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!