Searching Twitter and Finding Tweets

In the last month I have been using Twitter and thinking about how it works and how it might grow. Its a puzzling phenomenon, but strangely compelling: mini-blogging, with messages limited to 140 characters, and a social model which is Facebook-ish). I am enjoying it, in part because I sense that we will see it grow in some quite unexpected ways in the next year. Tim Bray (one of the original designers of XML) has blogged a few reservations which carry some weight:

I love Twitter, but it’s a venture-funded startup with no business model, and these are tough times. They might make it and they might get rich, but it would be totally unsurprising if, 24 months from now, Twitter were gone, or a zombie site, or its BigCo acquirer was installing pointy-haired [“headed”?]bosses to Leverage The Synergies.

The basic problem is that Twitter is centralized; that’s not how the Internet works. I’m reminded of Netscape; we all owe them a huge debt for introducing the world to the browser; but the short period during which the Web was a Netscape Application was pretty painful for those of us trying to improve the state of the art.

I hope that the Twitter story plays out more gracefully than Netscape’s did, and I think that for their own sakes they ought to be encouraging federated-blogging work…(see Tim Bray: Ongoing)

There is another problem with Twitter. The genius of the system is that every message is restricted to 140 characters. But this means that messages are very compressed, links are most valuable (this is a blogging medium!) but they are often TinyURLs. So quite meaningless when scanned. This means that it is quite hard to keep track of interesting stuff that might have been in your Twitter-stream. Added to which Twitter is not yet well searched by Google, Yahoo, or anybody else. See Danny Sullivan’s comments here on this. Having good searching on Twitter would be very useful and John Battelle thinks that isnt yet happening because Yahoo and Google both want to extract some competitive advantage, perhaps by building a Twitter competitor? That would be dumb — but its what can happen when big companies get too entrenched in their own platform-strategies (is this what Tim Bray means by “pointy-headed bosses”?).

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