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Twitter Ain't Search

The twitter buzz is unstoppable. My wife subscribes to the magazine Entertainment Weekly - I was flipping through it the other day and saw they created a section in there that re-prints select tweets from select celebrities. Yep, Twitter has hit the main stream.

The two meme's that seem to be most prevalent about Twitter these days are (1) how is it going to make money; and (2) is it a Google killer? The former is pretty obvious given right now Twitter is not currently monetized while the latter a bit more complicated. Lots of smart people view Twitter as a threat to Google because it in "real time search." I'm not so sure.

Perhaps I'm one of those people that doesn't entirely "get" Twitter. With that, I do from time to time tweet (mostly as an extension of Facebook through the Twitter app) and I try to follow both friends and industry people. My main issue with Twitter as a reader is that it quickly becomes overkill - too many posts moving too quickly down my screen.

Aha, you say, see a killer search app would cure this - Twitter is search. Maybe. I kind of view Twitter as dead simple blog platform for the masses (hence the adoption of it by the masses). Blog platforms like the one for this blog (Movable Type) can be complicated - especially for the mainstream folks who don't know/ want to learn html commands.

Folks like Six Apart and Blogger tried to cure this by creating easy to use blog platforms like Vox and, well, Blogger. But they never hit the mainstream like twitter. It turns out that not just the platform is hard - blogging itself is hard. It's long form. You need to come up with ideas and then write mini-essays on them. No one likes to write essays. Its time consuming and takes lots of editing. And if you want anyone to read them you need to do this at least daily. Not so easy.

Twitter does away with all that. Text messaging 140 characters or less is something most of us do every day outside Twitter and its generally not held to standards on spelling, grammar or even content. "I'm going to the store" is a fine tweet, but a bad blog post. But it is real time expression - and now there is a platform for it: the blog platform for the masses. From geo cities to Movable Type to live journal/ vox/ blogger to this. Everyone now has their presence online and can express themselves.

But is this search? When blogging reached its hay day (3 years ago?), we quickly found out that search was the entirely wrong mechanism to consume blogs. That's why companies like feedster and technorati (and products like google blog search) never really took off. Consuming a blog was more of a social thing, not a search thing. Whether it was through recommendations, shared links, the blogroll, trackbacks, commentary or an aggregator - most of us determined which blogs to consume via social mechanisms, not searching for content.

So back to Twitter: is twitter search going to be really that much different than blog search? Its hard for me to see the differences. Unless of we re-define "search" to mean something beyond user generated queries against an index of documents. I think twitter will be consumed like blogs - socially through word of mouth and links - and yes, Entertainment Weekly. And that ain't search.


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Comments (15)

I think you are vastly underestimating the power of a real time blogging platform used ubiquitously. It is so different than blogger they cannot even be called the same thing. Here is my blog post (and all the comments) that started much of this conversation. Interested in your thoughts:



"http commands"

"blogging is hard"

In all seriousness, twitter is the cancer of the internet; and, if we're lucky, the financial Armageddon will kill it.

Also: I found your blog after your search engine spidered my site, which, as a vector, is new on me.

You "get" Twitter, but not Twitter search.

Search.Twitter.com isn't used to find tweets/twitterers. Its to find information. You don't (often) use Google to find a specific page. Its general use is to find information. The same with Twitter Search. Its used to find information, and the people who are tweeting don't matter after that is found.

Earlier today my GMail contacts bar was messed up. It was showing "whatever" instead of having people there. So, since I wanted to find out first if this was a service outage or if it was just a rendering problem. So I loaded up search.twitter, typed in Gmail. Nothing about it came up, so I knew it wasn't a service outage.

You're right when you said 'Perhaps I'm one of those people that doesn't entirely "get" Twitter.'.

No, you don't get it. Not at all.

Here are 2 recent searches I performed where Twitter did a much better job than Google:

'nbc "the office"' - to see if there's a new office on tonight

"squaw valley snow" - check snow conditions

for real time things, twitter search is becoming more and more important. i have a feeling it will grow very fast.


I liked Rich's comment:

twitter's great, but if you think it's a replacement for google, try making it your default search engine for a while.


Twitter search example: there were helicopters circling above my house. I searched Twitter for "helicopter" and "Silverlake" (my neighborhood) and found out why instantly. Another example: I heard there had been a quake in Southern California, but I live in SoCal and hadn't experienced any such thing. I searched Twitter for "quake" and found out, instantly, that it had been a 2.2 or so in Orange County. Google can't do that. Twitter gets a built-in timeliness search constraint that Google just doesn't have. But even though that seems like a small advantage, it's a huge advantage when it comes to questions like "why are there helicopters circling overhead in my neighborhood at this exact moment?" Google would literally not ever be able to answer that (at least not in its current form or within the scope of any of its current features). Twitter's not a Google killer but it's much more useful than Google for a particular type of use case. I'll still go to Google for technical documentation or info on a book or a person, but if it's time-sensitive, it's all about Twitter.


Real-time search is indeed something interesting. Just recently a major bridge near my house was closed for several hours.

I was interested to find out why, but of course the news hadn't reached any of the normal channels. Via twitter search I was able to find out about a major traffic accident that had caused the bridge closing. For stuff happening right now, there's currently nothing like it.


I'd never use Twitter for everyday search. Right now with smaller groups, you might find occasional relevant information. But it'll get filled with garbage as the masses adopt it. Google is much smarter. Lots of people have tried search. heck, I started my valley career in search! It's not so easy as indexing info. Personally, I think twitter has had it's heyday. I had fun with it for awhile, but already moved on. Bored. Don't care what you ate for b-fast, and I get the stories/vids etc that my friends recommend on FB. But maybe like the author, I don't get it. I can accept that. The problem is, if I don't get it and he doesnt get it, and we're both technophiles with a love of social Web tools, then what are the chances enough people *will* get it to make it make tens-of-millions to repay those VCs? Sorry, I don't get that either.

I thing the clue is in the conditional "Unless of we re-define 'search' to mean something beyond user generated queries against an index".

The proposal is that throwing out a quick question to an ever changing network of whoever happens to be twittering at the time might yield a better quality result in a short time compared to the algorithmic approach. So twitter would be regarded as a human search engine.

It's fundamentally the same effect as used to happen on arpanet and usenet before the new fangled www thing. If you have a wide enough diversity of members in your network then it's amazing how there's always somebody somewhere who knows an answer to even quite obscure requests.


The key to twitter *is not search*. For search, you need to be *looking for something*.

And as you point out: "[The] main issue with Twitter as a reader is that it quickly becomes overkill - too many posts moving too quickly down [your] screen."

The key to twitter is *navigation*. A tool that you would use not to *look for content* (search), but to *navigate* and *discover* content.

Have a look at www.twitscoop.com, and maybe you'll get my point? And maybe, one day, twitter will get it too...

Twitter shows you a picture of what people talk about now. So to me it is dynamic knowledge versus Google showing you the accumulation of information on the web. And one will not kill the other because both are useful:
- I look for info on Google and Wikipedia
- I measure the hype of a given subject by looking at how many times per hour or per minute it is referred to in Twitter

Thank you @pierre for the pointer to Twitscoop, very cool service, I like seeing the history easily


We have recently released a free Twitter add-on for IE called TweetIE, it works for IE 6,7 and 8. I hope the readers of this blog will find it interesting. I would also appreciate if the author of this blog could review our plug-in. FireFox plug-in is also available.


Ah, hallelujah!! Finally, an intelligent tech-savvy person pointing out what most intelligent tech-savvy people should know... Twitter has a place, sure, but when it comes to search, it's very much a case of Emperor's New Clothes. If I want to find the latest research on the value of advertising, am I going to use a 140-character chatter-fest or a search engine? Similarly, if my PC is playing up and I need a solution, do I go to a service of inane conversation or a search engine? And if I want to find a restaurant with good reviews in my area, do I go to a platform for mindless dribble, or a search engine?
I do 'get' Twitter; I just don't understand how people make it out to be, like, the next big thing, it'll change the world, maaan.

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