Twitter’s Search Credentials: Unproven And Unclear

Twitter is serving more than 800 million search queries a day, according to Biz Stone. “That’s over 24 billion searches per month, more than Bing (4.1 billion) and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) (9.4 billion) combined,” Fast Company chirps.

Big deal.

Comparing the search feature of Twitter with search engines like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is almost as irrelevant as the continual stories which gleefully report Twitter has more users than media outlets like The New York Times (NYSE: NYT). One’s a network, the other’s a news publisher – this is not comparing like with like.

In the same way, one can’t group Twitter together with web search services and proclaim: “Twitter has taken the title.” Sure, both such services have a search function, but each indexes a very different kind of material – one, rapid-fire conversations and news updates; the other, deeper, more static and longer-lasting information.

What’s more, these numbers likely don’t include automated searches conducted by bots and scripts rather than humans.

This doesn’t mean Twitter has no value in search. If I want to find out what people are saying about the World Cup right now, I might search Twitter. And you can see how Promoted Tweets against search terms would mimic the contextual advertising relevance which Google’s AdWords pioneered (say, showing a Nike ad to soccer searchers).

But if I want to find fixture lists, stadia capacity and previous tournament winners, I’m going to Google.

The value of advertising against real-time updates is nascent, and the challenge for all concerned appears to be uniting conversational search with informational search, providing the best of both worlds. In that, the incumbent web searchers with which FastCompany contrasts Twitter have an advantage, now comprising both Twitter and deeper search results…

Conversely, Twitter can’t necessarily say that it boasts search access to older, more static information, so it’s on-site search credentials will remain constrained and the network may pose more value as provider, a part of a wider ecosystem.

As Evan Williams himself said Tuesday (not quoted by FastCompany but the video is embedded below):

You can search on Twitter, but I think the search has a long way to go … With Twitter, you have no history about a document. If freshness is a key component, they (Google and Microsoft) will surface tweets. They are just at the beginning stages of that and we are at the beginning stages of that. It’s an unsolved problem. Even though we’re working on it, having Google engineers figure out how to surface the best information to people is a good deal because it’s not figured out.”

Stone: “There’s a big difference between searching the web – which is about I, me, I’m asking the search engine to give me something – and when you are on Twitter, you are open to information that’s coming to you.”

There’s surely a tweet search opportunity a-brewing — but only if everyone brings a degree of granularity to the prospect and is prepared to recognize that not all “search” engines are necessarily equal.

Here’s the interview video from the Aspen Ideas Festival: