Baer Facts, Social Media Tools

Is Twitter Crossing the Line Between Useful and Creepy


In this edition of The Baer Facts, I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about Twitter’s new Nearby feature that will give users the option of seeing tweets from other users in the vicinity.

Is This a Feature or a Freak-Out?

Image via Wall Street Journal blog

Image via Wall Street Journal blog

Note that users can opt-out of this feature (which is still in the testing phase), the same way that Twitter members can choose to not pass geographic data along with their tweets. But is Nearby a plus or a minus?

I see two scenarios where Twitter Nearby could be useful. First, the kismet of discovering interesting people that are around you, enabling you to meet up with them, or at least connect with them virtually. Admittedly, this is very similar to what other apps like Highlight have been doing for 18 months. Thus, Twitter is following its now-familiar playbook of watching other companies innovate on its platform, and then either buying that technology, or copying it. Having the “here’s who you know in this area” feature built-in to Twitter itself, rather than having to use a separate app like Highlight would presumably spike usage.

As mentioned in the video, it’s a scenario I am faced with constantly when on the road (51 conferences in 2013). I know that there are people I am acquainted with in almost every city, but I forget who lives where. Maybe it’s a sign of the social media times, where we know people by their avatar more so than their street address of phone number. Or maybe I’m just a bad friend. Either way, I would be DELIGHTED if Twitter pinged me when I stepped off the plane to remind me who is in the region.

The second situation where this could be a boon is in ad targeting. I can see Twitter rolling out an ad product that allows businesses to push offers to Twitter members in a hyper-local context. Today, of course, Twitter will enable you to target by city. Nearby, however, presumably could be used to deliver offers at the street/neighborhood level. Interestingly, this would put Twitter squarely on the turf of Foursquare, as pointed out by Brent Carnduff on Business 2 Community.

But for many people – I use my wife as the example in the video – this kind of “someone on Twitter is right behind you” is the worst kind of creepiness. For marketing professionals and those who willingly allow social media to envelop them like a dense fog (guilty), Nearby is a real advance. For “real” people, however, it’s the manifestation of everything they fear about social. 

Location Always

The big takeaway is this: Very soon, location will not need to be retrieved. Location will instead be an omni-present layer of our communication, built-in to whatever device or message modality we choose to utilize. 

The question isn’t whether this type of proactive location usage will happen. It will. The question is whether location will be used for good, or for evil. 

What’s your bet?

Facebook Comments


  1. ronellsmith says


    Twitter, like numerous others before it, including Facebook, knows we are willing to trade privacy for narcissism, so they feel justified in exploiting what is already being pillaged by others.

    Despite the constant drumbeat of privacy concerns, Americans have proved to be a hardy lot, willing to endure a lot of “pain” before deciding to take our business elsewhere.


    • Scott Spinola says

      Sad but true insight, Ronell, though I don’t think many people know the full extent to which this is happening. Most people think they’re just posting pix of the grandkids or swapping stories with friends. I like to think that if it was made explicit to them the full extent to which modern marketers are exploiting their personal lives for monetary gain, many people would freak out and run away from the likes of Google and Facebook. That’s why marketers use euphemistic language about “features” and “convenience” and “aggregation” to hide their true motives. As a marketer, it saddens me that marketing is on this downward spiral to creepy.

  2. says

    I love the idea of something like this, because it gets to the heart of social media — providing the opportunity for actual social interactions, exchanges and growth.

    Think: You’re bored on a Friday night. You pop onto Twitter and see what people are talking about, what they’re up to, and find a cool new place to check out. Win.

    The best things I’ve gotten out of social media have been when the platforms take the relationships offline, which I admit will always border on creepy, but done well it plays to the true power of the medium.

  3. Jeff Domansky PR says

    Hi Jay, thoughtful post The trend to localization is welcome for marketers and some individuals. The problem I have is when “local” search results are forced into it with no options for choice when you receive results for your search or social service. I prefer a global view for my Google search or Twitter connections for example. As long as I have the choice and it’s transparent and changeable I’m okay with it.

  4. says

    I use location tagging sparingly…if at all. I was an early adopter of Foursquare, but dropped off the bandwagon essentially. Why? Well because I do not live in a city, I’m not a big traveler, and if anything… decaying hometown in America’s Rust Belt is more of a pity point than a hub for social activity. If I were the paranoid type, I would worry that someone would be able to discern my daily routine and stalk me quite easily.

    In rare cases, I like to share where I physically am on social media. But these cases are few and far in between. The whole point of the internet is to break down geographic barriers. Geography is an aid to my offline relationships; I don’t want it to have any real influence over my online relationships.

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