I know what you may be thinking: Twitter location API already supports places; that’s why they call it the location API, right? Well, yes and no. Currently, it supports latitude and longitude, which tells the world where, exactly, you were located when you tweeted.
But now Twitter’s Raffi Krikorian promises support for places, meaning locations (not necessarily very precisely defined) with a name, such as “Joe’s Bar on Manhattan” or “downtown LA.” From the Twitter API announcements message board:
“Our goal is to provide a few more options to API developers (and the users they are servicing) through this contextual information. people, we find, inherently want to talk about a “place”. a place, for a lot of people, has a name and is not a latitude and longitude pair. (37.78215, -122.40060), for example, doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people — but, “San Francisco, CA, USA” does. we’re also trying to help users who aren’t comfortable annotating their tweets with their exact coordinates, but, instead, are really happy to say what city, or even neighborhood, they are in. annotating your place with a name does that too.”
Sounds like a minor detail, but it’s actually quite important, because it gives Twitter the ability to compete with location-based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, which let you check in at various locations and share them with your friends.
For further analysis of the importance of location sharing on Twitter see our recent article on the subject. It’s important to note, though, that Twitter will gradually rollout these new features, starting with the US, so competitors will have some time to prepare for whatever Twitter plans to do with location.