The Conversation Is Shifting

Search, and Google in particular, was the first true language of the Web. But I've often called it a toddler's language – intentional, but not fully voiced. This past few weeks folks are noticing an important trend – the share of traffic referred to their sites is shifting. Facebook…

Search, and Google in particular, was the first true language of the Web. But I’ve often called it a toddler’s language – intentional, but not fully voiced. This past few weeks folks are noticing an important trend – the share of traffic referred to their sites is shifting. Facebook (and for some, like this site, Twitter) is becoming a primary source of traffic.

Why? Well, two big reasons. One, Facebook has metastasized to a size that rivals Google. And two, Facebook Connect has come into its own. People are sharing what they are reading, where they are going, and what they are doing, and the amplification of all that social intention is spreading across the web.

This is all part of the shift from static to real time search. Social is the fundamental element of that shift. What are YOU doing? What is on YOUR mind? Who do YOU want to SHARE it with?

Social search has been predicted (and funded) for years. It’s finally happening. The conversation is evolving, from short bursts of declared intent inside a query bar, to ongoing, ambient declaration of social actions. Both will continue, but it’s increasingly clear why Google’s obsessed with Facebook (and Facebook with Twitter). And they are not alone.

23 thoughts on “The Conversation Is Shifting”

  1. These days I use Twitter search a lot, mostly to check breaking news I’m interested in or to follow a developing story in real time.

  2. I think calling Twitter and Facebook search is a bit of a category error. Just because people discover content through them does not make them search.

    If search is simply one way of scratching the itch of content discovery, then social media may be replacing some of that utility without actual itself being search.

    It’s like the thing people always say about legacy industries like the horse-and-buggy producers: the problem was that they were in the carriage industry when what people really wanted was transportation.

    Twitter may have pretty good search at this point, I’ll bet it’s only a small minority of its users that take advantage of it. And Facebook basically doesn’t have search at all. They both simply immerse users in a sea of social activity where links and other pieces of content float by like so much marine life or off-cast junk.

    So, while these social content seas may be a new traffic driver for websites, I’m not even sure they are in competition with search at all. You may click plenty of link that float past you in your Twitter stream, but if you’re actually trying to find a specific page or a specific piece of information, Google’s still going to be the main hub.

    The real technical challenge that these sites pose for Google is the difficulty of crawling their content and accurately gauging its relevance. Since the social media sites cause their users to create massive amounts of new content all of which is inside of a tightly self-linked site (much of which is behind a login wall, like nearly all of Facebook), I’m not 100% sure that Page Rank will be an adequate metric for separating out the relevant content from the spam and triviality. Also, the pace of this content creation will force Google to amp up their ingestion in the same way that blogs did.

    I hope and expect that instead of downplaying this change as they are currently, we will soon see Google engage with these technical challenges as they have repeatedly in the past.

  3. It’s a profound shift with multiple points of impact – in the collective psyche, that is. Right now I am researching and experiencing the failure of social media to cross cultures. I think it is an algorithm problem, but I’m thinking at the crumbling edge of my current skills, so I’m not sure.

    So the question is inside this musing: Social sharing, social search, eyes and voices growing in a wild loose tangle beyond any organic replication we have ever seen. Is connection going to be the outcome of connectivity? Or will cultural landmines make social media implode?
    Boy I’d love to know.
    Suzanna B. Stinnett

  4. More good signs. Yet another post groping about the perimeter of #egosphere versus #cognosphere uses for social tools and #socialcognition. Good to see more independent confirmations of these trends that we’re all co-creating. Not necessarily any wrong answers in this domain; and definitely no monolithic right answers. I don’t think that I need to argue so fiercely as I once did, that we are indeed Thinking Out Loud Together in ways that more and more emulate the “global mind” of endless historical scifi speculation. IMO, it’s way past “here” for anyone who’s been participating and aggressively experimenting. Glad to see more people braving the deep end of the pool. Agree with implication from Suzanna Stinnett that better-than-90% accurate on-the-fly language translation will take us to the next level.

  5. Since greeting a twitter account for we have seen 25% of our traffic come from Twitter and less and less from google…something is def happening here!

  6. Battelle points out one of the most potent forces of change available to the marketer today – FaceBook Connect.

    But Gregg also highlights a strong challenge to a true, organic visibility and reach of the growing social web — the “tightly self-linked” nature of walled gardens – social portals – like FaceBook.

    For marketers, FaceBook Connect is great if I want to gain authority reach into well-targeted natural networks from outside FB inward. But what if FB pointed those (and other) links outward for the spider as well, indexing this content and opening up the garden.

    But of course, that’s just doing Google (and the rest of us btw) a great big fat favor, innit?…

  7. You said…”People are sharing what they are reading, where they are going, and what they are doing, and the amplification of all that social intention is spreading across the web.”

    I have always admired your perspective, so this statement had a particularly positive affect on me since the new service i’ve been working on is called Amplify and the tagline is “what are you reading?”

  8. IMHO it’s not so much a matter of real time as it is about community — and community is based on language.

    In the most recent FIR episode, Neville Hobson quoted from an article by Jemima Kiss in the Guardian:

    “The point is not Twitter itself, or the company. It’s the impact of the tool and not the tool itself that is meaningful, because that is what will grow and influence more new services, and impact existing ones.”

    (the article is at )

    Twitter (as I have said many times) is indeed a behavior (i.e., a verb). And the time for conversations has come — whether real-time or not. Conversations are about topics — and that is why people pay attention to trending topics.

    As I commented on Kara Swisher’s blog: “I expect there will be 1000โ€™s of twitter streams for 1000โ€™s of topics”
    ( ). And now (over the past week or two) Dave Winer has reiterated this several times.

    Again: It’s not primarily about time. The crux of the matter is “being on the same page” — and that is where the growth will be.

  9. ibid. to what Greg Borenstein said above. John, you’re confusing search with recommendation, seeking with sharing.

    Now, if you’re interested in all things web, maybe recommendation and sharing is the more overall interesting web app to you. And maybe you were just using search, especially today’s popularity-based link engines, as a substitute for the recommendation- and sharing-oriented needs that you have.

    Search is not a toddler language. It is a different language, with different goals. That’s all.

  10. When years ago people looked into the yellow pages under say “psychiatrists”, was that search or community engagement?

    Would anyone here ask for a medical diagnosis on

    Would you recommend that teenagers should type “teenage depression symptoms” into Google (if they’re wondering whether they’re “normal” or not)?

  11. I don’t remember it but my dad does. Back in the 50’s when you need your car fixed, you were probably mentioning it to your barber or to someone at the town meeting. From there you got a recommendation from somebody that you believe wouldn’t steer your wrong. It not such a stretch to see that facebook is becoming the new face for referrals. I believe that Google and Facebook will have a place in searches but plan on Facebook and the like delivering much more of the conversational referral.

    “Markets are conversations” (Cluetrain Manifesto)

    Internet Marketing

  12. While Google searches and direct entry still account for my top 2 referral sources, Facebook and Twitter are slowly creeping up the list.

    What I do find interesting is that my bounce rates and number of pages visited are a little better with Facebook and Twitter referrals than with Google or Yahoo.

  13. Very interesting post.

    A related nugget came from a tweet from Guy Kawasaki last week, in which he revealed that, for Alltop (his information aggregating business), Twitter drives 1/4 the amount of traffic that Google organic does to the site, but 10 times the traffic that comes from Facebook.

    I mused about all of this (and linked to your post) on my own blog –

    What strikes me is how quickly Twitter is becoming a significant factor in driving traffic, even when that traffic may come via Google (because Twitter links improve search engine rankings).

    You are right, the conversation is most definitely shifting. And pretty fast too!

  14. My 2 cents worth…..I think some big companies/web sites have become too complex with knowledge needed to access all or even small portions of content….I would say MS has become a business with programs that prevent any quick real chat/information sharing for the masses now, who in the passed communicated by simple uncluttered emails.

    Google search is search, I notice more useless links or adds that originate from the same companies…..the web is not as big as it seems. If the dead ends or repeated links carry on we will have a useless costly electronic mixture of nothing.

    Wireless is the better option, free access to information without statistics returned and recorded would get rid of “dead weight” IT companies making a fortune telling us were we search, how we live etc.


  15. I think it’s perfectly natural to think of Twitter as a search medium. Sure, that’s not all it’s used for, but more and more people are looking for instant advice, validation, etc.

    But when so many people still use it as the latest “status” update, I’m going to alter the Battelle-ism and call Twitter the “Database of Frustrations.”

  16. @eric goldstein:

    I’ve just tried out your online web content clipping application and I find it TOTALLY ROCKS!

    By comparison, this is SO MUCH BETTER than plain & simple twitter stuff!

    I look forward to testing out the group & search features — I find the site easy to understand and easy to use.

    I commend you for paying such attention to detail and focusing on the user this way! This is what usability is all about! (and perhaps you could even get it reviewed and/or receive more suggestions from Jakob Nielsen’s ๐Ÿ˜‰


    ๐Ÿ˜€ nmw

    ( ps: check out my first clog post @ ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Yes, shifting to social ultrafast news delivering is here. But I guess there is the End point where human brain will be paralized.

  18. I have asked my design studio colleagues to join Twitter and said how good it was but since I joined the Twitter community a couple of weeks ago I have only managed to connect twice.

  19. With regards to social communities like Twitter, how does one go about getting a following if you’re not a celebrity or already have a wide circle that use a site such as Twitter?
    The concepts here are great and definitely break away from the traditional “static” content interactions of the past. These days most people are wanting to know things in almost real time.

  20. Sorry, I still don’t get it. Maybe I just follow stupid people – I really don’t care if you just bathed the baby or put out the cat, or what TV show you’re watching. This kind of drivel is just pathetic.

    I’ve found a very few nuggets in 3 months of following a mix of usually 10 people. The ones I care about (algore for example) do not actually post very often. The ones who post frequently are the ones who have nothing useful to say!

    I’m still reading articles like this to find out WHAT’S SO USEFUL business-wise in twitter useage.

    I just don’t get it …

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