Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why Twitter is not the next Google (yet)

My ex-colleague, the wry-humored Elad Gil, has posted an interesting article about how Twitter could play Google to Yahoo's Facebook. It's a thought-provoking theory, but by no means a sure bet.

twitter is a content-generation tool. content-generation tools come in waves.

some other waves you may remember:
- website builders (geocities/tripod/homestead)
- blogging tools (xanga/blogger/livejournal)
- video sharing (youtube et al)

usually, in such waves, the first mover(s) builds an early lead and cashes out, becoming a complementary business to a large company like Google, HP, or Fox. the others fail, find a niche, or linger like lost souls.

who has benefited the most from these waves? search engines. why? because they enable intent-driven discovery of that content, which makes their traffic highly monetizable. by intent-driven, i mean in the sense that search tends to be driven by a specific desire ("where can i get a really good cheeseburger?") compared to say, browsing news headlines or RSS feeds.

Twitter, as the first mover in the microblogging wave, could cash out and be done with it. But to really be the Google to Facebook's Yahoo, they must provide the best tool for searching (and by extension monetizing) microblog content.

Twitter search is that tool today, simply because it's easy: a high percentage of microblogging is done on twitter, thus their comprehensiveness is high. But what if microblogging were to become more fragmented? What if instead of 80% of microblogs being written on Twitter, 40% were, and the rest were split between Facebook and a spate of others? The emergence of FriendFeed and Google's move to open Jaiku seem to point in this direction.

In a fragmented landscape, the qualities of the best microblog search engine are similar to those of the best plain old search engine: comprehensiveness, ranking, speed, and reliability. Twitter has proven well its deficiencies in reliability. Whether they can deliver in comprehensiveness (when a significant amount of content is hosted elsewhere), ranking, and speed has yet to be seen.

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