Twitter promoting Search despite major issues

Yesterday Twitter launched a new home page that puts more emphasis on search and trending topics. There’s a nice big search box on top, with up-to-date, daily, and weekly trends underneath. The aesthetic is different from the rest of the site however (you don’t see any of this if you’re logged in), so don’t be surprised to see additional changes in the coming weeks.

If you enter a query or click on a trending topic, the search results appear below. It looks a lot like Twitter Search. Some of the improvements include a description of what the trending topics are (Hell’s Kitchen was given the description “A reality television cooking competition”) and search tips appear in a little box on the right.

I don’t think the new design should be a surprise to anyone – it has been clear for quite some time that Twitter Search is important.

What’s surprising is that they’re promoting search even though it has major issues:

  • Stale Results: Twitter itself has become very stable lately, but the same cannot be said for Twitter Search. Results routinely become stale, sometimes for as long as an hour or two (so the newest tweets to show up in the results were posted an hour or two ago). For a real-time search engine, the stale results issue happens surprisingly frequently.
  • Missing Tweets: Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed that the number of missing tweets has increased (though I think it has always been an intermittent problem). It used to be that I could enter my username and see all replies at Twitter Search, but lately I can’t. Some tweets simply don’t appear in the Twitter Search index. I’ve submitted a support request about this, but have not heard anything back yet.
  • Other Intermittent Issues: There are a few good reasons that someone might not appear in search results (such as if they have a private account) but lately Twitter has had issues keeping the index up-to-date with new accounts.
  • Lack of Innovation: With the exception of adding the “source” property to search results, Twitter has done very little to improve the service they purchased a little over a year ago. Real-time search is new and ripe for innovation, but Twitter doesn’t seem interested. One of the oldest quirks is that user IDs returned from Twitter Search don’t match up with user IDs at Twitter itself. This is scheduled to be fixed in the next version of the API, but it’s not clear when that will happen.

Worst of all, Twitter has been terrible at communicating about the above issues. The Twitter Status blog is never updated when search results go stale, and very little has been shared regarding the future direction of Twitter Search.

The good news is that Twitter is finally starting to acknowledge that they need to improve search. Last night, Biz wrote: “We have a lot of work to do when it comes to the quality of our search results and trend analysis…”

Search is vitally important to Twitter, and I want to see them succeed. If they don’t address the above issues however, someone else is going to come along and steal their thunder.

  • You know what else would be appreciated? A delete all button for Direct Messages. It gets to a point where it will take hours to delete them all… and I’m not going to spend my time doing that.

    They could also fix the @replies or make it an option. I still would prefer to see all @replies (though I admit it was a solid idea.)

    I appreciate that they are trying to improve Twitter, but I think their homepage was probably of lesser importance compared to some of the other improvements people are asking for. (like fixing Twitter search and the above two.)

  • I am so looking forward to an improved Twitter search and definitely agree with Brittney that it would have had more value than an improved homepage. Especially a homepage that highlights search, despite the problems search has had lately!

  • tricotmiss

    I’ve had missing search results and lots of times the results have been stale (like during the #ecca live tweet…so frustrating!). I’ve looked for info from twitter on the bug and couldn’t find anything. Not great customer service.