Twitter’s search query numbers aren’t as impressive as they sound.
And because the company put the figure at 600 million at its developer conference in April, Fast Company went ahead yesterday and published a story announcing: “Twitter Now the World’s Fastest Growing Search Engine.”
While Stone’s company is still a long way off from Google, which supports around 88 billion search queries per month, Twitter is quickly catching up. Since last April, Twitter searches are up 33%. To put that in perspective, a study by Nielsen last year concluded that Bing was the fastest-growing search engine in the U.S. after it ballooned over 22%. Now it seems Twitter has taken the title.
But there’s a big problem with Fast Company’s maths and Biz’s announcement.
That is: Twitter’s search query numbers include “searches” from Twitter apps such as TweetDeck and Seesmic that are actually just automated calls those apps send out every few minutes to populate columns users have set up to see tweets on certain topics.
It’s easier to just show you what we mean. Below is a screen grab from TweetDeck. Notice how the third column is populated by tweets that use the phrase “Alley Insider.” That column is updated every 27 seconds. Twitter considers each of those updates a “search.”
While we can agree with Twitter that there is something akin to “searching” going on when TweetDeck asks the Twitter API for yet more tweets containing the phrases “Alley Insider” every half minute or so, we think this action is much different than what happens when a user goes to a search bar in a browser or on Google.com or Bing.com and actually types in a query.
At Twitter’s developer conference in April, Twitter CEO Ev WIlliams was careful to recognise this difference, and even told reporters comparing Twitter search queries to classic search engines’ was not “apples to apples.” Biz probably should have been as careful Tuesday. Maybe he was. We haven’t seen a transcript, just reports.
We know Twitter is trying to build a search advertising business, and that it helps to give the impression of massive scale, but for clarity’s sake, Twitter should start calling these “search queries” something else. Maybe “topic updates”?