Should Google worry about losing a portion of its search market share to Twitter? Most people probably don’t think about Twitter so much as a search engine, yet it’s the go-to place for up-to-the-second updates on any event in the world. News often breaks on Twitter before actual news publications get to it.
Twitter search is a way not only to search for news, but to search for opinions on just about anything. Opinions, of course, can sway decisions. The fact that anyone can easily add their voice to any discussion using Twitter (much more easily than they can even with a blog), makes Twitter an incredibly powerful source of information in (but not limited to) real time.
Google’s stated mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google does a pretty good job of that in a lot of ways, but it is (and will always be) a work in progress. The world’s information is coming in faster than ever, and while Google can continue to make strides in other areas of information, real time is an area where the search giant has simply fallen behind.
Google used to be better at real time information organization and accessibility. There was a feature called realtime search, and it would appear on search results pages when users searched for queries related to topics that were heavy in realtime updates. The problem is that this was primarily powered by Twitter, and the deal that Google had with Twitter to get that data was not renewed once it expired last year.
I don’t think a ton of people are switching to Bing because of Google’s lack of realtime search. Bing, which actually does have access to Facebook and Twitter data that Google does not, isn’t really doing much in the way of useful realtime search integration as far as I can tell. That doesn’t mean it won’t, but I also don’t think it’s a big enough deal to most people to make them switch search engines.
That said, Google has left a gaping hole in its search results, which will simply send people to Twitter for this kind of info. If they’re looking for realtime tweets, they’re not going to find them on Google, so Google is essentially giving them a reason to search somewhere else.
It just so happens that Twitter has been working on making its search better. Om Malik made some interesting points about Twitter and search in an article today, suggesting that Google should worry more about Twitter than Facebook. He writes:
Twitter’s search ambitions are becoming clearer with the people it is adding to its search team. For instance, it recently hired away John Wang, a well-known engineer in the search business from LinkedIn. In addition, the company added Ruslan Belkin as a Director of Engineering, Search and Relevance. Twitter has also made its search better, or at least faster, as it noted in a blog post. They have added related queries and spelling suggestions to their search.
Offering personalized search with more relevant results, surfacing related images and videos related to the query are somewhat reminiscent of the efforts made by Google on its search offering.
At LinkedIn, Wang was responsible for search technology, and worked on developing “large-scaled realtime streaming semi-structured search systems to make the awesome LinkedIn data more consumable,” according to his LinkedIn profile page.
On Belkin’s profile, his job at Twitter is described as, “Locking in Twitter’s dominance as the place on the Internet where users go to find and discover the most relevant and personalized in-the-moment content, insights, events, people to follow, and things to do.”
Also a LinkedIn vet, his team worked on LinkedIn’s real time search platform. His position at the company was associated with projects like LinkedIn Signal (described as “Applying professional faceted search to the real-time stream”) and SenseiDB (described as a “Real-time search platform powering LinkedIn Homepage, LinkedIn Signal and the network updates stream”).
While Google is probably happy to acknowledge any area where other companies can compete, from a regulatory standpoint, from an actual competitive standpoint, Google’s biggest worry is people’s decreased reliance on Google search. That doesn’t have to come from shifting market share to a direct competitor like Bing. It can (and more likely will) come from people simply finding better ways to access information, which in most cases, is likely through a combination of different sites, apps and services. Twitter is one such service.
Google+ could be a major component in filling the realtime search void of Google’s search results. The company has hinted in the past that they would like to use Google+ to do so. Users are already getting a large dose of Google+ in their search results in terms of personalization, but on the realtime, public data search front, the results just aren’t there. People just aren’t using Google+ like they’re using Twitter. Even some that use Google+ regularly are only posting updates limited in visibility, thanks to the lauded Circles functionality that was one of the main selling points of the social network in the first place.
In other words, Google can’t return the kind of realtime results it was getting with Twitter, using Google+ updates. That info flood isn’t happening in the same way. Twitter is almost all public. That makes it easy, from the privacy standpoint, when the data is available. Sure, Twitter has privacy settings, but by default, it’s public, and few bother to make adjustments. People are just tweeting out whatever they want for the world to see, and that’s happening very, very rapidly. With each tweet, Google is another step behind in its mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. They may catch up to those tweets eventually (and Google has certainly come a long way in its indexing speed), but how relevant is the average tweet when it’s not happening in real time?
Google simply is not the best place to find out what people are saying about the event that’s happening right now. No wonder the text on Twitter’s search page (pictured above) plays that up.