Specifically, the plugin plants an “insert place” button under the Twitter.com text box. When clicked, this launches a mini local search tool. After searching and browsing local listings, clicking a “tweet this” button automatically forms a tweet that notifies followers about a certain establishment.
“Think of it as Twitpic for places,” says Praized Cofounder and VP Sebastien Provencher. Twitpic, for those unfamiliar, is a tool that lets users upload a picture (mobile or PC) for which a short URL and tweet are automatically generated.
There has been endless commentary over Twitter over the past year — so much that it’s been dismissed by many as a joke. Much of that viewpoint has some merit, as Twitter has been shoved into lots of unnatural mashups. But there are some places where Twitter makes sense. Local search is one of them. (see my Search Engine Watch column from a few months ago.)
For now, TwitArea seems to be a useful tool, and one that could gain some traction as Twitter gets more and more recognition as a local search tool. Twitter is meanwhile trying to simplify its “value proposition” to the general public by positioning itself as something that they understand: a search engine. Its home page redesign this week is evidence of that, as is the more “front & center” trending topics feature.
This is where the real value will lie with Twitter: as a search engine. Google is great at telling you what happened years or hours ago, but Twitter tells you what is happening now. There are lots of well-known recent examples of how this applies to breaking news. I maintain that real-time chatter about local businesses also has value (Twitter search “burrito, San Francisco” and see what comes up).
Twitter’s massive scale also gives it a leg up: having enough content to fill out all the little niches of categories and locales is a major challenge in local search. The question is how businesses can effectively use this as a marketing tool and how Twitter can monetize it. There’s lots of experimentation happening in the marketplace, and third-party business models being concocted as we speak.
TwitArea and Praized are leading the way in the area of Twitter/ local mashups so far. Like a lot of other things, a barrier to mainstream adoption for TwitArea could be the plugin installation process (Firefox 3.0.11 or later). But it looks to be a useful tool once installed. More to come after a thorough test drive.