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More developments coming to Twitter 'geo API'

CNET has learned that Twitter has been working on a database of cities and 'hoods that could be used to geotag tweets rather than a specific latitude and longitude.

Pretty soon, you'll be able to learn a bit more about where your Twitter contacts' tweets are coming from.

CNET has learned that select third-party developers were informed earlier this week about some forthcoming modifications to Twitter's "geo API," the set of developer tools that currently allows Twitter messages to be accompanied by the latitude and longitude coordinates of where they were posted. (For example, if you're updating Twitter client Tweetie from your iPhone, you can opt to tag the tweet with your location and it'll be visible to people reading your Twitter feed.)

Twitter, the developers were told, has been working on putting together a database of cities and neighborhoods that will eventually make it possible for geotagged tweets to be associated with a city or neighborhood rather than a set of coordinates. Presumably, down the road, that place information could grow even more granular: businesses, restaurants, parks, and the like. For an example of where this could be pretty interesting, take a look at Citysearch's plans to build a directory of local-business tweets. A tweet attached to a business (like "Did you know that they'll give you a third shot of espresso for free here?" at a given cafe) could play into that well.

Also in development is a "reverse geocode" function, in which a developer app could gather coordinates, send them to Twitter, and receive a list of possible locations in return.

Twitter representatives weren't immediately available for further comment.

Granted, this is subject to further development, so none of it's final and it may very well change. But it makes a lot of sense: Geotagging tweets with places rather than coordinates may, among other things, be a friendlier option for many Twitter users as exact coordinates on a map can be a turn-off for the privacy-conscious. Presently, Twitter requires members to activate geolocation in the first place through their user preferences, and Twitter clients that are using the geo API typically allow users to turn geotagging on and off for individual tweets. As a result, it's not the most widespread of Twitter features.

The downside may be that enhancing the geo API like this continues to make Twitter's service, which skyrocketed to popularity partially because of how simple it was, increasingly complicated. But the idea of being "checked in" somewhere is arguably the most talked-about trends in Web apps right now--rival geo services Foursquare and Gowalla are all over tech-blog headlines, Google Buzz has geolocation built in, and TechCrunch reported Wednesday that Facebook may considering the acquisition of Loopt, another geo service that came out of the gates early but hasn't been talked about as much recently.

For Twitter, this all started falling into place in December when Twitter acquired Mixer Labs, the manufacturer of a developer product called GeoAPI, several months after its original announcement that geolocation would be coming to tweets.

Amassing a geotagging directory could put Twitter more squarely in competition with smaller upstart companies like Gowalla and Foursquare.