Twitter search gains prominence, importance

The microblogging service begins testing search from its home page. But the revenue potential is limited by how much Twitter activity happens outside the Web site.

Twitter is working to convert its popularity into a business, and Google has shown that search can make money. So it's notable that Twitter is giving its search function new prominence.

Rather than consigning its Twitter search page to a separate corner of its Web site, Twitter has begun testing its use on the main Twitter.com page. "We've placed Search and Trends into the signed-in home pages of a limited set of accounts to get a better sense of how it works for folks before we release the feature completely into the wild," Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said Wednesday in a blog posting.

Twitter has begun testing search from its home page.
Twitter has begun testing search from its home page. Twitter

Google has taken measures to make its search technology more responsive, with the Google News entries mixed into search results and the index able to include new sites within hours of their arrival. But Twitter search, while vastly more limited, is nevertheless a strong reflection of what people collectively find interesting in the moment. That, in turn, could be a nice avenue for advertisers trying to catch the latest trends.

Search guru Danny Sullivan likes what he sees, concluding that Twitter actually has something the big search engines lack, even if it's not enough to slay the rivals.

"I'm real big on Twitter search," Sullivan said last week at the Search Marketing Expo. He called Twitter search a "hyper-real-time tool to see what's being buzzed about."

Stone agrees. "Searching over Twitter messages is like a filter for what is happening right now--it's an interesting look into the real-time thoughts of people and organizations around the world. Whether you're curious about something specific or you just want to browse the trending topics, we've found that Twitter Search adds a new layer of relevance," he said in the blog post.

But here's the big caveat. Twitter has built a thriving community in part through its use of an open API (application programming interface) that lets people use a wide variety of software to publish and read tweets. Personally, I use Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Twidroid, and Twitterific.

That's great for letting people find the interface they prefer. But it also means that Twitter's Web-based interface, which changes at a glacial pace, is not the hub of activity for many active Twitter users. The more active you are, the more likely you are to use a third-party tool that can perform handy functions such as spotlight replies, track favored contacts, shorten long Web addresses, and show pop-ups of recent tweets.

The consequence: a lot of Twitter activity takes place beyond the confines of Twitter's Web site. That makes built-in Twitter search less directly useful as a potential avenue for revenue.

(Via Search Engine Land.)

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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