There has been a lot of online speculation that Twitter is looking to cut into the massive online social networking population that Facebook continues to grow. If you spend enough time on Twitter, you might start realizing that their goals could be much grander.
With more and more people signing on to Twitter, and as it continues to get more attention in the media (both through news stories and as celebrities begin to embrace the channel as a way to connect to their fans and followers), the channel and communication is moving well beyond tweets like, "just ate a hoagie," and more into the role of problem solver.
What people are now searching for online is getting ever-more complex.
When search engines were first introduced online it was very common to see one word searches like "car", "sex" and "casino", but as the online population grows and as people become more sophisticated with their searches (recently, it was announced that the most common searches are - at minimum - three words), the search engines have not only been forced to improve their algorithms, but are still accused of not returning the optimal results. Over the years, many people have tried to create a human-powered search engine. Yahoo gave it a shot, so did About.com. It is an expensive and time intensive endeavour. More recently, Jason Calacanis has been working on his own version of a human-driven search engine called, Mahalo.
So where do you go to get the best search results?
Back in 2007, I Blogged about how Delicious had become my default search engine (you can read the Blog posting here: Why del.icio.us Is Becoming My Default Search Engine For Research). The thinking was that if someone found a piece of content and took the time to tag it and bookmark it, odds are it had already been vetted and could be considered much more reliable than anything a Google algorithm might return back. Recently, that habit has shifted. It has probably shifted for you too if you're on Twitter. Now, without thinking, I am finding myself asking my social circle on Twitter for information that was traditionally reserved for a search engine.
"Anyone know a good restaurant near Times Square?", "If you had to choose between a Dell and Lenova ultra-portable laptop, what would you choose?", "What's the fastest route from the Chicago airport to downtown?" and even, "does anyone know if there is any traffic in the downtown core?".
What we're seeing is super-fast responses (even people retweeting the question to their network if they do not have the answer). When someone asks for help on Twitter, people listen... and respond.
Without knowing it, Twitter is quickly becoming the best search engine out there (watch out Google!). It is powered by people you know (or are connected to) and it is full of smart people. Very smart people. On top of that, we are able to harness the infamous wisdom of crowds to get a response. There have been times where multiple people have provided pieces of the answer that together paints a perfect picture. There have even been debates that have lead to various answers that provide color and perspective.
Without knowing it, has Twitter created the ultimate search engine?
(this topic will be discussed in much more detail on an upcoming episode of the Podcast, Media Hacks).