My Internet went down recently and my first thought was to hop on Twitter to see if others were experiencing the same problem. I jumped on my iPhone, ran the search and within 15 seconds I knew that Speakeasy was suffering a nationwide outage and that any calls to tech support would be futile.
It can make for a nice barometer when you’re trying to determine whether you should install newly-updated software. If a new beta of your favorite program has just come out, but you’re hesitant to install it because you’re worried it may break a plugin, etc., you likely can use Twitter to resolve your question within an hour of the application being released.
When trying to decide which of two movies to see in the next few hours, I might do a quick search on Twitter. It’s very easy to get a fast, hive-mind sense of which movie I likely will enjoy more.
You get the point. While the idea behind Twitter proper (i.e., one-to-many syndication) isn’t new, the additional ability to search, on a large scale, against real-time experiences and impressions most certainly is. This sort of thing has been possible on a small scale since the very early days of the Internet (e.g., searching an on-going IRC discussion), but it usually has been limited generally to a very small number of like-minded people (e.g., an IRC channel devoted to Mac nerdery).
With Twitter that’s no longer the case: in an instant I can get immediate feedback on just about any topic and from just about any population sector (or, to be more precise, every sector).2
Given the pre-Twitter limitations of real-time search, it’s easy to see why it never could gain real momentum, and why, maybe, it’s so difficult for some to now grok the power and usefulness of it. It’s hard to give confidence to (and therefore use) a search system that inherently 1) contains too few people/data points (e.g., going back to the IRC use-case, where very few or none of the 50 people in the mac nerdery channel has commented on your topic) and 2) has too much friction associated with it.
Regarding the friction element, just compare searching using Twitter’s simple search interface (which is like every other web-based search you’ve used over the past 15 years) to, for example, grepping the transcript of an IRC session. Going back to the example I gave above about searching Twitter for information regarding my broken Internet connection, sure, I could have poked around on my iPhone looking for Speakeasy user forums or a status page, but it would have taken me 10x longer to get my answer. I knew (i.e., I had confidence in the system) that Twitter would be able to get me what I needed and with very little resistance.
World-wide, real-time feedback on any topic is now available to all of us with effectively no associated friction. It’s free in every sense of the word. I’m not quite sure what all of this means just yet, but there’s no denying it’s a game changer.
Mark Carey has developed a great Greasemonkey script that displays the most recent 5 tweets for the query that you are search[ing] for, giving both real-time Twitter search results and Google results on the same page. I’ve been using it for a few days to great effect. ↩