While we’re busy discussing whether Twitter can become the next big search engine, or if Google can figure out how to tap into the “fresh” micro-content being churned out every second, we’re missing one crucial element that’s preventing both sides from achieving their goal.
The nofollow link tag.
(To clarify, I mean the rel=”nofollow” attribute, which is not the same as the “nofollow” meta tag, but many in the industry still refer to as a “tag” anyway)
What was initially sold by Google as a means to stop our “Google Juice” being shared with sites we don’t trust, is now so pervasive, it’s preventing search engines from tapping into the hundreds of newly minted web pages, video streams, images, and blog posts that are shared each day on sites such as Twitter.
With the nofollow tag added to every single link shared in Twitter, Google’s spider–even if it could keep up with Twitter’s flow of content–is strictly forbidden from following those links. The result is that a blog post added to a brand new site may well have just broken the story about the capture of Bin Laden (we wish!)–and a link to said post may have been Tweeted and re-tweeted–but Google won’t discover or index that post until it finds a “followed” link. Likely from a trusted site in Google’s index and likely hours, if not days, after it was first shared on Twitter.
Breaking down the walled gardens
So, the problem is we have two walled gardens, with no way to build a bridge between them, Twitter is sitting on the pulse of the world, but Google controls the heart of it. The question is not how can each outperform the other, but instead, how can they work together.
One way would be to either remove the “nofollow” tag from Twitter and let Google spider the links being shared. It has no need to be afraid of the spam–if after 10+ years Google can’t tell a spam site from a legitimate one, then maybe we need a better search engine!
An alternative option would be–I can’t believe I’m about to suggest this–create yet another tag that instructs the search engines to follow, but to not pass on any “Google Juice” from the site doing the linking–in this case Twitter. Some suspect that the nofollow tag does that anyway, but with a tag such as “nopassjuice” would allow Google to tap into the freshness of Twitter’s content, follow the links, but then treat them as any new site–that is, strip out the PageRank value that might have passed from Twitter.At least then, Google will have access to content so fresh, it feels like it just left the oven!
Which leads me to another question: do they want to work together? Eric Schmidt’s recent comments are hardly encouraging that we’ll see a union soon, and Twitter is finally rolling out it’s search tool to all users. It seems the two companies are on a path to compete, instead of one more altruistic: helping us find what the heck it is we are looking for!
While Google may be the heart of the world’s information, it also needs Twitter’s fresh blood pumped through that heart, if it wants to grow and maintain its health. The two companies may not ever combine–though that makes more sense with each passing day–but they should look at how they can share valuable information.