We're not quite there

A lot of people ask me the benefits of Twitter, especially in regards to face-to-face interactions. I have a list I can roll off, but often find myself answering "Well, we haven't quite arrived yet." And I think that is true. We aren't there yet. But we are moving closer.

Picture courtesy of Ryan Lane

The question is How do we encourage people to move outside the technology? Here is one idea:

I would like to see a locale-based Twitter system become successful. It would be great to harness the social power of Twitter and refocus it into physical locations. At the very least, it would create more face-to-face interactions. In addition, it could act as a fantastic tourism tool and the equivalent of a text-based two-way radio transceiver.

In a museum, we could discuss and suggest fascinating displays. In a city, we could give traffic alerts. In a concert, we could discuss the music. In an emergency situation, we could quickly organize ourselves. The list goes on.

In reality, Twitter is already being used for all of these purposes. Users tag and filter tweets to listen to a group at a conference or major event. But there are a couple of problems with this approach:

1) I need to somehow know the tag. This isn't always the case, especially in the scenarios I listed above. Even in a more organized situation like a conference, it takes awhile for the members to get on the same page. Tags go through a social darwinistic evolution where only the strong survive. In a less organized situation (a coffee shop), it is downright impossible to find out if anyone in the area is using Twitter.
2) Noise, noise, noise. Twitter is almost too general purpose. There are too many messages flying around. Although users can filter and listen to only a certain batch of tweets, they often don't. I believe that a constraint based system will push innovation within those boundaries.
3) Not sensitive to movement. Right now I'm at the MFA in Boston. But later, I may be at a Radiohead concert. Moving around forces the user to restart the whole process of finding the right tags or search terms.
4) Only good for densely populated areas. What I'm hiking and want to let the people in my vicinity know that there is a bear hunting near one trail. If I am using a Twitter based system, there is no good way to do this. None at all.

It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to create a locale based Twitter system. The technology is already here. The real challenge is making it succeed. Other evices have tried to use bluetooth for similar location communication. As far as I know, the bluetooth features are used sparingly at best. That's why I hope that by piggy-backing onto the wildly successful Twitter network, we might be able to take a second run at this problem.

What are the benefits? A Twitter network that impacts the real world in a deeper way than it already has. I believe it would encourage face-to-face interaction as well as act as a valuable collaboration tool.

Twitter has made a remarkable impact on news networks, media, and emergency communication systems. But it isn't quite there. This idea may help, but it won't solve everything. We need to continue to make it a priority to push the technology outward into our everyday lives.

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