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Over the past couple of weeks the chatter about search functionality with regards to Twitter has come up again so I thought it might make sense to take a look back at how search has evolved with this exploding worldwide platform.
The Early Days
While most of Twitter’s users today weren’t around in the early days, many of you were. These were the days of the whale of fail, the rat in your pc and the general fun. Back then, there was no search function. If you wanted to know what your friend had for lunch or if your friend’s cat made a #2 on your friend’s carpet, you had to go to the account for your friend or his/her cat and just page back and forth. It was a tough time.
Then, like cream cheese on a fresh bagel, here comes NY-based Summize. Now we are talking! (well searching). Summize allowed us to search in near real-time for our friend’s messages. Want to know if that really was an earthquake? Pop “earthquake” into Summize. It was a real pleasure. Soon after the search engine was acquired by Twitter and renamed to Twitter Search and it still lives today. Twit messages are ranked by last posted in the results and there is no weighting to the results. The search functionality is also available within the Twitter site itself on the right side of a profile page.
Late last year during the “made up fights” between several valley bloggers and entrepreneurs, a discussion arose about creating an awesome Twitter search engine that would rank search results based on who has more followers. This was awesome…users who have lots of followers would appear higher in search. Bloody brilliant concept! Surely there would be no way to game the system to get more followers, right? Well, six months later and the rank by followers chatter has died out.
Note: somewhere in here Twitter introduced the Default List – this is the list that pumps certain celebs, FOT, fluffers, people who deliver cupcakes to twitter hq, etc.
Continue reading “A Historical Look at Search Functionality on Twitter and a Bonus: What’s Next” »
Former Techcrunch editor Ouriel Ohayon is reporting via The Globes that social search Delver has been acquired by Sears. Yes, the powertools and "sponsored conversations" company Sears. The acquisition price for the Israeli-based startup was not disclosed. Ouriel notes that the price is probably not that high as the company was running out of cash.
Delver raised $4 million in a Series A round. About a month ago the company announced that they would either sell or close the company as they were unable to raise another round of funding the tune of $6-8 million.
The Globes notes, "Delver co-founder and CEO Liad Agmon will move to the US and become a VP at Sears. Delver’s employees will continue to work in Israel and the company will operate as a Sears’ development center."
The recent skittles twitter campaign used a feature in limited testing at twitter. It’s called integrated search, or real-time search. You could see it at work Sunday & Monday on the skittles.com homepage, or in the picture here taken from a deck by Fred Wilson and covered recently on Cnet. New search results are posted to the top of a search results page in real-time, effectively transforming search into conversation.
It has the effect of aggregating conversation within twitter, by threading posts around the search phrase or keyword. This strikes me as a potential game-changer for twitter, for several reasons.
We currently hold "conversations" on twitter with followers. We have to search to find non-followers around topics. But there are barriers to bringing them into the conversation. Results are past results, and we have to follow/be followed back before conversation becomes possible.
So conversations tend to happen between people who follow each other. If they are topical, they tend not to mention the topic. And this makes them less easy to find in search. Twitter addressed this recently. If there has been conversation between users (using @replies), it is now visible with the "show conversation" link.
But there are limitations to the usefulness of the "show conversation" implementation:
- to engage in that conversation would require that we follow and are followed back
- "conversations" are often off topic, or get off topic quickly
- the focus is on the people @replying to each other, not on keywords
"Show conversations" doesn’t really capture conversations, but captures an exchange between users who have @replied each other. Only the first tweet in the exchange has to contain the search keyword.
Twitter certainly realizes that it needs to searchable. But it also realizes that search results are limited to our use of search words and phrases. And limited by the fact that we have only 140 characters at our disposal. If twitter went after conversationality, it could do so only by aggregating the conversation around an exchange between users who follow one another — not around topics.
The following-follower model that has made twitter so incredibly viral has been a constraint on conversations. Each of us has only a small window through with to see what a small number of people are talking about. And only a limited means of capturing and sustaining conversation with people around a topic.
The theoretical description of this problem is this: tweets are only loosely coupled. They are loosely coupled between users, and loosely coupled by topic:
- Tweets are not coupled to each other unless they include an @reply or D message. The latter doesn’t count for public conversations. @replies only count if our account settings are to set generously (there are three settings).
- Tweets tend not to sustain topics because they must be so short, because we tend to initiate and then drop and change what we tweet about, and because the twitterverse serves the purpose of talking about and creating news. In news, we are more likely to pass something along than to engage in discussion.
Twitter was designed in such a way to prohibit conversations. Not intentionally, of course, but symptomatically. Conversations require a kind of coupling between statements and responses, and people in conversation, that twitter makes incredibly hard to achieve.
First of all, search results couple tweets by topic. That gets us part of the way there — but is still a threaded view of past tweets. It is not threading of a conversation held between users tweeting to each other. Live search, however, achieves two important improvements.
- It puts us in present tense, which makes it possible to synchronize tweets in time. (Chats work in this way.) Users can tweet to each other in near real-time using search as a way of printing their tweets to a single page. The result is a kind of hacked up chat page (remember web forums?!)
- It focuses our attention on a real-time topical "thread." (Skittles used this feature to create buzz. All posts had to contain the word "skittles" to make it onto the real-time search results page.)
This kind of chat or forum would have some pitfalls too. We would have to continue to use the keyword in order to appear in the results. Twitter might want to glue tweets to results by pre-populating a post made from search results with the keyword in use. Or by some new form of @reply (@topic?).
And there will be consequences for twitter app developers. I would want a tweetdeck chat panel, for example, that allows me to search a topic, see real time results, and post to members of that "chat" window. (Will real-time results be available to third parties?)
Many of us are already using twitter in a much more chat-like form, but among followers. Topical chats/forums would make for an incredibly powerful use of twitter. They would change how we use twitter, who we follow and why, how we pay attention to it, and to whom. And at the same time, it seems that tweet volume would explode — rendering our current use of twitter nearly unusable. (Those of us who go into burst mode are already creating headaches for low-volume users.)
NY-based Dorthy (pronounced Dorothy) has announced the hire of About.com co-founder Jim Anderson as CTO. The company noted that Anderson has experience with artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and machine learning technologies.
Earlier this month, Dorthy founder and COO Jordan English Gross took me through the site. He asked me not to write about it yet and, as always, I’ve honored his request. The company describes the service as, "a new destination site that delivers the best content, communications, and connections around whatever you dream. The site reverses the search by filtering and focusing all the stuff available around your interests providing targeted information based on your distinct ideals and philosophies." I would say it’s an interesting take on search. I will have a full review once permitted.
Gillian Reagan at the NY Observer posted a lengthy interview with Gross late in 2008 and has more information about the company including their $3 million venture capital funding. Reagan notes that Anderson was formerly on the Board of Directors of Dorthy.
While in San Francisco earlier this month, I met with Surf Canyon CEO Mark Cramer. Surf Canyon began operations in 2006 and launched their search application in February 2008. The Surf Canyon search application sits on top of search engines Google and Yahoo. Compared to some of the other search engine addons I’ve reviewed in the past, Surf Canyon offers an interesting and innovative model. Surf Canyon is trying to solve the problem of too many search results for your search queries.
Cramer explained how the application works — basically you enter a search query on Google or Yahoo as you always do. You select a search result and go to that page. If that page isn’t what you were looking for, when you come back to the search result, Surf Canyon looks at results 11-1000 and then recommends other results similar to the one you clicked on. It ignores results you skipped over because it recognizes you weren’t interested in those results. Cramer noted that the idea is to make search results dynamic instead of the static results that Google and Yahoo provide by default.
Surf Canyon has raised $600k in angel funding, has 3 full time employees and several consultants.
The Surf Canyon application is installed via a Firefox/Internet Explorer addon. Cramer tells me that there’s been 250,000 downloads of the addon to-date. I asked Cramer about how he is marketing the search application because clearly mainstream Internet users just go to Google or Yahoo for search. He said that a large percentage of their marketing has come via word of mouth and that once users use the application they find it beneficial and share it with others. They have also been listed as a featured download in the Firefox addon catalog. The key to success for Surf Canyon is to continue to raise awareness of their application across the mainstream market.
At the Web 2.0 Expo, I met with Sightix VP Ari Gottesmann. Ari took me through a demo of their social search application which integrates into blogs and social networks. Currently Sightix finds connections within a network but they are working towards exposing connections across multiple networks.
Check out other Sightix reviews on Alt Search Engines and Webware. Here’s Ari explaining how Sightix works when trying to find models like Bar Rafaeli:
Wikia Search has launched a new Firefox toolbar which they call Wikia Evolution. Wikia Evolution is available for download and offers an easy to way to add pages to the Wikia Search project.
Here’s how the Wikia Evolution toolbar works once installed. When you search on Google, Yahoo, etc. or view any Web page, a new set of options will be displayed (see the sample below). The options allow you to add the page to the Wikia Search index instantly and tag the page for the appropriate keywords. There’s also a rating option available for each page that is submitted into the search database.
Wikia founder Jimmy Wales said on the Evolution toolbar launch, “This toolbar, like everything we are doing at Wikia Search, is open source. We hope that if you are a toolbar fan and programmer, you will let us know what features need to be added and/or take this and do something surprising and cool with it.”