Rumored Twitter-Foursquare partnership shows Yik Yak is a threat

Twitter is reportedly teaming up with Foursquare to power location-based tweets, according to Business Insider.  Location features are key to Twitter’s product roadmap, because the company believes such contextual information will make the service more useful for people.

But there’s lots of product changes that would make Twitter more useful to people, particularly new user onboarding tools. So why is Twitter focusing on location-based tweeting, arguably a departure from its core service, now?

It may have to do with new competitor Yik Yak. Yik Yak spread virally through colleges with a product that’s similar to Twitter, except your feed is composed of posts from people near your location. The app has had a stunning rise through the charts, and just raised $62 million in new funding from Sequoia (the main backer of WhatsApp). Although it’s frequently grouped in with the Secrets and Whispers of the world, Yik Yak sees Twitter as its big competitor. With Twitter now taking geolocation so seriously, it appears the feeling is mutual.

BI didn’t get the scoop on what, exactly, the Foursquare-enabled Twitter feature would look like, but sources told the publication we could see it as early as the first quarter of 2015.

We can look to Twitter’s recent Analyst Call for some idea. During that time, Twitter showcased a wide array of preview products — ones it was planning but hadn’t finished building. Location-based tweet organization was one such feature.

In the slides Twitter showed, people could navigate to micro tweet areas, seeing all the tweets coming out of, say, Grand Central Terminal or Olive Garden, Times Square. Yik Yak’s Peek Anywhere tool is similar, although it’s based on pin dropping, as you can see below:

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

 

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location based post tool

It was hard to tell from the Analyst Call, where a ton of product previews were dumped, how much Twitter was prioritizing this feature. But if it’s working alongside Foursquare to introduce it as early as January – March 2015, it’s clear this matters. It will be one of the biggest changes to Twitter’s product since its inception. And if users adopt it, it could pose significant problems for Yik Yak.

 

 

 

Nokia Here data to power Baidu’s non-Chinese maps

The Chinese web giant Baidu has decided on Nokia as its mapping partner for services outside of China.

[company]Nokia[/company]’s Here platform is one of the key remaining businesses of the Finnish firm, following the sale of its handset unit to [company]Microsoft[/company]. Its mapping data, which will now power [company]Baidu[/company] Maps for most of the world, covers nearly 200 countries.

According to a statement, the first extension of Baidu Maps beyond China will take in Taiwan (which China considers to be part of China anyway) and other territories will follow.

Although the Here data will be subsumed by the Baidu brand, it’s worth noting that China is a key market for Nokia – it’s the first country in which Nokia’s upcoming N1 tablet will launch, for example. Then again, as the world’s biggest economy, with increasing numbers of affluent citizens (and, relevantly, overseas-travelling tourists), that’s no surprise.

Can another company deliver on the promise of Foursquare?

Foursquare may be struggling, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t jostling to take its place. A new app, Connect, just raised a $10.3 million Series A, in a round including Marc Benioff, to give it a shot. It calls itself a “living address book.” It’s a digital address book that syncs all your social contacts together, but it’s also a new take on Foursquare’s check-in feature.

The app shows you a map of your city with little face bubbles telling you where your friends are hanging out. There’s a key difference though. Unlike Foursquare, which requires people to “check-in”, Connect extracts data from people’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Foursquare feeds to tell you where they’re located. The black circles represent their main city, pulled from their social profile information, and the red circles represent where a person has recently posted they are. For example, if you post a status about “Having a great time at Dolores Park,” Connect will place you at Dolores Park in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. When Facebook latently notes your location for its “friends nearby” feature, Connect will pull that too.

Screenshots from Connect app

Screenshots from Connect app

The automatic information drawing removes the friction of the check-in to make your friends’ location data more readily available. You receive notifications when an out-of-town friend is visiting your city. The lead investor in Connect, Brad Bao from Kinzon Capital, told me he invested in the app because it solves a connection problem people didn’t necessarily know they had. “In a way, its similar to Uber before Uber existed,” Bao said. “There’s no way to [latently] inform my friends where I’m at.”

CEO Ryan Allis told me he spent a year and a half building the technology. We already had our surge in geolocation networking in 2011-2012. With Foursquare’s pivot, it appears the heyday might be over. But Connect’s premise intrigued me enough to try it. I liked Facebook’s “friends nearby” feature, despite its creepy vibe. It has almost resulted in me getting together with a friend I wouldn’t otherwise…such promise. Why not expand that to other networks?

But the vision of Connect seems to be a little behind the execution. On my map, there weren’t many friends in San Francisco, despite the fact that Facebook’s app clearly told me no less than three friends were all in my vicinity. That lapse in communication between the apps may be the result of some Facebook’s users privacy settings.

One of the friends the Connect app did show as being in San Francisco isn’t actually here. I texted her to double-check, and sure enough, she’s back in Boston (where she lives full time).

The promise of Foursquare — to know where your friends were so you could connect serendipitously — was so appealing, but technologically we may just not be there yet.

Twitter’s former head of product has left the company

After losing his role as head of Twitter’s Product team, Daniel Graf has officially left the company. In a tweet Friday afternoon, Graf thanked Twitter and wished the team good luck. The new head of product, Kevin Weil, tweeted some return appreciation, confirming the news.

Graf was the company’s head of product for the past six months until CEO Dick Costolo demoted him to a strategic initiatives role (although he kept the VP title) and promoted Twitter’s head of revenue products, Kevin Weil, to running the product team. When that announcement was made, Twitter said that Graf would be staying on, albeit with a different focus. A Wall Street Journal source told the publication he would run projects like geolocation services. Given that Graf led Google’s efforts with its Maps product, that fit his expertise.

It’s not clear what changed. Given that Twitter previewed a major product feature involving location-based tweets on its Analyst Call, its geolocation product is still in development. Graf’s experience would’ve been a major asset on the project.

Twitter declined to comment on Graf’s tweet.

Yandex opens research office in Berlin, considers partnerships with local startups

Russian web giant Yandex may focus on customers in Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, but its research efforts are widespread — speech recognition R&D takes place in Zurich, and on Thursday the company said it’s coming to Berlin for mapping work. Yandex’s mapping partner is Navteq or, as it is known these days, Nokia(s nok) Here, and Berlin has long been a hub for that team. Yandex said it will hire 30-40 people for its Berlin office during 2014 to work on its global Yandex.Maps service and, while the company still has no intention of pushing into the German market, a spokesman told me it would look into partnership opportunities with local startups.

Here’s what happens when a data scientist goes to Disney World

Mailchimp chief data scientist John Foreman came on the Structure Show this week to report on his recent trip to Disneyland. It turns out the Magic Kingdom does indeed use data to deliver a personalized experience — and we’re fine with it because it’s fun(ish).