Reports surfaced yesterday that Twitter may partner with Foursquare to help the microblogging service develop a new local discovery feature. In the perennial speculation about Foursquare’s future, the rumors lead us to ask: would a Twitter tie-up make sense?
We know that location is at least a point of emphasis for Twitter. In the report, a spokesperson for the company declined to acknowledge the partnership with Foursquare, but she did note that the company sees location as a “vehicle for discovery.” During an analyst day presentation, Twitter previewed an unfinished feature that allowed users to filter tweets by references to a neighborhood or business.
A feature preview and potential partnership is a far cry from an acquisition, and the prospect of a Foursquare buy for Twitter may face more problems than promise. The most important of these is that Foursquare itself hopes to move away from content to a more a data-driven approach to local discovery that might not fly with Twitter’s user base.
But analysis of a potential tie-up can help outline where location could fit into Twitter’s strategy, and why other rumored suitors for Foursquare — namely, Facebook — are less desirable matches.
1) Twitter is all about the present — that’s perfect for local search.
It’s oft said that Facebook sells the past, and Twitter the present. That immediacy — the desire to find out what’s happening now — fits well with the mindset of mobile user searching for a local business. A study from Google found that more than half of mobile searches with local intent led to conversion — a store visit, call, etc. — within an hour or less.
2) Local discovery gives the Tweet a second life
The immediacy of Twitter also poses a problem: the shelf life of a tweet is often much shorter. Ephemeral content is generally bad news for a media company, and while Twitter is not necessarily a media company it does rely on content to make money. A local discovery product could help expand the lifespan of a tweet. The shelf life of a review or tip is much longer — maybe a year or two depending on the type of business.
3) Searchers want experts — not friends.
Twitter is very much an influencers’ medium. The asymmetrical “follower” design means that a handful of users can gain immense reach and play a critical role in shaping the conversation across the platform. That’s one of the reason the company has found such success in news media vs. Facebook: I care more about Ezra Klein’s perception of the humanitarian crisis in Syria than a high school friend.
Local search functions in much the same way. We may trust our friend’0s recommendation for a restaurant, but we also trust the recommendations of chefs, writers and other “experts.” The follow structure of Twitter is much better suited for social local search than the social graph of Facebook.
4) Twitter caters to the power user.
A “follow” structure creates an economic structure for the power users — a constituency that has become essential for .Yelp and Foursquare. A well-executed social experience, say Twitter, could allow power users to develop their own monetizable communities, creating an incentive for influences to invest in the product. Imagine taking Mario Batali’s Twitter feed, pulling out restaurant and even food references, and then structuring that content in a more familiar local search experience like Foursquare.
Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.