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Business Briefing

Twitter Toys with Offering Nearby Tweets from Strangers

Twitter Toys with Offering Nearby Tweets from Strangers
December 16, 2013 12:07PM

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The nearby-tweets move by Twitter is likely to send privacy advocates up in arms, since Twitter would be serving up the tweets of strangers as well as their nearby location. But The Wall Street Journal reports users can opt out of location-sharing functions on smartphones, and the "Nearby" feature has to be manually turned on by users.

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Twitter is experimenting with a new service for the microblogging platform's mobile app. The feature surfaces tweets from other people using Twitter in the same vicinity, even if you're not following them.

Dubbed "Nearby," it serves up a map of where you are right above a timeline displaying local tweets. Twitter could not immediately be reached for comment, but The Wall Street Journal reports the "apparent test could be part of an effort to prompt more users to share their location."

The Journal speculates that the idea is to make the network more relevant, like Foursquare. The paper shows images that indicate the top half of the "Nearby" screen offers a map with pulsing blue dots over your current location. The bottom displays a timeline of recent tweets from people near that location.

A Marketing Opportunity

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the latest Twitter move. He told us this is about opening up a new marketing opportunity for businesses both large and small.

"It's unclear how interested consumers will be in this feature," Sterling said. "It will depend entirely on the content and promotions created by the various nearby businesses themselves."

The move is likely to send privacy advocates up in arms, since Twitter would be serving up the tweets of strangers as well as their nearby location. But the Journal reports users can opt out of location-sharing functions on smartphones, and the "Nearby" feature has to be manually turned on by users.

A Failed Experiment

Twitter last week did an about-face on another experiment: user blocking. In one of the fastest turnarounds in social media policy, Twitter backpedaled on the blocking function it introduced just hours earlier. On Friday morning, the microblogging service made a change to the way its "block" function works.

Twitter changed its blocking feature in a way that keeps your public information public even to people you've blocked. That defeated the purpose of blocking someone who may be retweeting your posts to others who are bashing you. You may never know they are bashing you.

Put another way, when Twitter altered its blocking function it essentially made it impossible for a blocked user to know that he was blocked. That blocked user could still continue the behavior that caused you to block him. Again, you just wouldn't be aware that this person was messaging you or retweeting your posts because your feed wouldn't show it. This set off a firestorm of negative chatter about the changes.

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