Services & Software

Twitter's 'Nearby' could reveal who's tweeting, well, nearby

The microblog is apparently testing a mobile feature that would map tweets posted by Twitter users, whether you follow those users or not. Privacy advocates take note: it seems to be opt in.

Call it Tweets on the Streets.

Twitter is apparently testing a feature for its mobile app that would show you who's tweeting nearby -- whether you follow them or not -- and what they're posting to the microblogging site.

The feature -- which, according to the Wall Street Journal's Digits blog, is actually called Nearby -- would work only for people who've opted to share their location info with Twitter. Digits describes it thusly:

The upper half of the "Nearby" screen is a map where a blue dot pulses over the user's current location. The bottom half shows a timeline of recent nearby tweets, with icons on the map noting their locations. Clicking on an icon pulls the corresponding tweet to the front of the screen.

As you move around the map, more picture-linked tweets pop up in a manner similar to the way shopping carts spring up when searching for grocery stores on Google Maps. Seeing the tweets unfold in real time could allow users to understand neighborhood events, such as why a bunch of fire trucks just flew by.

That last bit sounds interesting and perhaps useful. Though it's also not too tough to conjure up disquieting privacy-related scenarios and potentially annoying advertising gambits.

Of course, the local-advertising potential may be one reason Twitter is experimenting with Nearby.

In any case, it's not certain the project will move beyond the experimentation phase. A Twitter spokeswoman would tell Digits only that the company often tests different ways to improve Twitter.

You can jump over to the Digits post for a couple of screenshots.

Citing anonymous sources, All Things Digital's Mike Isaac had reported on the tests a while back, but there wasn't any visual evidence at that point.

Update, 11:53 p.m. PT: Adds AllThingsD info.