Twitter emerges as a powerful search engine


30 Apr 2009

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Micro-blogging site Twitter’s real strengths lie in the area of real-time search. Iarflaith Kelly is the founder and CEO of WebStrong, which has created a technology to capture this space.

How does Twission improve the Twitter experience?

It is a web application that lets you search what’s happening on Twitter right now. The results are also tagged with information about how you are connected to the people talking about your chosen topics of interest.

It’s a great way to discover other people on Twitter that you might want to follow.

We built Twission because the power of Twitter Search comes into its own during a live event (ie the emergency budget) that other people are tweeting about.

It’s a brilliant way to get instant feedback from the community on the event or TV programme that you’re watching. With Twission and the degrees of separation information that it provides, those tweets become more meaningful.

Is Twitter becoming a threat to Google’s reigning search engine?

Twitter Search is fast becoming the No 1 place for breaking news – something Google is very aware of.

The driving forces behind Google’s interest in Twitter is its community and its real-time search tool, both of which Google has struggled to create in the past.

Real-time search is only just beginning to take off, and Google desperately wants to be at the core of this new trend. But, right now, it’s not having it all its own way because Twitter has become the de facto standard in real-time search.

As things stand, for Google to include Twitter updates in its own search results, it has to manually index the content from Twitter one account at a time. It’s a slow and inefficient process.

The technical challenges of overcoming this are significant, and an easy solution is for Google to simply buy Twitter.

If this happened, Google would be able to index the entire stream of Twitter updates in real time, effectively rendering Twitter Search obsolete and reducing competition in online search.

Twitter may be experiencing spectacular growth, but can it monetise this?

Everyone is speculating about how Twitter will make money. It’s a really hot topic.

I expect Google to make a serious bid for Twitter in the next 12 months.

The real decision Twitter has to make is whether it will sell out to Google when the offer comes, or if it will hold out and try to make money from search on its own.

If Twitter was to be bought by Google, it would have significant anti-trust implications and would ultimately be bad for the web and bad for internet users.

My own view is that Twitter will use a business model similar to Google and embed advertisements in its search tool alongside the standard results.

Consumers expect social utilities like Twitter and Facebook to be free and convincing them to hand over their cash for a few extra features isn’t a runner in my opinion.

What other kinds of web applications does WebStrong develop?

Our main business is in building web applications for the business community. Some are bespoke and others are products that we sell using the software as a service model.

Our new product called Footprint is a business collaboration tool for the design community.

We have built tools for Twitter before. Earlier this year, we released Twitter Perch (twitterperch.com), an open source project that lets companies and brands auto-follow Twitter users who talk about them online.

By Marie Boran

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