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Working on Spatial Data quality and pragmatic enterprise solutions.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reverse Geocoding the Twitter Geo-Stream

I'm at O' Reilly's Where 2.0 2010 Conference in San Jose, California. It's a great event: absolute geo-geek heaven. There's a multitude of technologists around, and all the big players in online and social media(Google, Bing, Twitter, Foursquare etc.) have their 'Directors of Geo' present.

The conference is a breath of fresh air after a few too many GIS conferences in Australia which (to be honest) are getting rather boring after more of the same presentations on spatial database management, web-mapping and failed metadata projects. It makes no difference really whether you go to the WALIS Forum, SSC, FIG or Spatial at Gov.

Conversely, Where2.0 is about geotagging tweets, embedding real-time video in Bing maps and crowdsourcing roadmaps in earthquake-ravished Haiti. In other words: Cool Stuff!

The conference goes on for three days, and these are my impressions of day one:

The most interesting presentation for me was by Raffi Krikorian from Twitter on handling what he calls "real-time geo-streams". Since Twitter enabled geo-tagging last year, they have generated an avalanche of 140-character events in time and space. This generates endless opportunities, for instance in emergency management.

What really struck me though is that when the Twitter Geo-Team realised they needed to translate the geotag coordinates to understandable placenames (i.e. reverse geocoding).
Twitter's decision seems to go completely against the grain of best practice principles of distributed web services such as custodianship: let the local providers with the local knowledge collect and maintain their own data. When asked about this, Raffi explained rather laconically that "it was just easier to integrate with our other systems this way, and sometimes we just do crazy things".

I guess if you have this much clout (cloud?), you can make calls like that. The future will tell if they can afford to continue down this road.


  1. Sometimes it's easier to "just do it" instead of waiting for the valued custodians to get their act together and provide a reliable service...

  2. Australians seem to lack the healthy American habit of asking inconvenient questions at conferences. "How many custodians and where's the data?" might be a good place to start.

    Or is it that question time is limited in spatial conference because industry stalwarts are too busy congratulating each other and giving awards?

  3. Now that's a bit of a 'red wine' discussion, Yvonne. Don't get me started in the incestuous nature of our industry :)