Localeze's ambitions to be the single management source for all local listings on the web got yet another boost yesterday. Their "Persistent ID" (PID) system has been integrated into Twitter Places alongside other services such as Gowalla and OpenTable.
This is good news for app developers who previously had no means to easily and reliably extract data from Twitter Places. Now, the data can be called via the API using the 'place ID' of particular providers. Whereas before it all had to be done via a crude search query. It's also good news for Localeze customers as it means not only are they maintaining the integrity of their business listings on search engines, but also in the eco-system of apps too.
As you can see in the screenshot below - the PID is called in the URL.
To Check-in Or Not Check-in
The Twitter Places service operates much like a check-in service on Foursquare or Gowalla but with no reward system. However, whilst my 'check-in' metaphor is illustrative of the interface, it is equally spurious as Twitter no longer positions itself as a social network, but rather an information network. I make this point because it belies Twitter's grander plan to get into structured data.
By partnering with multiple local information 'verification' partners such as Localeze, Twitter positions itself as the network that carries the data, rather than the 'social network that tweets'. These latest partnerships simply add layers of meta data to the information stream.
The upshot is that online/mobile check in has become a commodity and services like Foursquare and Gowalla will have to position themselves as 'social reward' platforms or differentiate their service by focussing on checking in to abstract things such as 'a heatwave' or a moment in history. This is not bad news for those services but in many ways Twitter has now beaten them to being the location platform. It is not hard to imagine a situation in the near future where you can simply check in to Foursquare via Twitter, without having to signup for a separate service.
However, for everyone else, the dominance of Twitter as the information carrier and dominance of Localeze as the business identity management platform means that there is less market friction for developers and businesses to start experimenting with location in general. Jeff Beard, CEO of Localeze, underlines this in the press release:
"Our relationship with Twitter enables sharing of geo-tagged content with developers utilizing the Localeze persistent ID, encouraging the proliferation of contextual content," said Jeff Beard, president, Localeze. "Our local search platform partners continue to benefit from our trusted business data as it becomes the common language for major search and LBS apps."
With the widest distribution of standardized content to online, mobile and social search platforms in the industry, developers can access the largest set of verified, enhanced business listings data actively managed by local businesses themselves.
Marketers Need A Winner In The Business Identity Verification Space
In a sense, Twitter's choice of partners inadvertently defines the standards for the rest of the market to follow - standards which up until now few could agree on.
This is good news for local marketers and also the search industry in general, as it opens the door for proper, genuinely useful, semantic search technologies.
Scalability of Localeze's version of business identity verification means that it will reach a point where it is "too big to fail". The bigger they get, the more standard their PID becomes and the easier it becomes for an eco-system to emerge on their system.
I personally think that the evolution of search technology in general needs a winner to emerge in the business identity arena, because location is the strongest contextual signal you can give to any piece of information.
Contextual information lends so much character to the 'meaning of things' that I would go so far as to say that location signals are more authoritative than author signals ever could be. Social signals are noise without location - it is all sentiment, but sentiment is meaningless without an object. You only have to look at the way grammar works to see that position is more essential to meaning (and relevance). The grammatical concept of 'who' is simply the difference between subjects and objects. English grammar does not weigh 'who' authored a statement - whether it was made by a king or a peasant fundamentally makes no difference because meaning does not change.
However, we do care whether a group or an individual made the statement. If 'social signals' are to truly have an impact on search, then the only factor that makes sense is volume. Did a group of people say this or an individual?
Therefore location is the most important data point to make sense of social data because location signals congregation of people. And people can verify data that sits within that locations.
Who Will Win From An Online Business Identity Standard?
As the social data floods the web, semantic search engines such as TrustYou are attempting to make sense of it by aggregating reviews into positive or negative votes. One issue they have to scaling their product is that it's extremely difficult to call a place a place in a digital sense because there has been no unique identifier for a business. Now that Localeze is emerging as the winner (at least in the USA), TrustYou is going to get a much needed boost.
However, so are all the semantic search engines trying to understand sentiment. Most likely we will see micro-reviews as an emerging format. Internet yellow pages (IYP) type sites will now be able to integrate the social stream for a place and would do well to try to interpret it. At the very least we might see real-time tag clouds for a place - thought bubbles of fleeting sentiment that nonetheless adds color to the listing.
Small businesses also stand to win as it means that they really will be able to create online and in-store customer engagements via Twitter. Where Foursquare is prohibitively expensive for a small businesses to reward customers via their platform, Twitter is now free and can effectively do the same - because persistent IDs included in the API have increased accuracy and leveraged the possibility of wider distribution. 'Challenge' networks such as SCVNGR also stand to do well as the social buzz leveraged from a treasure hunt, can now be accurately leveraged across the web.
Take Action Now
If developers or small businesses want to act on this data now, I would suggest:
- Pull your Twitter Places data into your own site immediately and display on the home page via a widget.
- Reward users who 'check-in' to your Twitter Place.
- Put pressure on IYP partners you are signed up with to include your Twitter Places social stream on your losting.
- Partner with complimentary Twitter Places to create a local shopping network. If you sell flowers, suggest friendly places nearby you that sell chocolates and wedding dresses.
- Get talking with local businesses in your community and get them on Twitter now. Check-in just got effectively commodotized, which means communities can build their own social reward programs.
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