Posted July 8, 2010 2:11 am by with 4 comments

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Twitter is aspiring to be the next big search engine and Biz Stone is claiming the numbers to prove it. Fast Company is jumping on the bandwagon to push Twitter up the search ladder past the bing / Yahoo! search cluster. Here’s their take.

According to cofounder Biz Stone, who spoke yesterday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Twitter now reaches some 800 million search queries per day. That’s over 24 billion searches per month, more than Bing (4.1 billion) and Yahoo (9.4 billion) combined.

While Stone’s company is still a long way off from Google, which supports around 88 billion search queries per month, Twitter is quickly catching up. Since last April, Twitter searches are up 33%. To put that in perspective, a study by Nielsen last year concluded that Bing was the fastest-growing search engine in the U.S. after it ballooned over 22%. Now it seems Twitter has taken the title.

I am all for competition for Google because competition is good and a fully functioning free market is at its best when competition is healthy. To draw a dotted line from Twitter’s volume of searches to it truly being a search engine though is premature at best and downright wrong at worst.

Why? Because while Twitter can claim plenty of searches it simply is not a real search engine in the traditional sense and it has serious drawbacks.

  • Up time – In case you haven’t noticed, whether you use the Twitter site or a third party app like Tweet Deck there are more fail whales and API limit alerts these days than ever before. Search engines can’t just work when there are just enough users on the system. They have to work virtually all the time. Twitter just doesn’t do that. They are claiming to be working on fixes but what else would they say?
  • Time limitations – Biz told the folks at the Ideas Festival that Twitter is “more like an information network or source of news.” That source of news and the associated search is not truly historical because of how far back one can search currently thus the record is limited. So information that has a shelf life longer than a few weeks will not be found in Twitter search.That’s a severe limitation that Google itself can help with because it can index everything as it has with most of the web already. Until Twitter is a true index its search abilities will be limited.
  • Relevancy – Tweets don’t contain much information. There are usually links involved with tweets of value which give a strong clue about subject matter but by not having much else to go on other than hashtags that are applied by users with no regulation, the relevancy of Twitter search will be suspect at best.

Twitter is interesting from a search perspective because it is truly a unique perspective. Will it ever become as big as Google or, more importantly, as necessary as Google is something that can be debated from both sides of the fence. I don’t see it but I have been wrong before ;-).

How do you view Twitter search. Google threat or something else?

  • “how far back one can search currently thus the record is limited.”

    I´m puzzled as to **when** this is going to become more available, even to the enterprise or the fee paying individual or wonder if this will only be limited to the major search engines as it´s the best way for twitter to monetise it.

  • Twitter is leader in social media as in internet tweets being more popular these days.

  • Twitter will be more utilized as a search engine when (1) the results get better via some filtering mechanism (2) They prove that they can be a reliable service partner and (3) Everyone realizes that they are PURELY a real-time search engine. Their data only goes back a few weeks. People have to back up their tweets or they lose them forever today.

    The biggest problem, as I see it, is that the fail whale is LEGENDARY and doesn’t seem to be getting any better over the last 6 months. I am a HUGE fan of the service but, if I was a potential partner right now, would I position their rankings highly? NO. Because 5%-10% of the time no results would be found due to the service being down. When these guys learn about 99,999% uptime THEN it becomes a good partner and I think they start making some serious money.

    Google doesn’t have these issues. YouTube doesn’t have these issues. Facebook RARELY has the downtime like Twitter and they are growing even faster. All I can think of is that the backend technology software / hardware combo simply doesn’t scale (not a programmer here) well enough.

    Dan Ross

  • Agree that the accuracy and relevance of Twitter search is certainly proportional to volume of Tweets and the depth of the archive. And it’s true, they only go back a few weeks, which means they cannot be easily compared with deep-archive engines. Also agree with Dan Ross above that a filtering mechanism, beyond the advanced search feature, may make a key difference to dampen the noise in the results. Essentially, as a topical Twitter search app, we filter Twitter’s stream for just the well-formed questions and make that a real-time searchable stream of the questions people are asking on Twitter. As Twitter grows, searches of the question-stream ( are getting more accurate. One difference is that we retain questions indefinitely, at least those with responses, so our searches draw upon an archive, albeit a niche one, that is deeper than Twitter search. So niche Twitter search apps w/ deeper archives and filters based on the topic/niche at hand can be deep and topical where Twitter search may not be able to due to volume and scaling issues.