Is Twitter a search engine? It's a question a lot of people are asking, myself included.

I signed up for Twitter at the beginning of the year and even though I'm not a hardcore user and only have a modest 'following' of around 225 people, I do like the service. I've found it to be very useful in staying on top of industry trends and seeing what interesting people are talking about.

But when it comes to Twitter serving as a search engine and even possibly competing with Google, I have to give Twitter a failing grade.

Why? I've been trying to use it as a search engine with very little success.

I performed my first Twitter search on February 4 and since then, I've tried tweeting for a handful of things that I'd also been searching for at the time. My queries, in descending order:

  • Anybody have hotel suggestions for Atlanta? Looking for something good...3-5 star...
  • does anyone know of a site with good sample facebook application code? preferably using PHP to interact with the API
  • does anyone know of a reliable freight forwarder in brazil?
  • anyone use microsoft adcenter? decent conversions?
  • looking for a merchant account provider ... non-US-based ... any suggestions?
  • does anyone know where i can find a searchable db of IP blocks associated with the companies that own/use them?

Obviously, some of them are a bit more long tail than others but that's the point. The average search isn't for the latest news about Google or Apple.

I received responses to only 3 of the queries above. The answer to one was not close to being what I was looking for. I received one response each to "looking for a merchant account provider ... non-US-based ... any suggestions?" and "Anybody have hotel suggestions for Atlanta? Looking for something good...3-5 star...".

Both were legitimate responses (although it's worth mentioning that one was an affiliate link) but needless to say, there are plenty of hotels in Atlanta meeting my criteria and there are plenty of non-US merchant account providers. The fact that I was only given one option for each isn't exactly satisfactory when a quick Google search gives me lots of options.

Obviously I don't have thousands of followers (you can change that) so the number of people who would reasonably see my tweets and respond to them isn't optimal. But 225 followers is probably a decent number for an 'average' Twitter user, showing that most people (especially new users) are going to have a hard time turning Twitter into a powerful social search tool from which peer recommendations are easily obtained.

Using didn't help my experience either. When I searched for information on what people were saying about Microsoft AdCenter conversions, for instance, there weren't any results. And today, you can see that there are only 4 results that mention 'adcenter' and 'conversions'. My tweet is one of them. A Google search, on the other hand, quickly brings up several relevant results on the first page.

The truth is that the 6 simple questions I tweeted are really no different than the millions of searches on millions of other topics that are conducted daily about Google. In nearly a month and a half Twitter hasn't been able to provide satisfactory answers to them, even though 3 were explicitly commercial in nature and could have provided any number of businesses with an opportunity to earn a customer.

My conclusion based on this: Twitter can be whatever you want it to be but it definitely isn't going to be a search engine as far as the general public is concerned.

There are lots of great conversations taking place and lots of great information about popular topics being shared on Twitter but search is a long tail game. If the most Twitter can deliver when it comes to Atlanta hotels is a single possibility, this does not bode well for Twitter as a commercially viable search engine.

Search is also a fast game in which the players demand immediate results. It's true that Google can't tell you what people are 'talking about' this very moment like Twitter can but when I'm searching, I don't care what people are generally talking about. I want immediate answers to my questions.

Google provides lots of answers very quickly on almost any mainstream topic and Twitter unfortunately doesn't so for now I have no choice but to label Twitter a 'fail' as a legitimate 'search engine'.

Have you had the same experience? Or are you luckier than I? I'd love to hear about your Twitter search experience so please leave comments if you have one to share.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 March, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Yes I do agree. Twitter didn't set out to be a search engine, it set out to provide a quick and easy update service. It is growing and will no doubt change but it will never be Google and I'm happy about that! 

Google set out to dominate the search market and build the most powerful, reliable, customer centric tool. Whilst others looked at content and the portal space, Google embraced search with an easy to use website. Its algorithm and sheer volume of indexed content means it will be almost impossible to topple (maybe my words will come back to haunt me!!).

I love twitter because it is twitter, not for its search capability which I agree is very average. However, Google does not find people like me so quickly and I can't follow people whose content I am interested in. So twitter fulfils one need and Google another. Love them both!



over 9 years ago



You have to remember though that Twitter is still very much in its infancy.  For instance you mentioned your relatively small network size as a limiting factor but it needn't be.

Lets say that rather than searching for Adcenter help you had searched for help with your Dell computer, then I dare say that Dell would have responded because they have taken to the platform very quickly.  Other companies much less so.  It's very easy to setup sites such as Twitterfall to report back on any tweets in your subject area leaving you to respond accordingly.  That companies aren't doing this en masse yet is probably more a sign of the sites youth than an overwhelming black mark against it as a concept.

If we're comparing Google and Twitter right now at this very instant then of course Google will win but remember that Google is far more mature than Twitter and had considerably longer to develop its service.

over 9 years ago

Linus Gregoriadis

Linus Gregoriadis, Research Director at Econsultancy, Centaur Marketing

I agree never really a direct competitor to Google, but fantastic as a complimentary online monitoring vertical search engine for searching on brands and topics.

over 9 years ago


Jason Merry

Having been on Twitter for only a few days I find it odd that it could even be considered as a search engine albeit a nice idea if could be.

The only thing I have discovered that could possibly make Twitter a search engine or in my opinion a better search engine is the use of #hashtags. Do a search for them in Twitter and you'll find them.

The idea is that if you follow #hashtags, they then follow you. Then any word you start with a # should get picked up on their own site. It then produces a 'used' statisitc for that word.

I guess it's more of a marketing tool but also good for searching for specific words or even using it to generate answers to searches. As the newest additons to the #hashtag list is posted people also see your tweet. So you may actually get more search results coming back at you in time rather than instantly.

I have to say that the owrds I have added so far haven't been that successful but it's early days still and server issues seem to be a ig thing with their site.

Worth a look.

over 9 years ago


Stephen Pratley

Expecting Twitter to match Google in this way is just misguided. It doesn't have the depth of content thet Google's regular serach engine does, and little incentive for people to help out iin the way they do on Yahoo Answers.

Where it does stand out is as a massively sped up version of Google Alerts.

For example, we use the search tool on Tweetdeck to follow a couple of software brands onm there who are key parts of our business and can very quickly find new developments, interesting things people are doing with it, and other partners.

Install Tweetdeck and search for 'Wordpress' as an example and you'll see what I mean.

The data in Twitter is up-to-the-minute but also has a limited lifespan of use. Once you bear that in mind and adapt the kind of searches you do accordingly to "what's going on" type queries it becomes more powerful.

Not a Google killer in any way, but certainly useful in its own way.

over 9 years ago


Rachel Burkot

I think it's probably best not to think of Twitter as a FAILURE of a search engine, but as a DIFFERENT kind of search engine. It is certainly an unreliable one. If you want reliability, go with Google. You'll never put a search term into Google and be ignored - at worst, you will be told there are no results that match your request. On Twitter, you could very well be ignored. However, the advantage of using Twitter as a search engine is that you are dealing with actual people, not a system. You may get results that are more relevant to your needs, because other people are more likely to understand your intent than a search engine.

over 9 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Stephen: there's nothing misguided about doing a little experimentation to see if all the talk about Twitter being a search engine matches the experience. That's what I was doing: searching for information. I'm sure that Twitter can be useful for alerts if you're in certain industries (like tech) but what about somebody who imports industrial equipment? Or medical supplies? Or clothing? Does Twitter have the breadth and depth to help all the people who do stuff outside of tech, which is most of the population? My experience so far leads me to conclude no.

That doesn't mean Twitter isn't useful but it does mean to me that the cart is getting put before the horse when major publications are promoting Twitter as a possible Google killer. I'd like to see Twitter grow and become even more useful but if somebody reading a business magazine is told that it could be the next big search engine and that person tries it out and is disappointed it's not good for Twitter because it misaligns people's expectations...

over 9 years ago



The fact that Google's CEO said Twitter was a "poor man's email" shows how scared they are :)

If I want to find published articles or "facts" I use Google. If I want an opinion I use Twitter and at times Yahoo Answers.

over 9 years ago



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almost 6 years ago

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