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