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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

What Brightkite could be. What Brightkite should be.

December 28, 2009

The line between what Brightkite offers and what Twitter offers their respective communities is arguably very thin. Both offer fantastic microblogging features including updates and notifications via SMS, the Web, and APIs.

Until somewhat recently, however, only Brightkite offered another layer ontop of these features that really separated it from Twitter without question. Geolocation.

Brightkite users can “check in” to just about anywhere like restaurants, gas stations, their own homes or just about any real world address. It asks two questions to Twitter’s one: Where are you and what are you doing there?

Twitter is working very hard at bringing geolocation to its own service. It has been rolling out, only through its API at the moment, the ability to geocode each tweet with a specific latitude and longitude. Unlike Brightkite’s check-in based model Twitter’s model isn’t tied down to any address and doesn’t add the extra friction of having to check-in at a place before you’re able to post at it.

There are benefits to both models. For Brightkite some of the benefits include the ability to use SMS commands to find the location you’re currently at, check in, and then post to. This removes the requirement for a GPS-enabled device in order to add metadata to your posts. Also, “Places” having names is very, very important for people figuring out exactly where you are and where something was posted. Being able to view posts on Brightkite from specific locations (rather than specific coordinates) is much more human and fun. I won’t even mention how marketable Places are in contrast to coordinates.

For Twitter some of the benefits include a much more accurate dataset. Each tweet is geocoded individually. Move a foot in any direction and the metadata for your next tweet will reflect that. Again, little or no friction. That lack of friction has always been Twitter’s modus operandi and if they can pull it off with geolocation it will presumably bring more geocoded data to the Web than any other service to date.

Brightkite’s main differentiators, however few there have been, are about to all go away. Save, perhaps, for one. Places. I believe that Twitter’s forthcoming success in this area should be Brightkite’s opportunity to capitalize on what its already learned. There is value a lot of value in Places.

If Brightkite could somehow become the best Twitter client for checking in to, searching for, and viewing the posts at specific Places (even simply addresses) I believe Brightkite could see a huge ramp up in growth and value. Any Twitter account should work at Brightkite, period. Any geocoded tweet that falls within a specific area range around one of Brightkite’s already found Places should be attributed to that Place. Brightkite should no longer consider keeping its own community but rather expand itself into Twitter’s community.

Using Brightkite’s Places dataset, which it has been building and refining for a long time already, it could become the very best way to interact with the new geolocation-enabled Twitter.

That is if they want it to be. Or, they could just keep chasing teenaged girls.