A Scaling Challenge for Twitter Search

March 10, 2009
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The other day, I explained why, as far as I can tell, Twitter’s existing search functionality isn’t that hard to implement. In a subsequent post, I argued that Twitter is not a search engine, an opinion that seems to place me in a minority of the blogosphere, albeit a substantial one.

Today I see that Twitter is have some trouble with what strikes me as a core constituency, SXSW attendees.

Daniel Terdiman at CNET writes that “At SXSW, attendees confront Twitter saturation“:

At SXSW, the standard is for everyone to include the tag “#sxsw” in their tweets. For example, on Friday, I was looking for sources for a different story and tweeted, “If you are launching an iPhone app at #sxsw, or know someone who is, please let me know. Thanks!”

That’s a great convention because it allows anyone wanting to know what’s going on to search Twitter for posts using any search term important to them.

I did a search for the “#sxsw” tag on Saturday afternoon and found that there had been 392 tweets with the term in just the previous 10 minutes. That number mushroomed to more than 1,500 in the previous hour.

Large volumes

The other day, I explained why, as far as I can tell, Twitter’s existing search functionality isn’t that hard to implement. In a subsequent post, I argued that Twitter is not a search engine, an opinion that seems to place me in a minority of the blogosphere, albeit a substantial one.

Today I see that Twitter is have some trouble with what strikes me as a core constituency, SXSW attendees.

Daniel Terdiman at CNET writes that “At SXSW, attendees confront Twitter saturation“:

At SXSW, the standard is for everyone to include the tag “#sxsw” in their tweets. For example, on Friday, I was looking for sources for a different story and tweeted, “If you are launching an iPhone app at #sxsw, or know someone who is, please let me know. Thanks!”

That’s a great convention because it allows anyone wanting to know what’s going on to search Twitter for posts using any search term important to them.

I did a search for the “#sxsw” tag on Saturday afternoon and found that there had been 392 tweets with the term in just the previous 10 minutes. That number mushroomed to more than 1,500 in the previous hour.

Large volumes of results wouldn’t be such a problem if users had a way to summarize, navigate, and explore them. But that will take more than a search engine that offers more than reverse-date ordering of Boolean queries.

I wonder if Abdur Chowdhury and his team are working on this problem. Perhaps if Twitter is willing to make some of the historical logs available for download (they’re already public, just not easily downloaded), some of us HCIR wonks could implement interfaces on top of it to explore the possibilities. Abdur, if you read this and are interested, please let us know!

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