Does Twitter Reflect a Change in How We Search?

Having done a session at Search Engine Strategies New York this week on Twitter (Beyond Googling: Where Will We Be Searching in 5 Years) and written “Should Google Buy Twitter?” I’ve started to see a shift in the search world.

I’m sure Google will always be a major presence on the Web and the place to go for certain types of information. But not for all types of search. The search engines are a database of information and always will be. The factors on how information is pulled from the source is up to the individual companies at this stage, but who knows how that may change in the future.

Google has given us tools to rank the listings for ourselves for our personal results pages. In the future, this methodology could be a big play, but for now it hasn’t taken off.

Twitter’s rapid growth and pervasive presence — mentioned in newspapers, on TV and just about everywhere you look — has opened a new information source. “Real-time search,” “social search,” or whatever you want to call it offers an alternative.

There are no databases (not yet anyway) except those in each user’s brain. We share what we know and that accumulated knowledge tops the search engine databases.

If we could get total numbers of searches for the top three engines, I’m certain there will soon be a noticeable drop. Social media is having an impact and Twitter seems to be leading the way. When once we looked to the engines for all quick finds of needed information, we’re now getting some of that from “the global village” of social media.

For all the inanities passed around on Twitter, there are as many links to new current information. Mahalo Answers has jumped on the medium with its @questions and @answers. It’s early yet, but we can see the movement to this search source.

It seems to be the natural order of things. When search engines first started, people would make two-word searches, then three and four, and then more. We’ve become more educated searchers. Using Twitter as a source for finding information seems a natural progression.

Twitter could also adapt to take advantage of this change. There has been mention of them pushing information to users on an alerts basis — the ability is there now for being alerted when someone is discussing any topic you want to follow. Add alerts for local emergencies and other important local-specific information that you couldn’t think of in advance, and you have a situation where search is sitting there delivering your future needs.

Google’s desire to “give people access to the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it” is a good one, but it seems Twitter is becoming the major player in one of those spaces.

Chris Boggs Fires Back

Searching Twitter has one fundamental problem, at least in my experience with the only return sort order is by date, with the most recent post listed first. Google, Technorati, and other blog search choices out there also offer a “Sort by Relevance,” with Technorati taking it to the next level with multiple “classes” of blogs to search within, based on their Technorati-granted authority status. Until Twitter has a larger sample of users to choose from, it will be hard for them to provide another way of sorting search returns.

Speaking of Twitter, Lisa Barone’s scathing post describes the feedback I got from many attendees since Tuesday morning’s keynote by Guy Kawasaki: he kind of blew it. Kawasaki advocates the use of Twitter for marketing purposes, and I certainly feel that has great potential.

One tactic Kawasaki discussed was getting as many followers as possible. This would be a good precursor to becoming a power-user that may be considered if Twitter begins to try to group/associate users to specific subjects. In short, that could be leveraged like Teoma (now uses “authorities” to guide which links have more value pointed to pages around specific relevant areas.

Twitter’s adoption rate will continue to grow, but in order for them to become a valuable search tool on their own, they’ll have to augment their capabilities and really build a trustable algorithm. The best way to search Twitter is through something paid like Radian6.

Listening to what people are saying about your brand is important, but only better technology makes it a manageable process, especially for very large well-known brands. I’m interested, Frank, to see what 2009 holds for Twitter. Hopefully, we’ll continue to see additional search functionality added, without the need for Twitter “organizers” like Tweetdeck and others.

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