Twitter: A Threat to Google with Social Search

We noted last week how Twitter is challenging Google in search (Facebook is doing it, too). The thought is that Twitter has the potential to offer highly relevant, real-time search results from its growing user base.

Case in point: Restaurant search. My wife and I put a request on Twitter seeking the best place for sushi in Little Rock. Within 10 minutes, I received more than a dozen personalized — shockingly detailed — recommendations from various friends and followers. Some even sent Web links to maps and dining guide review pages. Still others told us about restaurant deals, tips and what to expect if we went there.

Compare that to what you might get via Google or any of the state’s dining guides, and you can see how powerful “social search” could be and why Google is taking Twitter seriously. Like I pointed out in a speech last week to the folks at Freeliance, social search harnesses traditionally powerful word-of-mouth — and then improves upon it by making it more convenient and searchable.

(My next crowd-source social search project: getting help with Airport Express. Thanks to those who’ve offered advice so far!)

Of course, there are challenges to this type of search. I was a little overwhelmed by the number of recommendations I received. We learned about lots of restaurants we didn’t know about, but 140 characters doesn’t give tipsters much room to share key details. So of course we turned to  — you guessed it — Google to track down more info about them. In short, we had to do lot of additional searching to reach a final decision.

(That is why a Google-Twitter partnership, which we noted here, seems to make a lot of sense of social search, at least in the short term.)


Twitter – a threat to newspapers? Why not? Everything else is threatening them!


4 Responses

  1. I don’t think crowd sourcing has quite the search potential you mainstream media types think it has.

    You received roughly a dozen “hits” on the sushi question. Let’s call it 20. A quick glance at your follow numbers tells me you got a response rate of slightly more than 2% of your followers.

    System-wide, 35% of users have 10 or fewer followers. The average Twitter users has only 70 followers and remember it takes a lot of the 10 and unders to off-set the million plus that Ashton, Ellen, and CNN each have.

    So the average user at 70 followers will likely get 2 or fewer responses to a broad local restaurant question requiring little expertise.

    Ask a technical question and unless you have followers with that expertise you’ll draw less response. Based on your post, I assume you have less than a dozen responses to your wifi question. I posted a Kindle question and got zip but did get a follow by what appears to be a person pushing Kindles through the Amazon affiliate program.

    I don’t think the average user will have the follower base in both size and expertise to make Twitter a Google replacement.

    • Good points, but that assumes that type of Twitter crowd-sourcing will only be available by polling your Twitter followers. I think Twitter (and Google) will find a way to expand that knowledge base beyond friends and followers based on all kinds of criteria – age, geographic locations, job category, topic, whatever. That way, when I do ask a technical question — like the wifi question — it’ll reach the right experts.

      You’re absolutely right, though. I think I received exactly 2 responses to my wifi question, and by virtue of my job and interests, I’d considered my followers to be a tech-savvy crowd!

      I’d also point out, though, that a 2 percent response rate, at least in publishing, is considered above industry average. So there’s that, for whatever it’s worth.

      Again, I’m not sure social search is all that useful in its current form. But I think there’s still a potential for value. I still believe it is a vital component to the future of search.

  2. The better this works, the more interested people will be in having enough followers to make it work 🙂

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