How Twitter will change internet search forever

November 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Reprinted with permission from my original article featured on the TalkTalk official blog

The name alone instantly polarises reactions, but ‘Twitter’ looks set to have a far greater impact on our lives than anyone could have imagined.

If you haven’t heard the phrase already, ‘Real Time Search’ is likely to become one of the buzz words of 2010. What it refers to is the ability to search for information published on the Internet as it happens and it is something Twitter has perfected as it sought to organise the tens of millions of tweets sent through the service every day. Consequently Twitter users can immediately see what the ‘trending topics’ (read: hot topics) of the minute/hour/day/week are, read about developments and get involved.

Twitter - real time search

High profile examples of this during 2009 include the breaking news of Michael Jackson’s death, the Hudson river plane crash and the Trafigura waste dumping scandal. In fact multiple heavyweight news organisations now scan Twitter on a daily basis for breaking news and trends in public opinion – all of which is pulling traffic away from traditional search engines. After all, why use Google to find what the weather is like in Madrid when a Twitter search can pinpoint a local who made comment on it in the last five minutes and posted a picture?

The keyword in all this is ‘relevancy’. The battle for web supremacy lies in the service which can provide the most relevant information to the user and a key aspect of this is speed. So while traditional search engines work by web search crawls which index them into a logical order, the delay can take hours when the goal is seconds. Consequently the Twitter licensing deal will initially see users Tweets integrated into Google and Bing search results (Twitter users have the right to opt out) and the impact of this is profound.

While what Ashton Kutcher or Stephen Fry had for breakfast is unlikely to trouble CNN, it means the on-location reports from (for example) the Hudson River crash would now break through search engines not the BBC or Reuters. Never before has such people power been harnessed. Of course such a system is also open to great abuse, the recent tasteless fad for spreading fake celebrity deaths on Twitter is a prime example, but with this door now open it is extremely unlikely to ever be closed.

Still not convinced? YouTube and Facebook have recently both announced plans to integrate this technology into their respective sites. So that’s Microsoft, Google, Facebook, YouTube (Google by proxy) and Twitter all focused on real time search. Resistance is understandable, but in the long run it’s futile.

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