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May 7, 2009

Twitter Search to Become Real Search - Killing Many Twitter Analytics Apps

The fact that Twitter’s search is now often faster and more relevant than any other search engine out there is not a secret anymore. It is, however, a very limited search engine: it merely indexes a bunch of tweets. In its current state, it’s great for tracking conversations, but it will never be a competitor to Google.

This is about to change. According to CNET, Twitter’s new VP of Operations, Santosh Jayaram, said that Twitter search will soon startcrawling the links included in tweets. There’s a lot of links there, and given Twitter’s huge growth, soon these links might comprise a hefty portion of the overall web, making it a much more complete search engine that it currently is. It’s a big technical leap, but it shows that the folks at Twitter are serious about search.

Jayaram gave another very interesting hint at where they’re going: Twitter Search will also get a reputation ranking system. That means that not all tweets will be equal; rank will be calculated for each twitterer, probably based on several criteria such as number of followers, number of retweets and so forth.

When I recently wrote about Tweefind, a Twitter search that also takes rank into account, some commenters asked why are we putting so much emphasis on a very beta, buggy service. Well, regardless of the actual implementation, it was immediately obvious that the idea is not only great; it’s precisely what Twitter needs.

This other part of Twitter’s search strategy is equally important, and together these might prove to be the one-two punch they need to put some fear into their competitors. Crawling links will give Twitter’s search engine the scope it needs to compete with Google. Rank will give it a way to make sense out of all that data and decide what’s important.

At this point, it’s hard to say whether Google’s complex algorithm, initially based on the number of inbound links of a web site (Google’s legendary PageRank) will stay superior to Twitter’s algorithm which is based on real people’s conversations. But even if Twitter’s search proves to be superior in just a portion of the search market - and it already looks that way in certain cases - it will be a very important dent in Google’s seemingly impenetrable armor.

Twitter To Expand Search Beyond Own Site

imageIn its current state, Twitter's search function offers a quick way to size up in real-time what people are saying on Twitter—but not much else. That's about to change—with potentially big implications for a future Twitter business model. CNET reports that Twitter VP of Operations Santosh Jayaram talked during a panel Wednesday about two additions coming to Twitter Search. Most notably, Jayaram said Twitter Search will soon index not only the text of Twitter posts but also the pages that Tweets link to. Some popular results will also be ranked based on a Tweeter's reputation.

Already, Twitter has pushed the prominence of search on its site, by putting links to Twitter Search on all of its pages. But there have been some obvious questions about its utility. For instance, sure, it's neat to see how many people are talking about Britney Spears at the moment, but you might still be one step away from what is actually causing them to talk about Spears. Similarly, as CNET's Rafe Needleman points out, with hundreds of people re-tweeting each other's tweets, search results can be repetitive.

Twitter Search is likely the easiest area for Twitter to monetize on its site (People are already used to seeing ads adjacent to search results, while an ad in a stream on a profile page would likely be considered disruptive). Transform Twitter Search into an actual real-time Internet search engine with results determined by what Twitterers are linking to and more people, including many non-Tweeters, will likely use it. No wonder Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) are all rumored to be hovering.

@Google - @Twitter To Start Indexing Links For Search

picture-15Twitter Search is easily the most promising aspect of Twitter. People talk about mundane updates, or connecting with companies, or following celebrities — but that’s all small scale. The real power of Twitter lies in its aggregate data. Why do you think Google and every other company out there is interested in them? It’s not just because they are the hot ticket in town right now, despite what some would have you believe. It’s all about the data. And Twitter knows that too — and is apparently on the verge of some interesting moves with Twitter Search that will better highlight that.

Speaking on a panel today, Santosh Jayaram, Twitter’s new VP of Operations, had some very interesting things to say, Webware’s Rafe Needleman who moderated it, reports. The most interesting thing is that Twitter Search will soon begin crawling the links that people tweet out and indexing them. This immediately takes Twitter Search, which is still a very basic service, to the next level. This means that no longer will it just be a stream of textual tweets, but it will include millions of web pages as well — web pages that are more or less already curated by the individuals who tweet them out. Sure, there will be some spam, maybe even a lot of it, but this user curation should help real good content from around the web bubble up.

Apparently, Twitter Search will index the content of these pages as well. Yes, this is what Google does. So it should be no surprise when I say that Jayaram was the former VP of Search Quality for Google.

Of course there is no way Twitter Search will index as many pages as Google, but that’s not the point. Twitter Search isn’t meant to replace Google, that’d be dumb. At this point, no one is going to beat Google at its own game (you hear that Microsoft?). Twitter Search is meant to be a different kind of powerful search engine in its own right. A smaller, potentially curated, real-time search engine.

Twitter’s biggest trump card here is the real-time factor. It’s not entirely real-time right now, and there are often delays, but it’s faster than Google — mainly thanks to the nature of tweets (fast to send) versus the nature of webpages (slow to build). And so it’s not yet clear how indexing these linked pages would impact that aspect of Twitter Search. You’d have to assume it would slow it down, but really there’s not much point in assuming anything because it’s not yet really clear how Twitter would use this webpage data in search results.

One thing that is more clear is that Twitter is also looking at ways to better tailor search results. As I mentioned, right now the results are a very basic collection of tweets with key terms. Jayaram says that the company wants to add some sort of reputation filtering to offer better results. Now before everyone gets in a tizzy about the word “reputation” just like when Loic Le Meur brought up the idea of filtering Twitter Search by “authority,” Jayaram says Twitter’s engineers are still determining the best way to calculate this reputation. That seems to indicate that it wouldn’t be something silly like just being based on the number of followers you have.

Things should get very interesting in this space over the next several months. Unless, of course, Google buys Twitter first.

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