I’ve been meaning for about a week to respond to this Mercury News piece and John Battelle’s discussion about Twitter and Google. Both say that “real-time” search (offered by Twitter) is the next potential threat to Google’s dominance of the market. I have a somewhat different take, although my view is kind of an extension of what Battelle is alluding to.
There’s no way that Twitter can replace Google. Facebook didn’t. Think about it. But there are some current Google use cases that Twitter could, if it evolved somewhat, start to erode and later perhaps come to dominate.
I’ve been talking for a number of months now about how Twitter has an opportunity to move into what, over at LMS, we have called “social directory assistance,” an idea that came out of discussions with Orange’s Mark Plakias two years ago. It’s something I wrote about in late 2007 over at LMS in the context of Mosio. And it’s a bit different than the new catch phrase being used in the pieces I link to: “real-time search.”
In terms of news, happenings and events, Twitter is a great way to hear what people are saying or catch “buzz.” (In fact, where’s the Twitter “buzz ranking”?) In that sense it can provide “real-time” information that Google does not. But despite the Summize acquisition, Twitter is currently not a search engine and is full of useless noise. Any search, on any topic, I do at Search.Twitter.com is going to be full of irrelevant information. It’s very inefficient in most respects as a search engine.
However, Twitter might evolve into something quite interesting (Yahoo! can do this with oneConnect/Mobile as well). This would be a scenario in which I would be able to query my network of contacts/followers with a question (most likely but not exclusively in a mobile environment):
- What’s the best dive bar in Midtown Manhattan?
- Does anyone know a good dentist in Walnut Creek, CA?
- How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
- Who won the best supporting actress award last week?
- What group recorded “Time of the Season”?
With conventional DA you don’t have this sort of flexibility and can’t ask most of these questions. With search engines you can often get this information but the process — especially in mobile — can be cumbersome. So the “ask a human a specific question” model is very efficient and offers a potentially much better user experience. (If the agents are paid, there’s a question of cost and scalability that arises. But if they’re just other people “out there” there are no such issues.)
Another potential problem with the anonymous-human scenario is that I may not trust the answer (as much) if I’m not asking a factual question. If I’m asking a question such as “What’s the best place in Palo Alto to have a business lunch?” I would prefer a recommendation from a trusted/known source.
Online I can go to Yelp or Citysearch and look at consensus views and ratings. But in my vision of Twitter’s future I simply query my Twitter network and I get a bunch of responses to the lunch recommendation question. And I get them more or less instantaneously — or in “real time” if you prefer.
Making good on this scenario would require some technical tweaks, as opposed to Tweets. But it’s not that far fetched. Mosio can do this now but it doesn’t have the brand or critical mass that Twitter already does.
The kind of functionality I’m describing might cause people, especially in mobile, to use a service like this before they tried conventional search, as a back up. That’s the primary “threat” to Google from Twitter. Twitter would need to evolve and change to make good on this as I see it. But it could certainly be done.
A secondary though much lesser threat that I see is that Twitter could become a substitute in some cases for AdWords. Twitter doesn’t have any advertising programs currently. What I’m suggesting is that Twitter becomes a very efficient promotional tool and reduces the need for some (not all) to spend on AdWords.
How about this: an initial AdWords campaign that prompts people, “to receive deals, product alerts, etc.” to sign up to follow a brand or retailer on Twitter. That wouldn’t eliminate the need to advertise in search or do SEO but in some cases people might not spend as much on Google ads. Dell has already shown how Twitter can be used very effectively as a promotional tool.
Stepping back, Twitter is never going to be a substitute for Google — and especially if Google buys it — but it could erode growth at the margins and/or turn Google into a secondary “use case” for a large number of people in a mobile context, assuming Twitter evolves into this social DA tool that I’m advocating.
This “social DA” scenario would not only be a potential threat to Google but to Yellowpages.com and others.