The Future Of Search: Is Twitter The Chosen One?

Over the past three months it has become in vogue to discuss the future of search in one word -- Twitter. With real-time, consumer-driven micro-blogging, Twitter has suddenly become what the next generation of search is to be. I started to discuss this topic in a column a few months ago,  but as the buzz keeps getting louder, it seems to be a good time to revisit and debate the merits of the noise and the potential for both Twitter and the crowd sourcing of search to become the future of the space. In doing this, I'll serve up one way Twitter might get at living up to its hype. (Note: From this point forward I'll use Twitter as the example, to save the extra typing of "or another like service.")

The Challenges

In exploring whether Twitter has the ability to become a viable alternative, let's look at the issues it must overcome. The most glaring to me is the role that Google plays in the public consciousness. Google is a trusted advisor, a repository of information, a question and click away. And while it's easy to debate the ease of finding information and the user's dependence on the algorithm to place everything in proper order (compared to the 20th century equivalent, the encyclopedia), it's a vast leap forward.

And that is the first challenge for Twitter: it leaves the parsing in the hands of the consumer. You ask the question and have to determine, based on your network, who you trust more, and the validity of the answer. Twitter is challenged in this regard because currently the options for finding answers are limited to those following you. And, if your network is full of slumdogs like Salim and not the lone millionaire, then you may be out of luck. At best, you will be left waiting until your own Jamal returns to the discussion. And that becomes issue number two. Speed. Search may not always give you the answer on the first click, but in almost all cases, the answers are within the results with the right kind of digging.

So, if Twitter has so many challenges, how does it overcome them?

1. Buy ChaCha. If a challenge of Twitter today is that you're limited in who can help you answer a question, then let's give the system ways to answer the question. And what better way than to tie together the hottest SMS solution for Q&A with the hottest micro-blogging service. This would enable users to ask their network, as they are already doing -- but when immediacy matters, tie together a mobile solution.

2. Do a search deal, then build your own paid search network. Online, the value of Twitter is through the commentary. Imagine the "relevant" ads one might get if one's Twitter feeds were aligned with an AdSense-like solution. Think about the absurdity that might ensue if each time someone left a tweet, a new series of ads was served, trying to discern what on earth someone meant. But, if a network was built aligning with your tweets or the discussion threads you were engaged in, then that would start to provide more context and value. It would be easy to start with a Google AdSense deal; but if this is for the ownership of the space, then it would make little sense for Twitter to work with the 800-pound gorilla. Instead, it should look at a partnership with the owner of point #3.

3. Be your own boss. One of the least-heralded yet most-intriguing offerings of the last year was Yahoo Boss. The ability to take control of your own search engine is a compelling idea that seemed of little nterest to the general public and the business community. But if Twitter rebuilt its user interface to offer algorithmically established results in combination with paid listings and an ongoing micro-blogging feed related to the intent  expressed through comment or query, the end product could truly be game-changing.

One of the sad truths of the past five years is that no one has successfully connected search and social from a user standpoint. They remain two distinct channels with minimal integration onto SERPs from social. Both Yahoo 360 and Google Wiki were attempts to bring community into the results page. But if you started from a position of community and worked back towards search, you might find a solution where community and engine could work in tandem.

A rudimentary example of the potential integration is available for the Firefox browser, through the Greasemonkey plug-in and script. The combination inserts a real-time Twitter stream into Google results. And while the plug-in may offer a sneak peek into the future, it does not come close to where this could be for both personal connections and query responses to a given expression of intent. Add to that the effort one must put in to experience mashup, and this is but a taste of what may be to come.

Whether or not Twitter is the future of search is hard to say. As it stands today, I would suggest it is not. Too many users lack the time or community to successfully replace Google in their daily life. But, a solution that could provide search-like organization with the ability to choose from the standard of today, or that of a pre-established network of intelligence, would completely change the space for many.



12 comments about "The Future Of Search: Is Twitter The Chosen One?".
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  1. Jacqueline Amyot from Goodmind, March 13, 2009 at 11:46 a.m.

    Chris - great idea for Twitter to buy ChaCha. I love both services independently but together? Force to be reckoned with!

  2. Kurt Krake from Search-Werks, March 13, 2009 at noon

    It will be fascinating to watch this evolve and see where it heads over the next several months and years. There is one very simple and signifcant difference between Twitter and Google in the early years. With Google, its was obvious what Google offered and it didn't take a lot of convincing to say "search for it on Google". With Twitter, I often end up having a 15-30 minute discussion with people that I introduce Twitter to. It takes time to explain what Twitter is and why its useful and even then (as I did the first time I heard about it), you are met with initial skepticism at best. The newly introduced or uninformed often view Twitter as a time drain.

    Thus, can Twitter get past this and ever generate the scale that Google has?

  3. Nick Drew from Microsoft Advertising, March 13, 2009 at 12:09 p.m.

    "Is Twitter the Future of Search?"
    No. Next!

  4. Nuno Andrade from Kre8 Media, March 13, 2009 at 12:24 p.m.

    I recently wrote a blog post that speaks to your second point.

    Twitter is going to monetize search the same way Google monetized search. They are going to charge advertisers to send little DM's to people who mention things related to their line of business. For example, I'm a furniture vendor, if someone says they need to buy furniture, I want to advertise to that person. Arguably, that person is further along in the conversion cycle than someone performing a search for "furniture" on Google. For more on "Twitter Paid Search," see my blog entry: Thanks.

  5. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., March 13, 2009 at 12:48 p.m.

    "One of the sad truths of the past five years is that no one has successfully connected search and social from a user standpoint." Ummm, let's see, 5 years ago was 2004 - pretty much the big news of the day was that Google was creating something called "Groups" (MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - Dec. 2, 2004 - Google Inc. today launched the next generation Google Groups on the 'Groups' link of the Google home page at and nobody had even heard of the social absurdity that is Twitter, because (remember now) it's only been the trendy buzzword du jour for a few months. So, how could anyone connect search & social in the past five years when "social" didn't really come into it's own until about a year or two ago?

    The thought that Twitter - let's recall what this is: a site where people who are afflicted with Crackberry disease now have a reason (or another reason) to look implusively at their connected devices every 8 seconds like some compulsive handwasher or lockchecker - will replace or even challenge a dynamic piece of work like Google (Groups, Apps, Video, Mobile, Mail, Search the list goes on and on) is patently absurd. One is a digital twitchfest of useless information ("I'm thinking Arby's - anybody near Lincoln and 12th want to eat lunch with me? I'm the 30 year-old loser on the skateboard with the dreds, dude. I'm the new VP of Social Networked Viral Flash Doodads for Devolver, we're proving that humans are evolving into gaming devices.") while the other simply let's you find almost any piece of information on the internet in a fairly logical manner.

    Am I missing something? I must be - because (as they say) "One of these things is not like the other".

  6. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, March 13, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.

    Twitter won't replace search.

  7. David Seifert from Finish Line, March 13, 2009 at 4:32 p.m.

    Later this year headline...."Google buys Twitter"

  8. Chris Copeland from Yieldbot, March 13, 2009 at 5:35 p.m.

    Thank you to everyone for the commentary. Here's the question I'm trying to grapple with in this post. Is there a place for community based organization of answers in a world where historically algorithms have done the heavy lifting? My point is not whether Twitter will replace search. I think Google has an organizing principal which far surpasses anything micro-blogging offers today or in the future without change. However, my question/commentary is whether the action of both your closed and a more open community when enhanced by more traditional search solutions would ultimately provide a better experience.

  9. Kevin Huff from Training To Go, March 13, 2009 at 5:40 p.m.

    Johnathon, et al:

    While Twitter isn't currently capable of globally replacing "search" it IS powerful for a specific type of search, most notably current events/news. is my method of choice for conducting such searches.

    Twitter gets a lift now because we want something new and cool on the Internet to succeed. Long term? I hope as I expect its reach and capability grows...but I don't think anyone really knows.

    Twitter can't be categorically dismissed nor does it currently hold a candle to Google's search power.

  10. Scott Broomfield from Veeple, Inc., March 13, 2009 at 5:46 p.m.

    Hi Chris -

    The digital world is binary. The real world is analog. I, therefore, suggest that Twitter will compliment Google, just like it compliments Facebook and MySpace.

    But for your readership, I like Tweetbeep (alerts) and I like Twitalyzer (see how you show up on Twitter in 5 categories).

    Scott Broomfield - Veeple's CEO and Co-Founder

  11. Karma Martell from KarmaCom Inc., March 13, 2009 at 6:56 p.m.

    I think the idea of a real-time Twitter stream contextual to the search engine result that sits, say, in a side column could be very cool. It would represent the real time real world discussion that is going on about the search topic. Or could be tweets about the person whose name was searched, or that person's twitter feed. That is using Twitter's strongpoint of community as a good value-add to counterpoint the bot SERPs.

    Regarding the commercialization of the Twitter portal: I guess soon the twitterati will be talking about the "good old days" of old school twitter- before the contextual and behavioral ad bombardment, and as one colleague suggests, contextual/behavorial DMs. (egads!)

    I enjoy Twitter's current folksiness and element of surprise. It's a bit like a game of chance: you never know who will be tweeting at any given time or where the discussion will lead you. Yes, if you choose to follow people that are talking about the hotdog they just ate and how they are in the john presently, then you will have an inferior expereince.

    I am having great experiences on Twitter and making connections in a very unique style and format. I don't need to use Twitter as an alternate search engine, thank you very much.

  12. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, March 14, 2009 at 7:05 p.m.

    Hi there Chris,

    Great article! Just one small point -- on, you're not at all limited to who's in your network. You can search every unhidden Twitter feed in the world. So the other day, when Gmail was down, Twitter search was a much better tool for me to find out what was going on (is it just me, is it just New Zealand, are people managing to access their accounts via POP3, etc) than Google could have possibly hoped for.

    I also hear a lot about Twitter search being useless because it's just a bunch of people saying whatever they want. But doesn't that pretty much describe the entire Internet, which is where Google results come from?

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