Last week, both Bing and Google announced that they have made deals with Twitter to access and utilize data in their mainstream results. These deals are significant events, in the sense that a real human social layer is now in play with crawler-based algorithms. So in addition to my long string of recent blog posts about real-time social search, here are some additional thoughts on what these deals mean to searchers, marketers, and the advancement of search and social as a whole:
Twitter (and social influence) becomes more important in its direct impact on mainstream search results. Twitter was already important to driving external buzz that made domains more relevant in search engines. But what was once an esoteric concept on the benefits of social and search has now become cemented into the algorithmic approach of the major engines. The engines, who know all too well about how critical spam-busting is to search quality, are in a position to apply algorithmic credibility to the tweets that appear in, or influence SERPs. I've already written quite a bit about an algorithmic approach to Twitter in fighting spam and maintaining relevance, so I'll save some electrons and point you this way ("What An Algorithmic Approach To Twitter's Social-Search Layer Might Look Like").
The "game to watch" in real-time search is to see who has both the best crawler and social layer, and Google is looking like the leader at this point. Though Google is the king crawler of historical search, it still reacted to spiking Michael Jackson queries as a possible automated attack, as searches began mirroring the unfolding events in social in real-time. With the much-needed access to Twitter's social layer, we can only begin to speculate how this data might be used to show what people are talking about now, and also show what the best data sources may be. In what could have been a tremendous battle to gain a social layer, Google bought access to one, and in my estimation will eventually come out as the hands-down leader in real-time and social search, provided that they maintain this relationship, and also seek other social layers accordingly. (Wowd is one indie to watch here in terms of how it could potentially provide a novel social signal to influence real-time SERPs; Google Social Search could also become a factor.)
This deal is not just about seeing tweets in your SERP - it's also about using social as a search signal. The Twitter search experience is centered largely on keyword-triggered tweets delivered in reverse-chronological order. Other engines like One Riot have taken a different approach and used tweets as a crawler signal, or aggregated tweets to provide context to a document in real-time. Real-time access to this data can potentially point a search to the hottest documents as they happen, and having major crawlers utilizing this data ups the ante for social and human triggers on documents quite considerably.
Has Twitter pushed back on development of its own search engine with this deal? In the crawler/social race in real-time search, Twitter is at a disadvantage in terms of building a robust crawler foundation that would compete with both Bing and Google. While many of the terms of the deal are not clear, it seems that the obstacles to competing with the super-crawlers are now more than formidable, if in fact Twitter still has major plans for developing its own advanced version of real-time search.
Google's Social Search announcement was lost in the mix last Wednesday, but it could also be a huge signal as well. For all the news that swirled around the Bing and Google deals, one other huge story (the primary story that Marissa Mayer was telling at Web 2.0 at the time of the announcement), was the introduction of Social Search. The company is currently leveraging its own networks of Gmail, Profiles, and others, but this could expand to major networks like Facebook and Twitter. There is the potential here to have an additional signal for real-time, but also have better coverage for less immediate levels of recency.
Overall, we are watching the makings of an entirely new search experience, at least regarding terms of a more recent nature. As briefly mentioned in my last column, Google's rumored shift to a rich application framework could make its own real-time experience much more intense, especially with access to the Twitter data. But for now, we'll just have to continue to watch and see what happens as the story plays out.