The November 11 Issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an article about the social media company Twitter. The article does a great job of explaining how the metadata for each tweet can have value from a business analysis perspective. The article even mentions GeoJSON, an open format for the exchange of geospatial data. Here is an excerpt from the article that talks about the tweet metadata:
You know how the National Security Agency collects “metadata” about the phone calls Americans make? Well, that’s what these fields are, except instead of metadata about phone calls, this is metadata about tweets. In fact, those 140 characters are less than 10 percent of all the data you’ll find in a tweet object. Twitter’s metadata is publicly documented by the company, open for perusal by all and available to anyone who wants to sign up for an API key.
This metadata contains not just tidy numerals like “25” but also whole new sets of name/value pairs—big weird trees of data. A good example is in the “coordinates” part of the tweet. This value contains geographical information—latitude and longitude—in a format called GeoJSON, a dialect of JSON that’s used to describe places. This can seem complicated at first, but it’s actually awesome, because it means that simple-to-understand formats such as JSON can express some pretty complex ideas about the world. GeoJSON isn’t controlled by Twitter; it’s a published, open standard. Twitter has added another field, called “place.” Places are not just dots on a map but “specific, named locations.” They include multiple coordinates—they actually define polygons over the surface of the earth. A tweet can thus contain a very rough outline of a given nation. A few tweets can, with some digital fiddling, serve as a primitive atlas. And through some slightly complex math, they can reveal how far one tweeter is from another. Tweets also have a “created_at” field, which indicates the exact time at which they were posted.
The article then explains how this metadata can be used:
This is where things get interesting. With just the places and the times, you can do some database work and learn when people in every corner of the world are in the strange, receptive state of social media engagement. Could be valuable! This information might tell you the best time to update a blog post or communicate with the most human beings at once, or when to release an advertisement. Maybe we learn that certain people tweet most assiduously right before leaving for work, a fine time for an advertiser to pitch them some orange juice or a new car to ease their commute.
This is the sort of combinatorial work that defines the modern Web: There’s so much data that there’s a very good chance that you will be the first of all humankind to find something interesting or unexpected. Whether you find something valuable is another question. But it’s surprisingly easy to become an expert in a very tiny niche as a developer—to become a world-leading expert in Android video or a specialist in Twitter geography—and charge accordingly for your services.
Read the article if you get a few minutes.