Some call it the Great Land Rush of 2010. Others don't quite understand what all the fuss is about. And others yet still feel that 'location-based services' are an intrusion on our privacy. Whatever your perspective at this moment in time, I can almost guarantee you that you will be feeling entirely different about geolocation apps by year's end.
And the leader-in-charge here is not any of the location-based social networks like Foursquare that have caught the early buzz (even though I and others have called it 'next Twitter'). No... the player that is going to mix it up on a grand scale is Twitter itself.
Back on Christmas Day, in a blog titled, "Twitter's 50,000+ Will be "Location" Game Changer in 2010," I predicted that Twitter's acquisition of Mixer Labs and GeoAPI would be a game changer in 2010, due to the number of 3rd party app developers that potentially have access to this platform. This small army of techies at last count numbered 50,000+. While I don't suspect that all of them are fully equipped in tackling geolocation app development, I am sure any developer with the smallest amount of location-based knowledge is going to want to make a stab at creating an GeoAPI app for Twitter.
The rationale supporting my assertions is based on a number of factors that have surfaced through leaks and speculative activity over the course of the last 45 days. However when all these pieces are viewed collectively, it becomes clear that Twitter's 'westward ho' wagons are out front leading the charge to absorb the greatest 'land-mass' in the location-based space this year.
Twitter's Largest Acquisition To Date - Twitter did not disclose the terms of its acquisition of the Mixer Labs deal in December, but some of the details have since emerged. On January 8, 2010, paidContent reported on a SEC filing that said Twitter issued $5.17 million worth of common stock and Series E preferred stock alongside an acquisition — so if one was to connect the dots this financial juggling was probably earmarked for Mixer Labs. It is also possible there was additional cash in the transaction that wasn't disclosed in the filing.
Elad GilTwitter's Talent Acquisition - With the Mixer Labs' acquisition comes high-level talent from top to bottom including CEO Elad Gil, the original product manager for Google Mobile Maps. With him four of the other six Mixer Labs employees are also Googlers, including co-founder Othman Laraki.
Twitter To Become Main Syndicator Of Location - Similar to its success with its real-time search deals with Google and Bing, Twitter is likely to position itself as the main syndicator of 'location' - which will put them squarely up against Foursquare and Gowalla on the LBS level and Facebook and Google on the major network level.
While Facebook is slow at the uptick on moving forward with location-based services, when and if they engage, it will be difficult for Twitter to compete with their 350 million users. All the more reason for Twitter and its GeoAPI platform to make its mark early in 2010 to establish itself as the main syndicator. Google on the other hand, while it has its own location-based social network Latitude, when the Yelp acquisition slipped through its fingers, it lost a great opportunity to 'cock-block' Twitter's attempt to move into top dog status.
Chirp Conference - Twitter's First Major 3rd Party Developer Event - 50,000+ applications that have been registered using Twitter's API's are expected to be represented at the conference. This is an incredible milestone when one realizes that just three short years ago, only one API existed. The timeliness of this conference in the first quarter of 2010 will provide Twitter and its GeoAPI platform with an early opportunity to motivate 3rd party developers to build and submit new APIs ahead of the competition. While an official date has not been announced, interested parties can register on this landing page for updates.
Twitter's GeoAPI - Most Robust Set Of Location Services - According to Elad Gil's blog posting of December 1, 2009, "many recent Location API announcements are really applications releasing incomplete databases of crowd-sourced business listings generated by their users rather than the broader offerings." In order for a Location Based API to provide developers with full latitude to create apps with the greatest potential, they need to include 5 core components.
The core components are:
1. Forward Geocoder
What it is: Take an address or business name and returns the lat/lon coordinates associated with it. E.g. "46 West 3rd St, NY NY" converted to 32.343, -123.454".
2. Reverse Geocoder
What it is: Take a coordinate lat/lon and converts it to an intersection, neighborhood city, state, country. E.g. "show me which neighborhood contains the point '37.7810, -122.4050'" and get back "SOMA, San Francisco"
3. Database of Places.
What it is: A database of locations, business listings, and points of interest.
4. Writable Layers
What it is: Ability for developer to store information about places on the API itself in their own private layer, and then do queries against it. E.g. "show me all the places within half a mile that this user has checked-in on my app". This allows for client-side development of apps with no back-end servers built out for the Geo-components of their app.
5. Media Layers
What it is: Let the users query other sources of geotagged information via the API. E.g. "Show me all the Flickr photos within the boundaries (i.e. polygon) of Dolores Park". Basically, the API provides the geo-query/geo-search infrastructure by which complex queries can be made against other media sources such as Twitter, Flickr, etc.
Visually, GeoAPI breaks down as such compared to the competition.
GeoAPI vs LBS Comparison Chart
So in reviewing who has what, it is easy to see that the GeoAPI.com platform has all the major components in place, except for 'forward geocoding' (which is forthcoming) and 'monetization' (which is just a matter of time).
Location, as a trend is like a runaway train that left the station in 2009 and will continue to build steam all the way through 2010. Twitter's competition is start-ups that are getting funding from big name investors even in a down economy. And you can expect that to continue for a while.
While each player will step up their game to connect the social online world with the real world, the ultimate goal here is revenue. Monetization is the carrot that is stimulating this land rush, where a significant ROI can be achieved through advertising and sponsorships.
Small players, large players -take heed. You don't have to be a fortune teller to read the tea leaves. The writing is on the wall. While all is still fair game, my bet is on Twitter beating out the competition as it speeds its location-based services forward in the great land rush of 2010. Wagons,Ho!