Twitter on Friday announced a series of updates to its built-in search feature that the company said will offer users a simpler and easier way to find “what’s happening in real time.”
The new features include an autocomplete function that tries to guess what terms a user is typing into the Twitter search bar, a list of related suggestions for other Twitter accounts and tweets similar to the searcher’s query, results showing images, videos and other content posted by users, and perhaps most useful of all, a way to restrict searches to only those Twitter accounts that a user follows.
Altogether, the functions may not be the massive changes that were implied by a Twitter engineer who teased the updates on Thursday night, but they certainly improve Twitter’s formerly much-reviled search function and do appear to make Twitter a stronger competitor against Facebook and even Google when it comes to delivering the most timely, relevant information on a given topic.
That said, Google probably doesn’t have to worry about its search dominance being usurped by Twitter anytime soon, given that users perform one billion unique Google searches every day, and it remains the most-trafficked website in the world, with Facebook coming it at number two, according to tracking firm Alexa (Twitter, by contrast is number nine).
Still, other tech bloggers have noted that Twitter’s recent moves betray ambitions to become a more comprehensive search engine, or at least add the capabilities of a search engine to its existing website, so whether this is just the beginning of a sea change in Twitter search remains to be seen.
Twitter’s new search features raise other important questions, including whether Twitter, which has recently experienced greater success with selling and getting users to click on mobile advertisements, will end up using the features to show more ads. That’s after all the bulk of where Google’s revenue comes from.
For now, the answer is a distinct “no.” Sources close to Twitter told TPM that the new changes did not include any new advertising opportunities, but that certain searches would continue to pull up “Promoted Tweets” at the top of the search results list.
Meanwhile, third-party developers of applications that use Twitter — such as those behind the apps Favstar and Tweetbot — are wondering if they will get the chance to implement the new Twitter search features in their apps, should Twitter decide to give them access through its application programming interface (API).
Twitter developer advocate Taylor Singletary, an engineer at Twitter who interacts with the third-party developers, tweeted Friday that he was “unsure of API plans for the new search assistance features; a kind of search API for searches is interesting though.”
Giving third-party developers access to Twitter’s new search features might also help the company repair its relationship with those developers, which has soured in some cases following Twitter’s recent move toward stricter enforcement of its “developer rules of the road,” and its open disdain for apps that “mimic or reproduce” the main Twitter website, a new policy that led LinkedIn to kill its own built-in Twitter app.
In any case, users will be the first to feel the effects of the changes to Twitter search: Twitter has begun implementing the updates globally for its website and iPhone and Android apps, and sources close to the company told TPM that it should be available to all users by the end of the month. No timetable has been given on tablet-friendly versions of the changes, nor any word on when they will come to Tweetdeck, a third-party app that Twitter bought and brought in-house in March 2011.