If Google did Twitter search

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  • February 25, 2009
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Forget MSN and Yahoo, Twitter search is the biggest threat Google has faced. Sooner or later Twitter is going to figure out that search is the way to make money but how could they improve it? What would Google do?


Twitter search at present is just a list of status updates with the most recent at the top. This isn’t how search engines should work – finding a needle in a haystack is easy, finding the right needle in a haystack full of needles is the hard part and that’s what Google does better than anybody.

The key is to look at the content of a status update and evaluate whether it is actually relevant to the query – if I want information about the latest plane crash then seeing a status update from somebody saying “anybody got an update on xxxxxx plane crash” is useless.

RR (RetweetRank)

Google is built around PageRank and each link is a vote. Twitter has Retweets and replies – the most important status updates get retweeted and replied more than the useless ones.

A really important tweet might get hundreds of retweets and this needs to be reflected in it’s rankings.


Google ranks the BBC and Wikipedia top for everything whether they are right or wrong. A tweet from a twitter user with 20,000 followers should be trusted more than one from a brand new account.

Relevance needs to play a part here too – if Stephen Fry (who has loads of followers but no history of writing about SEO or conversing with people who write about SEO) writes something saying “what the hell is SEO” then his tweet shouldn’t rank for “SEO” . If somebody with less followers always covers SEO their tweets about SEO should be trusted more.

Conversation density

What’s more important, a standalone tweet about a subject or a tweet that comes as part of a wider conversation between trusted users? Twitter needs to be analysing conversation threads to see exactly how important each status update really is.

Universal search

If I write about something and include a link then Twitter should be spidering that link and seeing how many other people are talking about the page. If it’s a particularly important page then Twitter should be pulling the video or image into the main search results using the same format as Google blended search.

If Twitter doesn’t do all this then somebody will.

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