own Anthony Ha. A screenshot of how it looks is to the right.

What you see is a box at the top of the timeline divided into three parts: one with a hashtag for the event with its distance from you; one with an emblematic tweet related to the event; and one taking you to a longer list of tweets mentioning that hashtag. You can dismiss the whole box by clicking in the “x” in the upper right corner.

The event getting highlighted here is for Wednesday night’s Girl Geek Dinner, a regular meet-up of — you guessed it — techie ladies, who network while playing around with new things and hearing big-idea presentations. We’ve reached out to the Girl Geek founders to ask if they were aware of this Twitter test. In a sense, it would be just as interesting if Twitter had curated in its selection of this event as it would be if it’s liaising with the organizers in a coordinated effort.

Update: Turns out that this was not something Twitter asked them about. “No one obtained extra information from us to post based on a hashtag,” Sukrutha Raman Bhadouria, MD for Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners.

“How funny Twitter bubbled to the top of Anthony’s feed my event tweet… I wonder how they knew it was an event. Natural language processing I suppose,” added Angie Chang, Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners’ founder.

We also reached out to Twitter to ask about this and, as with yesterday, they’ve declined to comment but have pointed me in the direction of their blog post about “Innovation through experimentation.” This was a project that the company kicked off in May 2012 to test out more new features, some of which eventually get rolled out as permanent changes to the platform.

Like the test for Trending TV, this plays directly into ambitions that Twitter has made clear in the past for how it hopes to shape its service as it continues to grow.

In June of this year, CEO Dick Costolo had a lot to say about how Twitter no longer felt like the town square it had always aspired to be as it became noisier and noisier with lots of different kinds of information. To that end, he noted that Twitter was experimenting with a live events tool to help highlight key moments. Some of those moments will be on TV, for sure, not least because this is already a hugely popular topic of conversation on Twitter. But some will not be — and it is here that this new feature may come in handy.

Twitter started out as a mobile-only service so in a way, developing more features that play into that is part of the company’s DNA. We’ve had the ability to see the location of a tweet for a long while now, and so having location-based capabilities is not exactly new to Twitter. What is, perhaps, more interesting is in how Twitter is starting to look at ways of using that information to push specific information out to people.

This also calls to mind some of the company’s recent acquisitions, including Spindle, maker of a geo-restricted search engine, answering the question “what’s happening nearby right now”; and Lucky Sort, maker of an engine to discover patterns in live data streams. Together you can see how technologies like these, combined on Twitter’s platform, could be used to draw out of your own timeline events that might be most interesting to you personally, and those closest to you as well.

Last but not least, while Twitter could very easily offer this as a useful extra service to people to get them more engaged in Twitter conversations and in browsing its platform, you could also see how something like this could be just as easily expanded to work as a new mobile ad unit, for those who are interesting in promoting an event or place in your general vicinity. In that regard, that would not be unlike what Twitter has done with other features like trending topics, which are often a mixture not just of organically/virally popular words, but also of those that sponsors have paid to put front and center. It’s that persistent theme of monetization that will likely be the undercurrent running through much of what Twitter rolls out as it continues to mature.

Additional reporting Anthony Ha.