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Going local? Twitter tests 'nearby' feature


Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Twitter is thinking about going local.

The social media service is testing a feature with some Twitter users that displays nearby tweets. Normally, users see tweets from accounts they follow, but now, with the addition of a "Nearby" stream, Twitter is experimenting with showing you tweets sent from inside your neighborhood, regardless of whether or not you follow the accounts sending them.

By tapping into local, Twitter would create the potential for new social experiences: trash talk with the fan of an opposing team while you sit in the same section at a football game; meet up with the guy down the block who shares your interest in plants; find and redeem a coupon from the neighborhood ice cream store. Who knows? We may even see a couple falling in love all because they met on "Nearby."

In a timely post on TheNextWeb earlier this month, Jonathan Barouch, CEO and founder of location-based analytics application Local Measure, wrote that "Twitter has the opportunity to be the go-to application for local."

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Location-focused apps like Circle, which will notify you when friends and others are in your area, have yet to truly crack the social-and-local code.


"No other platform has the volume of publicly available data about what's going on around you than Twitter," Barouch wrote. The San Francisco-based company has more than 232 million monthly active users posting more than 500 million tweets a day.

"Location adds a rich layer of content and data to Twitter which it can't ignore," Barouch added.

The hurdle the microblogging app has to jump over next is getting its users comfortable enough to attach a location to their tweets. In recent weeks, mobile users have been asked questions like "Are you in New York, NY?" before tweeting. Without geo-tags, "Nearby" is futile.

(In the heart of Brooklyn, this CNBC reporter only witnessed a handful of tweets filling his "Nearby" stream, underscoring how apprehensive users may be to share such personal data like where they are at a given moment.)

Twitter declined to comment on this particular test, but has written in a recent blog post that the company innovates through experimentation: "It's rare for a day to go by when we're not releasing at least one experiment," Alex Roetter, Twitter's VP of engineering, wrote in September.

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If and when its local experiment takes off, Twitter may just have a new global-reaching revenue-producing stream.

"Imagine touching on the 'Nearby' stream at 6:30 p.m. and being presented with promoted tweets on dining in your geographic region ... or showcasing tweets from your local sunglasses store because you recently tweeted about your need for shades," said Michoel Ogince, director of platform and product strategy at marketing company Big Fuel Communications,

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Ogince said this location data could also be sold to a third party like DataSift or Gnip—companies that already have access Twitter's firehose of tweets—creating even more revenue for Twitter.

Whether Twitter will release the "Nearby" feature to a wider group or to all of its users remains to be seen.

"I hope this launches," former Twitter employee Ryan Sarver tweeted. "It's the most unrealized value of Twitter."

By CNBC's Eli Langer. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLanger.

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