The seemingly endless media and industry fawning over Twitter has led to debate over the merits of real-time search and the future of the search industry. With that in mind, it’s time to determine where this new medium belongs in the world of search.
Some say Google is looking to acquire Twitter because it views it as a threat. The good news is that it probably won’t because Twitter is a piece of the greater problem Google is looking to solve.
The ideal search should be personalized and capable of referencing search history, relevance, social bookmarking, micro-blogging and contextual relevance each time. Google has been working on this semantic Internet model for a while because it will theoretically allow search engines to tell you what you’re looking for before you try to find it. As Twitter has created an online collective consciousness on virtually any topic, it makes sense that as Google labours towards its Web 3.0 ambition to organize all of the world’s data, it would be interested in this new data stream. Real-time search is the catalyst for this goal, a cultural paradigm shift, but data without context is useless, and this is where Google excels.
Many people seem to think that Twitter will become the de facto medium of the common voice. This isn’t true. How does a 140-character opinion replace a full-length article on Wikipedia, a 30-second video spot, a corporate website or even financial or stock information? Humans interact with different channels because of varied contextual factors; relying on Twitter as the be-all and end-all simply isn’t realistic.
Twitter is a single service, not the final piece of the puzzle for Google as an increasing number of companies publish real-time, user-generated content. Initiatives such as micro-blogging, mobile and social media are helping companies get closer to the user experience to provide users with information when they need it most. Innovation is the key to success, and whoever figures out how to combine social data with contextual information will have an opportunity to fundamentally alter the search engine landscape.
As Twitter’s growth explodes, speculation has intensified about whether the service can be profitable. Twitter’s online traffic, excluding cellphones, surged to nearly 9.8 million unique visitors in February, from 6.1 million in January.
In pursuit of revenue, Twitter faces the universal challenge: If advertisers can tap into its network free of charge, why would they pay the company to do so?
Two groups of people use Twitter’s search interface: personal and commercial. Personal users employ it for fun, low hits, personal websites, little mash-ups that don’t make money. Commercial users try to monetize it, such as those mash-ups that will charge for fee-based services, or listening platforms that monitor brands, sentiment and behaviour on a mass scale. These companies would be happy to pay for the interface use. Isn’t that simple? I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
Rob Gonda is director of digital strategy at Sapient. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org