On April 20th, 2009 wrote on the subject of Industry News.

Why Twitter Is A Search Engine – And It’s Better Than Google.

A bold statement to make maybe, and a few months ago I would have laughed at anyone making such a claim, but over the past few weeks and months Twitter has evolved into something unique that Google, and indeed no other search engine has managed to achieve.

Lets get one thing straight – Google is still the search engine to beat when it comes to archiving vast quantities of historical information and giving users a simple interface to retrieve this stored data. If you want to find expert reviews of that new LCD TV that you’re thinking of buying, research your homework, find that website that you can’t quite remember the URL of, look for a good cheesecake recipe, and whole host of other search query types, then Google is your first port of call.

However, where Twitter is coming into its own is enabling its users to get real-time access to information from real people.

Three main factors have contributed to Twitters strength in this area and will act as barriers to entry for others,

1. Twitter turns users into publishers – on Twitter people are the key. Everyone using the service is a publisher. Posting information, ideas and facts that effect and relate to them.

2. Achieved a critical mass – over the past few months the enormous growth of the Twitter user base means that with the huge amount of information being published every day by a massive number of users now increase the chances are that someone will have posted on the subject you’re looking for, and if needed you can even contact them directly.

3. Mobility – The concise nature of the service means that it is one of the first web services that is truly suited to use away from the computer and gives people the ability to post and access information on the go.

One of the first examples that brought home the power of the service to me personally was when travelling through London a couple of weeks ago only to experience the usual travel chaos.  A quick Twitter search on my phone revealed that depressingly there had been a fatality, and the station was unlikely to reopen for some time. With the use of Twitter I was even able to meet up at a bar with some friends who were also stuck in the area, and we then got updated via a Twitter travel service when the station had reopened.

Twitter isn’t just suited to turning miserable Friday evening travel chaos into drinking sessions. Even the major news outlets are waking up to realise the power of the service. During the G20 protests in London, Sky News, who were the first to announce a dedicated Twitter correspondent, dispatched three ‘Twitter reporters’ into the area who were tasked with reporting up to the minute news via their Tweets and the use of Twitpic for images. While following the progress of the events on both TV and the major news corporations websites, I increasingly found that is was Twitter search that was providing information far in advance and in many cases in more detail than was being provided though traditional sources.

It’s not just real-time national and local news where Twitter gives access to information that other search engines don’t. It’s also a great resource for “real peoples” product and service experiences. People are now far more likely to Tweet about their opinions on purchases than they are to blog about them or add their views to a reviews website. Consumer electronics, airlines, hotels and internet services companies have all been on the good and bad side of Twitter publicity. An added dimension is given by the ability for these companies to contact their users directly.

With user growth and usage being directly proportional to the volume of information continued growth can only mean increasing the services usefulness as a search engine.
Mainstream media has been among the first industries to wake-up to the potential of Twitter, and on the whole have embraced it as an additional news channel.
So what is next for Twitter? I can see their real-time search results taking on additional dimensions, perhaps some form of relevance ranking, additional sorting options and further integration to tie it more securely to the service. Monetisation of these search results is probably not too far away

13 comments on Why Twitter Is A Search Engine – And It’s Better Than Google

  1. Mark Aaron Murnahan says:

    I have been a search engine optimizer for over a decade, and Google will always be first. However, Twitter has carved out a very useful niche, and I use the Twitter search very frequently. It still has some flaws, but I look forward to the improvements, because it is pretty clear that Twitter is not backing down

    • Ruhani Rabin says:

      I love google, but the most recent and fastest mean of information I would try twitter search. Thats why I got to agree with Murnahan. Sometime a Website
      could be indexed by google in an hour or more .. but in twitter it travels faster
      than anybody even think of. In future I would like to see more features from
      search results customization and output..

      It’s good to see someone is writing about the stuff which is dangling around
      most of us :)

  2. Ollie says:

    Great post, I documented this a while back to and have written a few things on my blog about it! Real time search is certainly the way forwards and integrating the Twitter results into my Google results using GreaseMonkey has been a god send for me!

  3. Tom says:

    So basically your article is explaning why it’s title is wrong > Twitter isnt better, its just different and used for different things.
    But I guess you wouldnt have had as many views if you called it that.

  4. Dave says:

    Yea, I have to go with Tom… for starters, Twitter is an application that has a search function. It is not (technically) a search engine in the sense of discovery and retrieval. Last time I checked it really has no discernible ranking functions – it simply spits back the information queried in chronological order. This can be a huge problem down the road as folks like Google have discovered with QDF issues (query deserves freshness) – the most glaring being the ability to deal with spam in near real-time search environments and understanding value in spaces with a lack of other signals (such as links).

    How valuable it’s real time search is, ultimately, will be the ability to deal with such issues (spam will only get worse as popularity grows). For the moment it (Twitter) is a good social networking tool with a search feature – It is really not a classic search engine nor recommendation engine even. For the most part we’re talking apples and oranges here, there really isn’t much of a comparison.

    I say we give it another year and see where things are at… dealing with spam is going to be the real deal breaker (as with most web entities). Furthermore, without some way of judging authority/credibility, how do we know what information (from Twitter) is of value and which isn’t? Once again, no real ranking function for relevance and quality. Is Twitter really nothing more than random opinions and musings? The search function simply spits back word matched chronological results. This to me makes it less of a search engine and more of a unqualified recommendation engine. Ya know? Anyone remember Ripp Off Report? What would it take to create a whack of accounts to trash the competition on Twitter? That is a real possibility since I’ve seen bots with sock puppet accounts pimping things…wouldn’t take much to do the opposite.. This makes the whole search function somewhat suspect IMO…. I trust those I know, not everyone.

    Anyway… that’s my 2c…There is no point comparing Google Search and Twitter Search..not yet at least.

  5. Twitter has become my number one source for news (breaking or not).
    Good post!

  6. Hugo says:

    I couldn’t agree more, there’s huge potential in subjective/real-time search. Why did Twitter never seem to care much about search?? (just listing the most recent matches is entertaining but not very useful, is it?)

    Check out the readwriteweb article about twazzup (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twazzup_a_better_twitter_search_engine.php). Twazzup.com does a good job extracting the good stuff from the buzz

  7. RichelleMarie says:

    While I agree that comparing Twitter and Google is like comparing an apple and an orange, I think it still has some merit in this case. Because Matt acknowledged this also, the blog post retains credibility in my opinion. The fact that Twitter does provide real-time data, while Google lags, in and of itself creates an aspect of competition between the two “engines”. I would say Twitter is more of a social search engine -news, tickets and traffic, while Google is geared towards data -scholarly, research oriented and verifiable.

    Certainly, we are all waiting to see how Twitter stands the test of time.

  8. Linn says:

    definitely a good read. i am actually a new twitter user and now just trying to learn things around. great stuff.

  9. Why not the best of both? ;-) My company, http://www.deepwebtech.com/, provides deep web search portals, like http://www.biznar.com/. We’ll be adding twitter to that free portal soon …


  10. Yes, you’re right, I would certainly choose Twitter over Google to arrange to meet my mates in a bar during an unexpected traffic jam.
    But not for much other than that.
    Opinion and perception do not deliver authority.

  11. […] by karl marc on 8. May 2009 Why Twitter Is A Search Engine – And It’s Better Than Google. Realise the power of the Service. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Google Killer?Tweets over Google-Twitter dealThe […]

  12. RK says:

    Very true, I believe they will force Google to compete hard way.

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