A few days ago, the LocalTweeps service reached my Twitter social network. To sign up for LocalTweets, you tell it your zipcode and it broadcasts your signup on Twitter. LocalTweets hopes to be come a local directory with information organized by zipcode. This could be handy, but it doesn’t yet take advantage of an important aspect of geography, where the internet has a unique advantage over traditional directories. Geography is social and contextual.
Where am I? The downtown neighborhood of Menlo Park, on the Peninsula, in the Bay Area, in Northern California, and so on zooming outward. We use these different markers depending on context. Neighborhood is important for convenience and neighborhoodly socializing. The Bay Area is big, so the regions are important when considering the travel radius for an event. The relevant geographical category sometimes coincides with political jurisdiction (e.g. San Mateo County), and sometimes they don’t. That’s why it would be cool to be able to use tags, not just zipcodes, to identify events and places. A barbeque at a local park would be tagged with the neighborhood. An event at a venue is tagged with a local region. Broader organizing would refer to larger regions, e.g. “Central Valley.”
In a medium with limited physical space, it makes sense to use a single criterion like zipcode to categorize locations and events. But on the internet, there’s no reason to limit. People can, do, and will select the subjective geographical categories based on context.
A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting hosted by the unlamented hyperlocal startup, Backfence. Attendees at the Palo Alto meeting were frustrated because the service would not let them post news in neighboring Menlo Park, even though there are close ties between the towns: people are likely live in one town and work in the other, and to shop and do cultural things the next town over.
So the recommendation for LocalTweets and other internet geography services: free your taxonomy. Let people tag events, and designate them according to what’s socially relevant. The address (and zipcode) will identify where it is on the map. And the tag will identify where it is in people’s cultural context.