Twitter is Not a Search Engine

March 5, 2009
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Now that Michael Arrington is back from his time off as a blogger, he’s in full force, proclaiming that “It’s Time To Start Thinking Of Twitter As A Search Engine“. There isn’t much to distill from his post, other than that Twitter accumulates lots of social content and “all of it is discoverable at search.twitter.com“.

There are at least two problems with this glib analysis.

First, while it’s true that lots of information gets into Twitter, it’s not clear how much of this information is valuable and how much of it is unique.  Is BackType a search engine? What about Dogpile SearchSpy? Just because you accumulate information socially in “real time” and offer up some sliver of analysis on it doesn’t make you a search engine. There’s got to be a notion of fulfilling information needs.

Second, the search that search.twitter.com supports is minimal–reverse date ordering of Boolean queries. No relevance ranking, user-specified sorting, query refinement, etc. I talked about it in a previous post. If Twitter wants to be taken seriously as a search engine (and I’m not sure that they do), then they need to u

Now that Michael Arrington is back from his time off as a blogger, he’s in full force, proclaiming that “It’s Time To Start Thinking Of Twitter As A Search Engine“. There isn’t much to distill from his post, other than that Twitter accumulates lots of social content and “all of it is discoverable at search.twitter.com“.

There are at least two problems with this glib analysis.

First, while it’s true that lots of information gets into Twitter, it’s not clear how much of this information is valuable and how much of it is unique.  Is BackType a search engine? What about Dogpile SearchSpy? Just because you accumulate information socially in “real time” and offer up some sliver of analysis on it doesn’t make you a search engine. There’s got to be a notion of fulfilling information needs.

Second, the search that search.twitter.com supports is minimal–reverse date ordering of Boolean queries. No relevance ranking, user-specified sorting, query refinement, etc. I talked about it in a previous post. If Twitter wants to be taken seriously as a search engine (and I’m not sure that they do), then they need to up their game in the search functionality they offer to users. Right now, their search functionality is text book–and we’re talking 1970s textbook if not earlier. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–it shows me that they don’t see search as their primary offering.

I think a search engine–especially an exploratory search engine–on Twitter’s content would be fantastic! But that’s not what Twitter offers today, and I think it’s stealing a few bases to amount Twitter a search engine just because it sounds like a nice idea.

Let’s accept and appreciate Twitter for what it is: a social network for conversation. And let’s hope that they or others build rich search functionality on top of the content it is encouraging its users to produce.

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