Google vs. Twitter? Or Google Plus Twitter?
Twitter's now playing the ad game much like Google, and today Google announced a new way to search tweets that beats Twitter's own search bar. Are these two companies on a collision course to become hated rivals soon? Or does the future hold a more cooperative relationship between the two -- one of partnership, or even acquisition?
04/15/10 5:00 AM PT
Google isn't the only entity taking an interest in Twitter's tweets. That most venerable of government institutions, the Library of Congress, announced Wednesday it will archive every single "what's happening?" update broadcast on the short message service since it opened for business in 2006.
Granted, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey's first-ever tweet -- "just setting up my twttr" -- probably isn't going to rank up there with "what hath God wrought?" But it's Exhibit T in the case for Twitter having evolved from beyond the Web 2.0 fad-of-the-month club into a serious, grown-up business.
Why else would Google announce, also on Wednesday, that it was expanding its own use of Twitter by allowing searches of archival tweets? Now users can hunt for tweets on a timeline and track the conversations in the Twitterverse as they happened on days of major breaking news stories, such as the Haiti earthquake or the announcement that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was retiring. Right now you can only search as far back as Feb. 11, but soon Google will allow you to check on the top tweets of the day going back to that first Dorsey tweet on March 21, 2006.
All of this happens one day after Twitter finally unveiled the beginnings of a revenue model with Promoted Tweets, its own twist on Google's paid searches. It has expanded its general search capabilities over the past year. Meanwhile, down the road from San Francisco, in Mountain View, it was just a couple of months ago that Google tried to get deeper into the short-message space with Google Buzz -- which so far has landed with a resounding thud among the social media crowd.
Clearly, each company has recently tried to lift pages from the other's playbook. Should that raise renewed questions of a buyout? Or should tech observers start thinking about some kind of new, unique partnership?
"Both companies envy each other. Twitter would like to be a search engine and Google would like to be a social network," said Paul Gillin, blogger, social media consultant and author of The New Influencers. "It makes sense for them to be together at some point."
Ready for Twoogle?
It wasn't that long ago that Google was rumored to be in the running for buying Twitter, much like Facebook was supposedly in play during its recent past. However, like Facebook, Twitter decided to remain independent and focus on providing as much value as possible for its users before considering monetization strategies.
Both companies may do the search thing, but there the similarities end, according to Heidi Miller, chief conversation officer for Spoken Communications in Seattle. "I go to Google for down and dirty searches -- did I quote somebody correctly, that kind of thing," Miller told the E-Commerce Times. "When I'm doing a Twitter search, I want to get a feel of the conversation" about a particular topic. Yet with Twitter's Promoted Tweets, which necessitate interaction with the user if they want to remain a Promoted Tweet, the short message company may have found an innovative new direction for paid searches. "I have never clicked on a Google ad. I might have once," Miller said. "But with Twitter, I'm actually going to find out the tone of a conversation, and I wonder if it might be more targeted to click on an ad because users are looking for what's going on right now, as opposed to just getting the fact like in a Google search."
Twitter's phenomenal growth -- from 5,000 tweets a day to 50 million -- has forced the company's founders to not just look to Google for ideas on managing that growth, but also its customers.
"They never thought that search would be a function -- it's like many examples of things they didn't know they needed to do," Sree Sreenivasan, dean of students and professor at Columbia Journalism School told the E-Commerce Times. "The community came up around them and helped push and direct them. It's the story of a lot of businesses. They take their cues from the community and learn and find their way."
The Future for Both Companies
Twitter will likely remain an acquisition target -- possibly by Google -- but continued success will keep pushing that timeline back into the distance, said Greg Sterling, principal at Sterling Market Intelligence and contributing editor at SearchEngineLand. "The two companies are not quite partners but not direct rivals either," Sterling told the E-Commerce Times. "Google Buzz has fallen flat for the most part, so it's no danger to Twitter. But Twitter's Promoted Tweets is equally unlikely to compete with Google AdWords."
What of Google's ability to search tweets, compared to Twitter's own search methods? "Yes, it's better than anything than Twitter itself offers, but that's broadly consistent with the way Twitter has historically worked with third parties that often do things better than Twitter itself -- witness Summize and Tweetie, both of which Twitter acquired."
It's still surprising that Google and Twitter weren't able to do a deal for an acquisition, Gillin said, despite Twitter's founders' fierce desire to go it alone for now. "Could the two companies still wind up together? Absolutely. Google would be a natural acquirer for Twitter. I don't think there's necessarily any hard feelings between the two. They have a common enemy in Facebook. Google plus Twitter would be the undisputed king of Web 2.0," Gillin told the E-Commerce Times.