My four-year-old grandson, Hamza could teach the search engines a thing-or-two about how people think. I made him lasagna and while he was eating he paused, rolled his eyes upward and pronounced: “vegetable, cat basagna.”
Only his mother and I could possibly understand what he meant. The ‘vegetable’ part is because even the tiny bit of tomato you find in lasagna make it a vegetable dish as far as he’s concerned. The ‘cat’ was because Garfield eats it in huge quantities. And ‘basagna?’ Well, he hadn’t quite got his four-year-old tongue around lasagna yet and that’s just how it came out.
So what does that have to do with search engines?
In that scenario I was the search engine, interpreting his meaning. Search engines would ideally understand human queries in exactly the same way as I understood Hamza. If you think about it, many search queries consist of just one or two words, but lots of search queries that involve a long string of words are more complicated than just a word search: many times we’re looking for ‘undertones.’ Something that defies straightforward definition.
If Google has got its algorithms right it will have elaborate strings in place to locate what people really mean when they type in a sequence of words. We know they already have the typo thing conquered, and I must say they do a pretty good job even when you’re just typing too fast and get it wrong. But there’s always room for a new way of searching that can somehow tap into ‘what you really mean’ when you search.
And this is where Twitter comes in. Because Twitter is essentially a huge network of millions of tiny networks (you and your friends), talking about what matters to you and what you think about. So a kind of ‘innate, emotional-level understanding’ is built in.
You might be thinking ‘yes, sure but how much can Twitter help: after all it’s much smaller than Google’ right?
Well, in a given day several hundred million queries are typed into Google worldwide. On Twitter an estimated 60 million people are pouring their hearts out and sharing the most up-to-date news on a daily basis. It’s difficult for anyone to get a handle on just how many people are on Twitter because a huge proportion of users use 3rd party Twitter clients such as Twhirl or Tweetdeck, and seldom visit the Twitter website. Now that’s a heck of a lot of useful knowledge to tap into if you only know how.
In case you’re interested here’s some information on Twitter demographics. It’s hard to track down an accurate source on the number of Twitter users, but in December 2008 the Twitter website racked up 4.43 million unique visits!
Up until very recently the major gripe of Twitter users was the lack of adequate search facilities to mine this vast pool of information. That has changed fast. Not only are there a dozen-or-more good 3rd party Twitter search applications, but Twitter admin has been working hard to bring their service up-to-date.
Development of Twitter Search
Search on Twitter is developing apace. Just a few days ago Waggener Edstrom released Twendz, a new tool for monitoring conversations on Twitter. And–wait for it–this tool is especially for monitoring undertones: the emotions of interaction if you like.
Interesting and useful though these 3rd party search applications are, there’s no need to leave Twitter to do a search. All you need to do is enter a query with hash tags, you can see everyone who has tweeted on that subject. Try #politics, for example, and you’ll get all the tweets that included that hash tag recently. Cool huh?
Perhaps the best thing about it is that Twitter provides all this information without algorithms that might be said to ‘invade our privacy.’ No need for Behavioural Targeting or anything close to it.
Doubt that people are really using Twitter for search?
Overheard on Twitter
Patricia Skinner is an SEO consultant, social media coach & reputation management expert. She is also community leader at the nascent SEO Self Regulation Community. She can be reached any time through her SEO website. Why not follow her on Twitter & her LinkedIn profile.