Twitter Annotations opens up a can o' terms

Matt Bowman · April 14, 2010 · Short URL:

Any application will soon be able to tag tweets. Enter another layer of conversation.

 A mob of Twitter aficionados and software developers thronged the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on Wednesday to hear the latest plans from Twitter’s executive team. The official Twitter developer conference, Chirp, is a platform for all kinds of techy announcements that generally sound like gobbeldy gook to the average Tweeter, until weeks later when coders incorporate the developments meaningfully into their applications.

One feature with big implications announced Wednesday morning is Annotations. Twitter’s director of platform Ryan Sarver explained that the new feature, launching in the fall, will let developers “add any arbitrary metadata to any tweet.”

So what does that mean, you ask? Many, many things. Right now, there are only a few categories of metadata on Twitter. You’ll recognize them as the kinds of tags that appear below tweets: time posted, the application that created it, location, the tweet being replied to, etc. In the image below, there are two types of metadata visible: the time (7:12 AM Mar 20th) and the application that created it (TweetDeck).

Starting in the fall, any application will be able to create its own categories for those tags. This opens up all kinds of new ways of indexing, filtering and sorting tweets, without having to wait for Twitter to establish new official categories. For instance, an application could decide to collect users’ birthdays when they first sign up, and then tag all the tweets created via that app with the user’s age. If you wanted to only search for tweets created by teens in San Francisco that mention the iPad, that now becomes possible. Over time, Twitter’s value as a research tool—for marketers, historians, you name it—grows exponentially. Imagine a student in 2112 comparing the reaction of different ethnic groups to Iran's nuclear buildup a century earlier, thanks to a simple search parsed by ethnicity on Twitter. In fact, such research could also be facilitated by the Library of Congress, which also announced today that it will be housing the entire Twitter archive.

Another implication of Annotations involves targeted advertising. In November, Twitter announced it would introduce advertising “that people will love.” At the time, Robert Scoble speculated one way to create user-friendly advertising would be to enable more robust tagging of tweets. He reasoned that with more metadata, ads could actually become very useful:

Let’s say I wrote a Tweet saying “I’m going to see 2012 tonight.”

Couldn’t we tag that Tweet with the word “movie?” Like you can tag a photo on Flickr? Absolutely!

Couldn’t we have a bot that sees that 2012 and movie came through the system and then link to the IMDB database for the movie 2012, like this? Couldn’t you link to Fandango for movie reviews and movie times for 2012, like this?

So, add that all onto the tile that slides underneath this new “SuperTweet.”

But what else?

If CocaCola wants to target movie goers, couldn’t they put an ad into this SuperTweet? Something like “Drink Coke at the movies, show this tweet at the movie theater and get $1 off off a Coke.”

NOW you are getting how advertising could be something you love!

A third implication: more humor. I wouldn’t be surprised if annotations take the place of hashtags. Currently, hashtags are an informal way to tag your tweet as belonging to a particular group. For example, a blogger tweeting about the Web 2.0 Conference will typically include the event's official “#w2s” tag in the body of his tweets. That behavior writ large allows anyone to perform a Twitter search to yield all of the tweets associated with the conference. But hashtags also have less formal uses. A common variation on the hashtag theme turns it into veiled commentary, as in this example from VentureBeat's Anthony Ha:

Once Annotations launches, the commentaries can get even subtler by seeping into tags.

Annotations is a considerable opening up of the Twitter platform, but there are still limitations. For example, only the application that publishes a tweet can annotate it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter eventually makes it possible for anyone to annotate a given tweet (once the Twitter backend can handle it). That would open up a whole new layer of discussion, and Twitter has a history of opting for more interaction.

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