Twitter A Super Niche Search Engine – Real Time, Right Now

“People really want stuff real time and they (Twitter) have done a really good job about it.” – Google CEO, Larry Page, May 2009

Real-Time Search Engine

One unlikely super-niche player in the search engine industry is micro blogging web service Twitter. Twitter, a social media site built on SMS technology which allows users to post updates of up to 140 characters, has definitely found itself as a game changer in the world of search with its steady stream of updates. Twitter’s streams of conversation finds its sweet spot in search serving as an alternative media outlet often breaking news prior to traditional media, such as was the case with the Osama Bin Laden raid. Twitter often doubles as a vast pool of open information, where brands can identify customer sentiments, business can gain strategic insights, and people of common interests can connect by following one anotther. In 2008 Twitter realized the importance of search and seized the opportunity to acquire, which as a third-party service that allowed its users to access tweets via search. This marked the beginning of Twitter expanded offering and position as a real-time search engine.

Twitter poses a peripheral threat to Google and other search engines considering the continuous amount of information generated by its 170 million active users (estimated 500M total). The niche position Twitter leads in is real-time search. Twitter’s position is such a threat that in 2009 Google co-founder, and current CEO Larry Page stated:

“People really want stuff real time and they (Twitter) have done a really good job about it. We have done a relatively poor job of doing things that work on a per second basis. I have been telling our search team that they need to search on a per second basis. They laughed at me and said it’s ok it’s just a few minutes old. I said “no” it needs to be every second. Now I think they understand that. ”

As a result of this statement, in October 2009, both Bing and Google announced that they had secured deals with Twitter giving both search engines access to real-time public tweets within their search results. Eventually, the deal between Twitter and Google soured, and eventually was terminated not long after Google released its new social media site Google+. This prompted Twitter to release the statement:

“As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter… we’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone.”

So where does Twitter rank in search results? By 2010, Twitter upgraded their search architecture, and estimated they were pulling in approximately 1 Billion search queries per day. Given these numbers are true, this would make Twitter the 2nd most used search engine. And although Twitter does see a high number of searches, many of Twitter searches come from API’s of third party services. It’s these API’s built around Twitter’s open architecture that has made Twitter so popular. Serendipitously, its platform was able to grow exponentially along with the wave of web users’ adoption of mobile devices perhaps, better than any website or web-service in the world. And with the user demand for real-time search results, often times, the first place they look for real-time information is on Twitter.

Going Global – The Right Attack Strategy – Applying the Rule of Three, Twitter could increase its search engine position by opening up in foreign markets. This course of action could be promising for business; however, this may mean Twitter will have to adhere to foreign laws pertaining to free speech. For example, over the last few years Twitter has literally helped spark revolutions, such as Occupy Wall Street, Egypt, and Lybia. Entering into foreign nations comes with tradeoffs, some of which may turn off core users that love its free speech platform.

Differentiate – Another Rule of Three strategy Twitter could adopt is, Innovate and Differentiate. Twitter should consider launching its own dedicated search engine for real-time information complete with tweet analysis. Many companies are successfully launching their products and services solely based on Tweet results. Twitter could position itself not as a leader in Big Data analysis, but a leader in “Fast Data” analysis, capturing real-time information and insights alongside its search results.

Overall, Twitter may be a social media site, but it offers valuable information waiting to be uncovered underneath the sea of user generated content. Twitter has the power that no other search engine possesses, and that’s the ability to spark revolutions and inform the world on what’s happening directly from the horse’s mouth, as opposed to the other end (of traditional media), as a result, its position in the search engine industry should not be taken lightly by the current big three.

The Rule of Three – Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets

“On average, customers consider at most three choices before making a purchase.”

Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets

Strategies from Jagdish Sheth’s and Rajendra Sisodia’s book The Rule of Three – Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets.

  1. Strategies for #1 Companies (Strategies for Generalists):
    1. Be a “fast follower” in innovation
    2. Push for the adoption of industry-wide standards
    3. Develop world-class marketing and advertising through single or dual global brand positioning
    4. Use multiple distribution channels
    5. Emphasize how both low costs and product differentiation, and focus on volume over margin
    6. Grow the market
    7. Avoid dogmatic thinking.
  2. Strategies for #2 Companies (Strategies for Generalists):
    1. Innovate and differentiate
    2. Concentrate on resources for best opportunities
    3. Use guerrilla marketing
    4. Take calculated risks
    5. Promote vertical partnerships
    6. Seek out horizontal partnerships
  3. Eight Strategies for Specialists:
    1. Maintain exclusivity and product/market share
    2. Keep the specialty pure, but create subspecialties as needed
    3. Practice target marketing and avoid segment creep
    4. Offer sales expertise, great personal service, and superior experiences
    5. Shun fixed costs
    6. Create entry barriers
    7. Avoid the regional specialist’s path
    8. Control growth
  4. Strategies for Ditch Dwellers (From Ditch to Niche)
    1. Tailor unique solutions to vertical markets
    2. Simplify and reduce product lines (Think Apple, late 1990’s)
    3. Centralize organizational structure and pare down distribution channels
    4. Become a specialist in a geography where you have a strong brand equity and a position of strength
    5. Leverage brand name and distribution channels
  5. Rules of Engagement in Global Markets
    1. Shore up the domestic market first
    2. Have the right attack strategy
    3. Counterattack in the attacker’s home market
    4. Time the entry right
    5. Don’t go into foreign markets alone

Online Engine Inventors

Father of Internet Search – Alan Emtage

As of October 2012 the desktop search engine market is being led by Google with an astounding 81%, of market share for the year, followed by Yahoo!, Baidu, and Bing at approximately 7%, 6%, and 4% respectively. The search engine industry wasn’t always as lopsided, as a matter of fact, the internet wasn’t always a user friendly place. Prior to the existence of the world wide web, gathering information on the internet was difficult and in the very early 1990’s in spite of ongoing and increasing press coverage of the Internet, few people outside the Internet community had a sense of what it was used for or whom it served. It was this autonomy that spawned the need for searchable aggregated information services.

As a result, in 1990 McGill University student Alan Emtage, along with Bill Heelan, and Peter Deutsch developed “Archie,” an electronic directory service for the Internet’s anonymous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites. By 1991, Emtage estimated that Archie servers provided pointers to around 1 million files at 900 sites, and added up to over 70 gigabytes of information and five to 10 new sites to the Archie database each week . Eventually, Deutsch and Emtage formed a startup company called Bunyip Information Systems in January, 1992 – “to support new versions of Archie and to and allow us to pursue our own particular vision of how the new crop of Internet services should all be put together. ” The creation of this startup also represented the first capitalist endeavor by a search engine firm and the success of their concept for indexing information on the internet was eventually copied and followed by other services such as; Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives), Jughead (Jonzy’s Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation And Display), and Gopher – each of which were developed as project by university students. Eventually organizations such as Infoseek entered the search engine business with the aim of monetizing information by charging a subscription fee for services. Although Infoseek sought to monetize information, their business model would soon be supplanted by Yahoo!.

Yahoo! was started by a pair of Stanford Students, Jerry Yang and David Filo. It was the first universally successful search engine in the world, and it revolutionized the business model for the search engine industry. In just a year, and purely by word of mouth, over 20,000 people per day were using Yahoo!, amounting to some 10 million accesses per week . In late 1995 Yahoo! decided to offer advertisement space in the form of banner ads on its home page. Although they feared backlash and abandonment from users, the numbers of users as well as usage of Yahoo!’s search continued to grow. Coinciding the growth of internet usage, Yahoo! was soon backed by Sequoia capital and Yahoo! was well on its way to solidifying its position in the industry as the search engine of choice throughout the mid to late 90’s.

On the heels of Yahoo!’s success, more Stanford University students decided to enter the search engine market and developed the Excite search engine. Although Excite competed with Yahoo! in the growing market, they were never able to distinguish themselves. By the late 1990’s the industry was filled with the likes search engines vying for a spot in the industry this included companies such as, Alta Vista, InfoSeek, WebCrawler, HotBot, GoTo, Lycos and Snap. During the late 90’s Microsoft even saw success with its MSN portal for search, and by 1999 it had reached the #3 spot in search referrals. Although Microsoft and Yahoo! were now household names, there was one formidable competitor in the industry on their heels – Google.

Yet again, Google was another search engine that was developed by Stanford University students. These students, Sergi Brin and Larry Page, created a search engine differed from the rest of the pack. Instead of banner ads and portals that were crammed with information to distract the user from obtaining search results, Google focsed on allowing the user to access information without intrusion by having a simple interface. Additionally, Google’s system allowed for more relevant search results that promoted sites democratically – those sites that had the most click-throughs along with inbound links from other content related sites found themselves ranked higher in the search results.

By the mid-90’s Yahoo!’s dominance in the search engine market began to recede and Google began solidifying its position as the industry leader. In 2004, Google delivered a direct blow to Yahoo! and Microsoft with its Gmail service, by offering more email space and more intuitive features, such as email search that allowed users to search within all the messages they’d ever sent and grouping of email conversations. According to a May 2006 comScore report, Google held 62% of the global search traffic and was generating 98% of its revenues from search advertisements along with profit margins of more than 60% . In addition in 2006, Google acquired YouTube for approximately $1.65B USD thus increasing its daily search usage.


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