The Potential Power of Twitter’s Search Engine

On: October 12, 2009
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About Sarah Moore
I am a MA New Media Student at the University of Amsterdam. I received my bachelors in Radio-TV-Film and Sociology at the University of Texas in 2007. I am interested in graphic design and media arts. Currently working on a website about life in Amsterdam


Last week, I wrote about Twitter from the perspective of psychologist Barry Schwartz and what he calls the Paradox of Choice. “With so many options to choose from, people find it difficult to choose at all.”  From this perspective I argued against Twitter’s RSS Feed-like interface where more outbound links equals better.   From this approach, I looked at Twitter negatively because I was overwhelmed and paralyzed by by my  Twitter homepage when I saw 30 different outbound clicks for 6 different news sources.

Upon further investigation of Twitter however, I have come to see the significance of this application. I was initially looking at Twitter through the wrong point of view. While looking at your friends on the homepages is a great way to stay connected to friends and your favorite news sources, the real relevance in Twitter is found in their up-to-date search engine.

Individual posts on Twitter may seem trivial but together they form something much more useful. Many people have begun to use Twitter as a search engine over Google when searching for people’s advice on products, brands, and services. This is a humanistic approach to search engines that Google does not have. People on Twitter like to give opinions, thoughts, and feelings and the mass collection of these thoughts can actually turn into useful information.  For example, I have been looking to buy a new camera and searched about it on Google. Though I found useful information on there, I found much more relevant, up-to-date answers on twitter. . When I was ready to purchase my camera, I could not find a single website on Google where the camera was in stock. I searched on Twitter and asked a guy where he got his and he linked me to a site within 15 minutes. This way of collecting and sharing information has significant potential.

Logistic of Perception

Paul Virilio, a cultural theorist who has written about the effects of speed and technology on society refers to the logistics of Perception and the concept of the newhound.

Newshounds are people with mini-video cameras, people who are continually taking pictures in the street and sending the tapes in to CNN. These Newshounds are a sort of pack of wolves, continually looking for quarry, but quarry in the form of images. For example, it was this pack of wolves that sparked off the Rodney King affair a few years ago in Los Angeles. Let us consider the situation: a person videos Rodney King being beaten up by the cops. That person then sends in the footage to the TV station. Within hours riots flare up in the city! There is, then, a link between the logistics of perception, the wars in Lebanon and the Gulf as well as with CNN and the Pentagon. But what interests me here is that what starts out as a story of a black man being beaten up in the street, a story that, unfortunately, happens all the time, everywhere, escalates into something that is little short of a war in Los Angeles!

These days, journalists are coming to twitter first to get up-to-date news. Twitter users are the new newshounds and there are much more of them. With mobile technology, everyday users are able to capture images, videos, and opinions of an event occurring in real time and post it to Twitter. When thousands are twittering about the same information, this information becomes relevant.

The Problem With Google

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Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team at Google tweeted “The real-time web is not the threat. Google can index data in seconds. The larger issue is when search engines can’t see data.” Google has a specific formula they follow for finding their searches. Some of what people twitter can be found on google but in general, Google is not picking up on what people are talking about in Twitter.  Many Third party Twitter applications such as  Collecta, One Riot, Scoopler and TwitterTroll are all trying to organize these tweet and present the information in a useful way. Some search engines like searchtastics are even letting people search tweets from weeks or months ago. People are already using twitter as a search engine for real time activity. As the concept of twitter and the ubiquity of the web on the mobile grows, twitter based search engines will become more relevant and real-time information will be more accessable than ever before.

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