Though I may be tweeting (@SarahZielinski), I’m still not exactly convinced of the value of Twitter. That said, a new service called Twisst (follow @twisst) is starting to convince me otherwise. Twisst uses Twitter in an interesting mashup with other services to let followers know when they can view the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes overhead. Here’s how it works:
1. First, Twisst asks Twitter.com which twitter users are following the @twisst account and what location these people have entered in their Twitter profile.
2. Next, these locations are ‘geocoded’. This means Twisst tries to find out what the geographic coordinates are for each location. Google Maps is used for this, or, when Google can't figure out the right coordinates, Yahoo.
3. When coordinates are found for the Twitter user, Twisst goes to the website www.heavens-above.com to see when ISS will fly over at those coordinates.
4. To find out what the local time is for the @twisst follower, Twisst asks the geographic database Geonames in which time zone the location is.
5. So, every time the International Space Station is coming, Twisst sends the follower an alert through Twitter. It announces when ISS will pass, at the users local time. Also Twisst tells whether it is a remarkable nice one or not - so how bright and how high the space station will be on that pass.
The Twisst Web site includes hints for how to spot the ISS and information about the ISS and other objects in the sky. Twisst is just getting started, so I can’t yet evaluate whether or not it works. But even though they’re using publicly available data that you could look up yourself, it should be nice to have someone else pick out the useful bits (the Heavens Above Web site is not particularly user-friendly). And what I find particularly interesting is that this idea didn’t come from a bunch of web programmers or even astronomers; this great idea came from a couple of freelance writers in the Netherlands.