10 Possible Uses of Twitter's New Annotations

Twitter_buttonLast week was an important one for Twitter: with the first ever Twitter developer’s conference in San Francisco; there were fascinating statistics revealed and a number of significant announcements, some of which we had already expected. Among the stats revealed is the fact that the site has over 100M registered users, making them in some ways almost as large as Facebook. This gain looks to be something Twitter wants to push with the announcement of open annotations for developers, the details of which were finally revealed this past Friday.

Essentially, tweets will now be allocated an extra 512 Bytes of space in the form of open annotations, with an expected increase to 2KB in the future. The metadata format is currently open and can be used by developers as they like. See the Twitter Developers Google Group for more details. Annotations will of course have numerous potential uses, including some of the following listed below. Keep in mind that these are possible uses, and all will require the necessary client wrapper code to realize.

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  1. Inclusion of rich media such as images, slideshows, music, video, and (dynamic) graphs. So everyone, such as myself, who prefers sharing links on Facebook because of the ability to embed images, video and snippets of text from said links could do the same and more with Twitter and much more. For example, the display of dynamic graphs showing financial or other market data. Or imagine keyword-filtered playlists of music, videos, or slideshows, sourced from Last.fm, YouTube, Flickr and son on.
  2. Additional location metadata. Erick Schonfeld’s suggestion of an open database of places could take root in Twitter and services built on the platform, possibly aided by SimpleGeo’s geo-location infrastructure services. The accumulated geo-location annotations could in turn be used to power an Open GQL (Geographic Query Language).
  3. Targeted advertising and coupon offers. Metadata could carry advertising and coupon offers, as well as conditional code that determines the eligibility of a user or the relevance to them, and possibly tied in with LBS (Location-Based Services) apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla or MyTown.
  4. Tweet categorization, including moving hashtags to annotation space. For example, there could be topical categories or info type categories (news, video, graphs, etc.)
  5. Web page ‘playlists’. Instead of including one reference for a topic, you could have multi-linked tweets by allowing multiple URLs. Twitter developers have a chance to surpass what Facebook offers, since the latter’s Wall items only show a Web page snapshot of one link per item. It’d be valuable to some Twitter users to share multiple links and have page snapshots displayed for all of them.
  6. User feedback, including comment responses, ratings, reviews, poll responses, user sentiment.
  7. Private document sharing or possibly a form of email? An email client built on Twitter may be a bit far fetched, even when annotations increase to 2KB. However, sending information to a user privately in the form of a document is a possibility, especially if there’s integration with an encryption standard such as PGP. Using tweet categorization, as mentioned above, such tweets could be marked up in annotations accordingly as ‘[shared doc]’ or some such label.
  8. Social gaming. Evan Weaver, Manager of Infrastructure at Twitter, openly stated (at this year’s GDC 2010 Game Developer’s Conference) that the company is looking to build out its platform to support social gaming. In a recent email to me, he admitted that they “have a bunch of work to do” before they can “discuss a public strategy.” Still, that sounds to me like they plan to go ahead with this idea, else the email would likely have said, “… no plans to do so at the time.” Annotations will make a huge difference in fulfilling the goal of having Twitter be used as a social gaming platform.
  9. Twitter chat. Can you imagine? No more having to use multiple IM accounts to satisfy all your friends and colleagues. Okay, Meebo already allows cross-IM chat, but a Twitter-based chat client could be even more versatile.
  10. White-label social networking alternatives to Facebook and MySpace, or Ning, now that the latter is ditching free networks. Anyone up for creating a “Tweetbook,” a Facebook-clone app built over Twitter and annotations? Can it be done? Will anyone do it? If Twitter launches an fbFund competitor to fund 3rd-party developers, you never know.

Hopefully some open standards will be devised so that annotated tweet don’t become a dog’s breakfast of redundant specifications per development house. My guess is that Twitter wants to let third-party developers come up with options, which they might later absorb into a sort of AML or Annotation Markup Language that could help the tweet search engines of tomorrow that will need to filter through all the metadata.

This is a very high-impact announcement that benefits both Twitter and other developers, driving home the point that even though the company is doing a lot of “hole-filling,” there are still lots of development opportunities. Annotated tweets make Twitter an even more versatile and powerful messaging platform.

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