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.

Twitter’s Business Model: featured links? Probably not.

A new site called ExecTweets launched recently. It aggregates tweets from executives, and organizes them by industry. For example, you can see tweets from the tech industry’s top execs here. This is very much in line with the kind of thing I expected Twitter to launch as a way to monetize their service. Except that Twitter didn’t launch ExecTweets, Federated Media did.

VentureBeat wrote about the site today and claims that FM and its partner Microsoft are going to pay Twitter for a featured link on the Twitter site:

…FM and Microsoft are undoubtedly paying Twitter a pretty penny to launch their service in this featured area.

So how much? Well, Federated Media won’t say exactly, but it did bring up revenue sharing. “We can’t talk about terms of the deal, but we did want to share some of the revenue with Twitter to support them,” Federated Media’s John Battelle tells me.

How generous of FM.

Seriously, that’s it? That’s the business model? I really doubt it. I think VentureBeat is trying a bit too hard to nail the “we know what Twitter’s business model is” story. I have to believe that Twitter has more planned than a lousy link on the main interface. Which, thanks to the Twitter API and mobile clients, probably won’t be seen by most users anyway.

I still think Twitter will make money by somehow helping businesses (and potentially individuals willing to pay) make sense of the noise, but I don’t think they’ll do that by simply featuring links to sites built by others. TechCrunch posted today about job openings at Twitter, noting the focus on Search and the Platform API which I think supports my theory.

So far I’ve seen featured links for Twitter’s widgets, Twitter Search, and Tweetie (did they pay?). None for ExecTweets.

What do you think? Is this really the start of Twitter’s business model?

Twitter, Google, and search

For some reason, the “Twitter is a Google killer” hyperbole has sprung up again in the last week or so. And this time, there are some important thought leaders like John Battelle chiming in. Here’s what he wrote in a post called “Twitter = YouTube”:

So why did Google really buy YouTube? My answer, which of course looks brilliant given it’s 20/20 hindsight: YouTube was a massive search asset. Fast forward to today. What’s the most important and quickly growing form of search on the web today? Real time, conversational search. And who’s the YouTube of real time search? Yep. Twitter.

I’ve been writing about Twitter Search since the early days of Summize – I’ve always loved it. It’s no surprise to me that others are finally starting to see the value in it. Here’s what I wrote in October, for instance:

Lots of people already contribute to the noise on Twitter, and I think their user base will only continue to grow. So they’ve got that covered. Increasingly it seems that Twitter is working to extract value from that noise. That’s the area they need to focus on most.

The improvements to Twitter Search have been minimal – the addition of the “source” parameter to results, and testing integrated search on the main website. I’d love to see some additional improvements to the service.

Others who have discussed the “Twitter threat to Google” idea include: San Jose Mercury News, Fimoculous, Search Engine Journal, and The Blog Herald. AllFacebook looks at it from another angle.

What should you take away from this? Essentially, that Twitter Search is becoming increasingly important. If you’re not already using it, start now. And don’t expect Google and others to ignore it forever.

What's trending right now?

twitter It’s been nearly three months since Twitter purchased Summize and renamed it Twitter Search. They still haven’t integrated Twitter Search into the main site, but they have made a number of other improvements:

Those last two points are the most important, I think. When you visit the Twitter home page, it asks you a simple question: “What are you doing?” Until now, that question has been Twitter in a nutshell. Moving forward though, I think a new question becomes equally as important: “What’s trending right now?”

I’ve said for a long time (with regards to Twitter) that there’s value in noise. It might seem dumb or trivial for me to post a tweet that says I am sleeping, but what if everyone did? Heck, we don’t even need everyone, just a sizable percentage. Then we could ask the question “how many people are sleeping right now?” and have real numbers to answer it with.

Twitter seems to have two sides now – gathering the noise, and filtering it.

Lots of people already contribute to the noise on Twitter, and I think their user base will only continue to grow. So they’ve got that covered. Increasingly it seems that Twitter is working to extract value from that noise. That’s the area they need to focus on most. I’m not sure how they plan to monetize their creation, but I suspect this is a big part of it.

The Election 2008 site seems like an experiment. If it goes well, I’d expect them to launch a number of other mini-sites in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow expanded on the trending entries on the blog too.

For me, Twitter Search is already the #1 stop for news. It’s where I learned that O.J. Simpson was found guilty, and that the bailout plan had passed. I think others will increasingly turn to Twitter Search first also.

You tell Twitter what you’re doing, and they’ll tell you what’s trending. I can’t wait to see where this leads!

Experimenting with Evernote

evernote For the last week or so I’ve been using a new application called Evernote. Actually, the term application may be misleading – Evernote is more of a service with the lofty goal of helping you remember everything. From the about page:

Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.

So far there’s a web interface, and clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Windows Mobile, and iPhone/iPod touch. I’ve been using the Windows, web, and iPod touch clients.

My initial reaction was to compare Evernote to Microsoft OneNote, and while there are some similarities, I think the comparison is unfair. OneNote is far better than Evernote at taking notes – the interface is more fully featured, ink is properly supported, and it feels more like traditional pen and paper. Evernote on the other hand is better at organizing information and making it accessible no matter where I am. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

So far I’ve been using Evernote as a collection of digital post-it notes. Instead of jotting something down on paper, I create a new note inside Evernote. The advantage, of course, is that I can access it on any computer or on my iPod touch when I’m on the go.

There are other ways to use Evernote too. The desktop client contains a “clipper” feature which makes it easy to take a screenshot or copy text from an application. There’s a “web clipper” for your browser, which makes it easy to save items you find on the web. And there’s integration with Outlook, which makes it easy to save email messages.

Evernote is fairly impressive already, but I think there’s lots of room for improvement. I’d like to see richer note editing, better support for importing from Word and other applications, and improved Tablet PC support. Coming at it from another angle, I think it could be interesting to add some social networking aspects to the site, to make it easy for me to share things with other Evernote users.

If you’d like to give it a shot, head on over to the Evernote website. You can also check out their blog, their FriendFeed page, and their Twitter account.

Twitter officially acquires and rebrands Summize

twitter When I wrote about Summize last week, I mentioned the rumor that the search engine was being acquired by Twitter. Today the deal was formally announced, though no financial details were shared:

We’re excited to announce that Twitter has acquired Summize—an extraordinary search tool and an amazing group of engineers. All five Summize engineers will move to San Francisco, CA and take jobs at Twitter, Inc. This is an important step forward in the evolution of Twitter as a service and as a company.

The old Summize site started redirecting to earlier this morning, and the colorful Summize logo has been replaced with the blue Twitter one. Sadly, they’ve also shut down the Summize Labs section of the site, with a loose promise to bring the prototypes back in some form down the road.

According to TechCrunch, the deal was mostly stock. They have a video up with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and will be posting a transcript of the interview later today.

For a much more interesting take on the deal, check out the Summize blog post:

It’s with great pride that I officially confirm Twitter’s acquisition of Summize. The rationale for this transaction from Twitter can be found here. I’ll outline my motivation to sell our beloved Summize, talk about our experience soup to nuts, and recognize the players who made this deal possible.

They provide an excellent overview of how they got to today, and they specifically cite Fred Wilson‘s help in getting the deal done.

Congrats to everyone involved!

UPDATE: Here’s the interview (with transcript and analysis) that Michael Arrington did with Evan Williams. They talk about Summize, the API, and Twitter’s revenue model.

Summize Conversational Search

Summize If you haven’t checked out Summize yet, you should. Summize is a conversational search engine. Their mission is to “search & discover the topics and attitudes expressed within online conversations.” I think Summize is a decent preview of what search engines of the future will look like, even though it only works with content from Twitter at the moment.

I got started with Summize for a very specific, practical reason. When Twitter took the instant messaging interface down (and track along with it) I lost my primary method of watching for replies. I turned to Summize for help, searching for my username so that I’d see when someone replied to me (turns out you can craft more specific searches using the Advanced Search). I continue to use this method today.

Eventually though, I started to use Summize for other things. Occasionally I’d see a tweet about something, such as the Los Angeles airport being shut down, but there was nothing in the news yet. A quick search on Summize for LAX gave me the answers from people on the ground. I remember “watching” Tiger Woods win the US Open on Summize (everything is in real-time…I just followed the commentary). And lately I use it to see what people are saying about Edmonton with the #yeg hashtag.

summize search

Another thing I’ve used Summize for is movie reviews from real people. Let’s say I want to go see Hancock. Of course I’d check a site like Rotten Tomatoes, but what I really want to know is what people thought as soon as they left the theatre – did it suck or not? They can share that via Twitter, simply by sending a text message, and thousands do. Summize allows me to focus on those tweets by searching for Hancock. For common searches like new movies, Summize highlights them as a “trending topic”, visible in the sidebar of the site.

It’s this last kind of search that gets me particularly excited about Summize (and intrigued by the possible Twitter acquisition of Summize). Summize Labs have taken things a step further with Realtime Twitter Sentiment. Now I don’t even have to look through results, I just enter “Hancock” and Summize tells me that the “overall sentiment on this topic is so-so.” Wonder how well it works? A search for Rogers Canada currently says the sentiment is bad (people are upset about the iPhone rate plans). Summize is like a dream come true for marketers – they can find out what people are saying about their product or service in realtime. Very cool stuff.

I think Summize rocks. It has a great interface, powerful features, and it’s fast. Summize makes it possible to find value in the noise created on Twitter.

Extremely Handy: Google SMS

google mobile I’m a little surprised that I’ve never blogged about Google SMS before, because it’s a wonderfully useful service that deserves more attention. It’s amazing how few people know about it! What is Google SMS? Basically, it’s Google via text messaging. The power of Google in your pocket!

Using Google SMS is really simple. All you have to do is send a text message to 466453 (GOOGLE). There are a bunch of built-in commands you can use, but the default is just a local search. For instance, when Sharon and I were in Calgary last weekend, we used Google SMS to give us the address of Tubby Dog. I sent the following message:

Tubby Dog, Calgary

And Google SMS replied immediately with:

Local Listings: Tubby Dog 1022 17 Avenue SW Calgary, T2T 0A5

I’m not exaggerating when I say immediately either – Google SMS is incredibly fast.

The built-in commands or “search features” include: weather, glossary, dictionary, stocks, directions, flights, translations, calculator, currency conversion, sports, and more. There’s a full list with examples and an interactive demo here. The ones I use most are local search (as above), movies (such as “get smart t6p”), and the calculator (such as “0.45 lb in kg”). The weather search (“weather edmonton”) is also handy.

I’m fairly dependent on Google for looking stuff up, so Google SMS is great because I don’t need to be at a computer. Do yourself a favor and program 466453 into your phone now!

I have seen the future and its name is FriendFeed

friendfeed Slightly dramatic title I suppose, but FriendFeed has been causing quite the stir on the interwebs lately. And for me personally, it’s where I have been spending an increasing amount of my online time. Along with Twitter (well, when it’s working) I find myself keeping a FriendFeed tab open in my browser at all times. Both services are quite addictive!

What is FriendFeed? Essentially, it’s an aggregator for everything you do online. After you create an account, you add services to it – Twitter,, Digg, Facebook, Google Reader, etc. FriendFeed keeps an eye on your services, and makes items from them available in your feed. For example, nearly as soon as you bookmark a page in, it’ll show up in FriendFeed. Here’s my little FriendFeed bio card:

Then FriendFeed takes the next step and lets your friends comment on or “like” your items. This alone has caused a lot of controversy, because it means there’s a lot of discussion happening on FriendFeed about blog posts that isn’t displayed on those blog posts. It’s incredibly valuable though. I can visit your FriendFeed page, and comment on pretty much your entire online activity.

For more on what FriendFeed can do, check out this excellent post by J. Phil at scribkin. He goes into more detail on how FriendFeed can filter and group items, and more.

Like many others, I think FriendFeed is a game-changer. Here are some of the ways it is impacting me:

  • I visit Techmeme less frequently. Most of the same stuff comes into FriendFeed, and generally it does so much faster. If you want to keep up-to-the-second on stuff, there’s no better way than FriendFeed (except maybe Twitter).
  • Sort of related the above point – FriendFeed is becoming my new entry point. No need to visit Flickr,, and Digg separately to see what my friends are up to because it all shows up in FriendFeed.
  • I often “like” something on FriendFeed not to show my love of the item, but to make it easy for me to find again later. FriendFeed has a page for your comments, a page for your likes, and a page for both. Want to see what I’m paying attention to? Check out that last link.
  • FriendFeed Rooms are a neat way to connect with people on a specific topic. I’ve been pretty active in the Twitter room so far (surprise, surprise).
  • The search functionality in FriendFeed absolutely kicks ass. Want to know what people think about something? Search FriendFeed for it. Both FriendFeed and Summize are raising the bar for search as far as I’m concerned.

There’s a ton of other goodness in FriendFeed that I haven’t really played with yet, like the API (which appears to be surprisingly complete). I discover new things that I like about the service almost every day. And like Twitter, the more people I follow, the more interesting it becomes (to a certain point anyway).

Of course, it isn’t perfect. Here’s a quick list of things I’d love to see added:

  • Ability to post to when I share a link using the bookmarklet, much like it can send replies to Twitter.
  • Some sort of XMPP interface so I can use it like Twitter, via Google Talk. And while they’re at it, why not add an SMS interface too!
  • Built-in statistics.
  • Timestamps in the UI. I think the simple interface is great, but I’d love to see some times beside those comments.
  • More services. Currently there are 35 supported, and I understand they’re working on API functionality to allow other services to add themselves.
  • An easier way to add friends. Import from other services or something.
  • A proper iPhone interface (though Benjamin Golub’s fftogo is working quite well).

I like FriendFeed so much at the moment, that I’ve integrated it into my blog! On newer posts, you’ll find the FriendFeed bar just above the comments showing how many people have liked or commented on the post in FriendFeed. This is done using Glenn Slaven’s FriendFeed Comments plugin. I’ve also added the FriendFeed Activity Widget to, so you can see a summary of what I’ve been up to. Not sure if I’ll add it here or not yet.

I’m sure I’ll be posting a lot more about FriendFeed as the service matures and I get even further addicted to it. Like every where else, my username is mastermaq – add me!

Twitter the next Google? Not likely!

twitter One of my favorite blogs to read is the Four (or Five!) Reasons Why blog, written by Mark and Sean Evans. Sometimes they post serious entries (…Earth Hour Is Legit And Significant) and sometimes they post funny entries (…Aquaman Is The Lamest Superhero Of All Time). Today they posted an entry titled …Twitter Is The Next Google, But Better. I can’t tell if it’s funny or serious.

Their main argument is that Twitter is a new, better approach to search:

2. Twitter has accomplished what nobody, not even Google, has yet to figure out – crowdsourcing search.

4. Not only has Twitter inadvertently taken crowdsouring to search, it has actually taken it a step further into friendsourcing. In fact, it has created the first personalized and trusted search engine in the world.

All five statements are very bold, like the two I’ve pulled out above. Google is a giant – it’s difficult to compare anything to Google, let alone Twitter. Not surprisingly, the comments on the post are mostly shock and ridicule – “You’re out of your mind”.

I love Twitter. I’m completely enamored with it, and I recommend it to everyone I know. I get extremely frustrated when they have reliability issues like everyone else, but I always come back. I think Twitter has tremendous potential, but I’d be very hesitant to declare it the next Google.

I remember when Twitter first launched. At the time I was heavily involved in podcasting and I tracked every bit of Odeo-related news that came up. When I saw them launch Twttr (as it was spelled at first), I remember thinking they were getting sidetracked by useless little projects. Who would ever use a service that only allowed 140 characters at a time?

Clearly I was wrong. Twitter turned out to be far more interesting (and useful) than Odeo ever was. Today, I wonder how I ever got along without Twitter. I use it in a number of ways – to display my “status” on the web, as a public instant messenger, and yes as a way of searching without searching. It’s amazing how interesting stuff just comes into the river.

Twitter is new, shiny, and useful. You can definitely use it as a personalized search engine of sorts, and who knows how it’ll be used in the future. The sky is the limit. To say that it is the next Google is a bit of a stretch, however.

Read: …Twitter Is The Next Google, But Better