Two major changes to Twitter are due to arrive soon. One is a revised handling of retweets and the other, much more significant, development is the launch of the Geolocation API. This will allow location to become a much more important part of how we use Twitter.
While we wait for Twitter to switch on its new location awareness another microblogging service, Sneebly, has arrived that shows the potential of what we’ll soon be able to do with Twitter. In fact, if this had been built on top of Twitter I’d be seriously impressed.
Sneebly displays users’ updates on a Google Map, and you can explore where updates are coming from around the world. Being a South African service there’s little surprise that the largest cluster of users is around Cape Town. Click on a user and a bubble opens displaying the user’s latest update along with options to follow or block the user.
Updating your status on Sneebly is a fiddly affair. You have to find your location on the map first, click to add yourself to the map and then write in what you’re doing. It would be easier if you could automatically locate yourself using the Google Maps browser-based location tool.
Sneebly arrives in a crowded market for location-based services. Brightkite and Google Latitude are available for people who want to share their location, Foursquare and Gowalla are offering location-based games while Twitter is soon likely to have the whole ‘location-based microblogging’ thing sewn up thanks to its market-leading position and strong community of third party developers.
Given the sheer amount of competition and Sneebly’s lack of a clear USP, its only chance of survival is to find a part of the world not yet conquered by Twitter and work hard at penetrating the market there. As Sneebly is currently browser-based without any mobile client it will have to work really hard. A geolocation service without a mobile component is really stunting its chances at growth.
Despite its flaws, it’s amusing to see that Sneebly is using advertising, something Twitter is yet to do outside Japan. It’s only Google Adsense units on the Sneebly map, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re earning more money per user that Twitter is right now, even with just a small number of users.
Even if it’s not going to take over the world, it’s worth giving Sneebly a look to see just how we might all be browsing Twitter in a few months’ time.