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Why No Twitter Search from the Big Guys?

By - January 17, 2009

Danny asks a very good question here:

Yesterday, we got a new news search engine which taps into Twitter that Yahoo’s excited about, as it uses their BOSS system. That kind of annoyed me. Why didn’t Yahoo just build the service themselves? Or a regular Twitter search service, for that matter? And where’s Twitter search from Google?

Well, my answer is simple: Competition.

The reason there is not a “Twitter search” from Yahoo or Google is because both companies want to own Twitter, or at least, they want to own the phenomenon of real time search Twitter represents. If they were to create a Twitter search, it would validate Twitter and give the company way too much power. Yahoo has a deep memory of essentially creating Google by using Google as its main search engine during Google’s early rise. If any company has a shot at beating Twitter, it’s Yahoo, to my mind.

And Google is likely viewing Twitter as a competitor, and is probably noodling the addition of Twitter-like functionality to Blogger (if it hasn’t already, I’m not following the service too closely). The reason? TweetSense. I am certain Google wants AdSense to be TweetSense, and I am equally certain that the Twitter team will want to build its own version of a scaled ad platform that matches consumer intent, as declared through Tweets and search, to marketers’ paid listings.

We are seeing the same movie over at Facebook. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/tomnocera Tom Nocera

    Why try to re-invent the wheel? For Google, with its substantial financial clout, why should they go to the bother of diverting their human resources to develop something to compete with Twitter? Wouldn’t it be smarter, faster and better to extend the invitation to Twitter to join the Google family? How would anyone possibly out-Twitter, Twitter? Consider that it is free, easy, safe, fun, informative and highly engaging. I think Google-Twitter is a natural. (Of course, it would also make a wonderful fit with Yahoo.) I’d be really surprised to hear that there wasn’t already some high level talking going on.

  • http://joelaz.com Joe Lazarus

    I think Google and Yahoo! have better things to do with their time than to build a search engine specific to any one site… particularly one with just a million active users or so and unclear revenue possibilities. Blog search (which you can use to search Twitter, by the way) is still a niche application for the big guys. Twitter search would be even smaller. Even as Twitter scales, I’m not sure it makes sense for the big guys to build a search index and algorithms specific to one particular site unless they have a long-term partnership with that company.

  • http://twitter.com/genieyclo genieyclo

    John you’re clearly forgetting something important-to make any useful search possible from a third party, Twitter needs to allow access to the information. Dave Winer put it best here.

  • http://www.friendfeed.com/digitalshaman Wes

    Very different animals & very different reasons why the value probably has less meaning to a 3rd party than to Twitter itself (depends on how fresh the information is & just what draws users – search in and of itself must be valued in the context of what & how effective the search is – namely meeting the expectation of the searcher)

    At this point, how many times have you, the author of this article searched anything in Twitter? Have you stored any of your material or archived it, a la Tweetake? So, what exactly is being asked here? IMHO, this is one reason why all the guesses about a Facebook / Twitter tie-up seemed financially-challenged & the clear advantage that Twitter has in puttting context to its potential revenue based on the message size & scale by not hosting or storing data beyond short messages …

    Anyway, my few bits … Tweetscan, fwiw, does a great job in search & more folks are being drawn into Friendfeed to gain other more pressing demand – conversations! (not “interestingness” – “willingness to pay” remains elusive but less so as the margins for Twitter-like bandwidth is very high)

  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    I don’t see it as a power struggle, but rather a question of how to create value.

    For Twitter, the main search use cases seem to be following breaking news, monitoring the global conversation for mention of a particular topic, and people search. These use cases are quite different from what we normally associate with web search. Moreover, the first two are already adequately handles by Twitter’s existing search function (i.e., what they acquired via Summize). People search could be a lot better, but no one really does much there beyond known-item search. LinkedIn is probably the leader–but that may be more about their content than their technology.

    So, to answer the question of why Google and Yahoo don’t offer Twitter search, I think it’s because they’d be hard pressed to offer much beyond a wrapper around http://search.twitter.com/. The better question to ask is: what information seeking needs could a new, improved Twitter search engine better address?

  • http://www.sienne.co.uk/domains Domains

    “And Google is likely viewing Twitter as a competitor”, I think it’s high time google stop seeing themselves as “owners” of the super highway. No doubt, they are doing a very good job out there but i think they are too domineering.

  • http://www.artiajans.net/oyun/ Oyun

    This might be a lot slower than Google or Yahoo is used to, but they could always integrate twitter’s search data via simple XML output. This is what we do at WhosTalkin.com A down side to this strategy is that it takes longer to build an index, because it depends on the frequency of the tool’s use. It also may not be as dependent on relevancy as say Google’s algorithms because twitter will return the freshest content first which is not always the most relevant.

    But this brings up the question of why would a content based search engine that’s main focus is on relevant results want to develop a side service that is more dependent on a medium that is inherently social and not always content based? Especially when twitter already has a search capability that works fine.

    The Twitter BOSS mash up is a cool example for the purpose it serves but recreating twitter’s search, seems redundant.

  • http://avc.com fred wilson

    @joelaz – i’m not sure what twitter has made public on this front and what they have not, so i’ll be careful here.

    but twitter has way more than 1mm active users

    fred

  • http://joelaz.com Joe Lazarus

    @fredwilson I was going off a third party study I saw recently based on data from the public timesline, but you would obviously know better than me. It would be interesting to know how many people use Twitter Search and how frequently as well as how many people post to Twitter on a regular basis.

    Nevertheless, I’m still not convinced that it would make sense for the big guys to devote significant resources to a search engine that’s dependent on just one company / site that is relatively niche and could block access at any point… just as Google / Yahoo! haven’t built search engines specific to eBay, MySpace, the NY Times, or any other single content source, regardless of scale.

  • http://www.wecando.biz Ian Hendry

    I am not sure what Twitter has that either Yahoo or Google would envy. It’s not users – Twitter has barely more than 6m user and 80% of those access Twitter through some other application. It’s not technology – Twitter is largely Open Source, plans to hand stuff back and it’s not tough to knock up something functionally equivalent. OK, it’s a neat “platform” but not hard for either of the giants to emulate and roll out to the Yahoo! Messenger, Y! Mail or GMail bases.

    Even if Twitter was truning in revenues, they would be a pin-prick within their existing revenues.

    I love Twitter but seriously, other than for the column inches they get in the tech press, why would they want it?

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
    http://www.wecando.biz

  • http://www.chris-allison.com Chris Allison

    John,

    Why no mention of Microsoft? Are they not even a competitor on any search level anymore? Just curious of your thoughts.

    -Chris

  • http://twitter.com/tomnocera Tom Nocera

    A first tonight occurred on Twitter. As an experiment, a timely bit of Presidential news was released first on Twitter. (The discovery by Bruce Harrison, founder of the Family Forest Project, that Barack Obama and President Abraham Lincoln share DNA. We will know in the next 24 hours or so, if Twitter has a future in news dissemination. I’m convinced that it does.

  • http://most-popular.info nmw

    @KevinRose tipped me off to polldaddy.COM’s new (?) twitter app — so I asked:

    Which online service do you need more 24/7 — Google or Twitter? Or another website?

    http://poll.fm/rluz/

  • http://www.carsonified.com Ryan Carson

    Great post John. Just tweeted it.

  • http://twocroissants.wordpress.com Bertil Hatt

    I’m not sure Yahoo! wants to be a search engine anymore — or that those who want will have the means to. Just like Apple’s strategy to have other people make the iPhone cool thanks to an easy-to-use SDK really works, Yahoo! can do far better with its API and BOSS by extending “offering tools to community leaders” to “allowing community organizers to set up dedicated search engines”. Twitter might be a news revolution coming, it is still a small community.

  • http://getanexback.homestead.com Brian

    Tweeter is certainly a rising power on the internet and i find a lot of really cool stuff there.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    They can’t even do blog search well, but if we’re going to ask Google and Yahoo! to do a Twitter search then we should also ask them to do a Facebook search, a DIGG search, a StumbleUpon search (especially StumbleUpon), and finally a Dumb SEO Ideas search.

  • http://www.flatscreentvcabinet.com tv

    I’ve lost faith in Y’s ability to ‘own’ any phenomenon, let alone something on the scale of what twitter’s up to. I truly wish they could pull a rabbit out of their hat, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • http://delicadosconfiltro.blogspot.com AdnElric

    Why would anyone expect something from Yahoo anymore? Come on, embrace the future. :p

    There’s plenty of ways Google could emulate Twitter, implement and develop something of his own and integrate it on blogger, gmail or gtalk.

    Now that the Facebook API is open, this could the perfect timing for Google to do so. Always in the pursuit of indexing and organizing worlds information, be it generated by Twitter, FB or GoogleNOW (just especulating :p).

    One thing I certainly agree with, it’s going to be fascinating!