In early October 2010, Twitter introduced their New Search Architecture, claiming it was an improvement to their already impressive search feature. They talked about having developed “a new, modern search architecture that is based on a highly efficient inverted index instead of a rational database.” This improvement came at an opportune time since Twitter was pushing the limits of their server with over 1,000 tweets and 12,000 queries per second. Enter ‘Modified Lucene‘. In tech speak, the new search architecture offered significantly improved garbage collection performance, lock-free data structures and algorithms, posting lists that are traversable in reverse order, and efficient early query termination. But what does all of that really mean?
Twitter’s success as a search engine over Google was predicted as early as 2009 in a blog post on LewMoorman.com proposing that Human Powered Search would build better results than index based search engines. Another article writing in July 2010 notes that Twitter is the fastest growing search engine with more than 800 million search queries every day. With over 24 billion queries per month, more than the combined search traffic of Yahoo! and Bing, Twitter is surpassed only by Google’s 88 billion per month!
So, why exactly does Twitter rule as a definitive source of information and the first search tool people turn to? It’s a much debated topic but a quick rundown of reasons we love Twitter may shed some light.
1. Twitter Search is best for mobile internet activity. Twitter’s character limit is ideal for mobile Internet access since users don’t want to have to rely on computer, no matter how compact, to get their information. According to this article, Google must develop a localized, personalized and user-regulated search engine via mobile or else Twitter will lead the field.
2. Twitter is head-and-shoulders above traditional media in yielding timely information. Twitter breaks news. There are plenty of examples of accidents, natural disasters or other high profile events that broke on Twitter. Even the traditional media has taken news from Twitter proving that despite all of the available technologies, traditional media struggles to keep up with live updates on events.
3. The dual advantages of the ‘followers’ features gives Twitter the inimitable edge. Followers ensures Twitter relevance and timeliness that a search engine like Google lacks.
- Important news finds users on Twitter, not the other way around. Twitter allows users to choose who feeds them information based on how relevant the sender’s updates are. With people Tweeting constantly, there is a high likelihood that an update will be relevant to the user. In 2009, this article talked about the rise in popularity of hashtags like #followfriday, which allows users to recommend other people to follow. This is a classic case of users being influenced by users. Moreover, since information usually comes with a short insight and a link to the source, the reader gets some perspective, something not found in search engine results.
- The ‘followers’ system weeds out information, feeds and articles that are not relevant, are paid (adwords) or are part of SEO. Information received on Twitter is market-based and guarantees integrity. For instance, if you’re looking for information on the best restaurants in a city, a Google search would bring you SEO influenced results, whereas Twitter would deliver information from other users with higher value and relevancy.
4. People prefer recent updates to archival information. A search on Google will result in archival information, if you’re willing to dig deep in the search. However, people rarely prefer or have the time to look through archival information. They typically want the most recent opinion or facts about their query in the quickest time possible. This is exactly what Twitter delivers; the most visited links, namely the ones with the maximum retweets, and crowd sourced opinion on what really matters, not archives. Also of note is that Twitter has become a place for Q&A which could make websites like Yahoo Answers and Wiki Answers obsolete.
5. Twitter Places could replace Google Places. In June of 2010, Twitter released a new feature called Twitter Places, allowing users to attach a Twitter Place to their tweets. It attracts real-time conversations and check-ins, but even more notable is that a search for a place results in showing these user updates. The opportunity for local businesses and organizations to use this as a marketing tool is huge.
While the pro-Twitter reasons are sweeping, some insist that Google has a reliability and depth that Twitter does not. Twitter does lack an efficient system for finding old tweets, whereas a Google search for the same tweet would definitely yield results, and tweets lose their relevance very quickly. But there are ways to get the best of both worlds. Search Engine Journal suggests applications like Twitter Search on Google, WebMynd and Google Twitter Integration to merge Google and Twitter results together for the most comprehensive results.
Twitter stands out in a crowd because it is not just a social network. It is a mix of micro-blogging, social networking, social marketing, online shopping, online advertising, and search which is why more and more people find themselves gravitating toward it as the definitive source of information they want.