Putting Google geo-location to the Twitter test

Google’s javascript API has an exciting, and somewhat underreported little feature built in: each time a call is initiated, it attempts to establish where the browser is physically located – and reports back a town, ‘region’ (county) and country. I was wondering if it was accurate enough to be used to ‘personalise’ a website automatically: so I ran a quick experiment among my Twitter following.
I set up a quick test page on puffbox.com, which included a call to the Google API, and asked people to leave a comment as to whether or not the response was accurate. Within an hour I’d had 30 responses, from all around the UK.
The results revealed that the function is sometimes bang-on, sometimes blocked, sometimes curious, and sometimes plain wrong… occasionally by hundreds of miles. I can forgive the occasional placing of towns in the wrong county; but several people in the north of England, using the same ISP also located up north, were getting responses of ‘London’. So my conclusion, disappointingly, is that it’s not really good enough to make meaningful use of.
A wasted effort? Hardly. It actually saves me the effort of building something reliant on the geo function, only to discover it’s useless for large numbers of people. And it’s a nice case study for the value of Twitter: a crowd of good folk and true, located all over the country, from whom I could ask a 5-second favour… with a good expectation of getting responses. Thanks, team.