There has been a lot of digital ink spilled over Twitter’s local search implications. Over the past few months several Twitter services have launched with a local angle. I thought it would be interesting to get them all in one place and provide some details:
Launched by the Praized Media guys, TwitArea is an add-on to Firefox that allows you to add a shortened URL link to a business’ Praized profile in a Tweet, so presumably when you are eager to Tweet how great that Pleasanton DUI Attorney was you could provide your followers with a bit more info than 140 characters:
Pros: Very simple to download and add. Easy to use.
Cons: You need to download and add something to your browser. Only available for Firefox. You can only use it if you are Tweeting via Twitter.com. The “Insert Place” button is always present on Twitter.com right below the Update box – it would be nice to be able to minimize it or something.
Overall Impression: TwitArea relies upon the user being willing to query Praized’s database to match the Tweet with the business URL. I created a WordPress plugin for bloggers to do this back in ’05 (note to Praized – check with your patent attorney ) and while users are probably much more advanced in their understanding of these kinds of apps, my guess is that it’s going to take a lot of marketing + cooler features to get people to take this extra step. But hat’s off to Praized as they are the only ones I have seen who have brought the local to Twitter.com instead of baking Twitter into a separate local-oriented site.
Twellow has been around for a while and was an early entrant in the Twitter Yellow Pages category. The site allows businesses to create a profile by submitting their Twitter ID and then categorizing it. They claim they have 7 million profiles thus far. Users can find businesses by either using the site search or browsing through their category directory. Businesses are listed in each category with those with the most followers at the top of the list. The profiles display the business’ most recent Tweets, a description, the business’ city and a link to their website if available.
Pros: Twellow seems to have a large amount of profiles and their site looks like it is bursting with info.
Cons: Twellow claims to help users “cut through the clutter” but I am not sure they succeed. There is no structured data appended to business profiles so most do not have a phone number or address. The system of displaying the profile with the most followers at the top of the results basically promotes spammers. It looks like a number of profiles have been automatically added to their system so despite having 7 million profiles they probably don’t have much Twellow-exclusive info that you couldn’t get by just searching Twitter. They also don’t seem to have prioritized local search enough. The search UI requires you to enter a location and then filter by category to find someone near you, but it’s not explicit about this so initially users might be confused. Their search algorithm is also pretty basic. If the keyword is in your profile you show up, hence this guy is #2 for Pleasanton Photographer – not very helpful.
Overall Impression: As far a I can tell these guys have the lead in the “Twitter Yellow Pages” space for the few people who are paying attention to this, but I think they have a bit of work to do on the user experience and data collection side before the service could be deemed truly useful for local search.
TwtBiz is from TwtApps, a publisher that seems hellbent on creating a Twitter App for everything you can possibly do on the Web – Twitvite, TwitQpon, Twitjobs, etc. TwitBiz is pretty similar to Twellow in that it allows you to add a business by just entering the Twitter profile name. You can enhance the profile by adding the title of the Tweeter and adding other Twitter accounts that are associated with the biz. TwitBiz then creates a profile page that shows the business’ followers/following #s on a graph as well as your latest Tweets. The site says they are using the Crunchbase API so I imagine over time we’ll see a richer set of data on these pages.
Pros: Yet another site to add your business data to which might help you generate leads. The ability to consolidate Tweets from multiple Twitterers in a company on one profile is kind of cool.
Cons: There is no additional structured data on each biz besides Twitter-related info and whatever the biz enters in its profile description. TwtBiz would be wise to add optional fields for the business to fill in such as address, phone number, etc.
Overall Impression: It’s definitely worth spending a couple of minutes adding your info to the site, but like Twellow, until they add more local-search like functionality it’s not clear how useful the information will be to someone who just wants to find a local plumber.
Nelso is the brainchild of @jdeneut. The site is structured like a traditional IYP with cities, categories and business profile pages. The profiles have all of the typical data including phone, address, services, description, etc. Users can upload photos, rate and review and Tweet the biz. When you hit the “Tweet This Place” link your Twitter update form gets auto-filled with the business name and a shortened URL like http://tweet.nelso.com/p/151033/ which links to the Nelso profile page.
Pros: Unlike other Twitter local services Nelso seems to have started with a yellow pages model and then added Twitter on top of it. This makes the data on Nelso feel much more comprehensive and useful than the services that just provide the available Twitter info on a business. I like that the service is global and allows you to view the pages in different languages – although it doesn’t translate the tweets.
Cons: The dataset is pretty limited at the moment – they only have about 2,000 US businesses. Not sure how many cities or categories they have but according to @jdeneut they are using a partially manual process to match the business profile data with the business’ Twitter profile. And based on this search it looks like they are only displaying listings for businesses that they have matched to their Twitter profiles. This does not seem like a scalable process to create a comprehensive Twitter local experience, particularly on a global basis. And the “Tweet This Place” link is not very prominent.
Overall Impression: Perhaps the best Twitter Local implementation I have seen but the scalability issue seems tough to solve unless they can get a lot of businesses to update their profiles, which has been a big challenge for every IYP out there.
There are a number of other Twitter Local apps – just found this one from LoadedWeb – and I know of a few that are in development, but like IYPs they all seem like slightly different versions of the same flavor.
The challenge here is that I think ultimately users won’t care too much about a directory of Twitter profiles. What they might care about are things that are being said by and about the business on Twitter and other social networks which might affect the user’s purchase decisions. Strangely enough this might be where the big IYPs might have an advantage. Given the accessibility of the Twitter API and the increasingly open nature of these social interactions, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that pretty soon most business directories will allow businesses to add their Twitter feed to their profiles. So the sites with the best reach into SMBs should be able to amass the most Twitter profiles (outside of Twitter of course), unless one of these startups comes up with something that is truly extraordinary.
The bigger question is who will win in the quest to marry tweets about a business with the specific business. While I like what TwitArea and Nelso have done to facilitate this I wonder if this functionality is enough to create a brand around. My current take is that a brand that already is already strongly identified with social interaction (e.g. Yelp, Facebook, MySpace or even Twitter) could easily launch something like this and get a lot of traction. Praized’s model has been to provide it’s functionality to partner sites, so I could also see them getting a lot of sites to use their model, but ultimately it’s going to come down to a marketing/branding game.
Should be interesting to see how this all tweets out.