Twitter to Unseat Google?

An article on TwiTip this morning says Twitter will replace Google search. Excuse me? My first response is that this prediction is like trying to convince a gardener that the hoe will replace the spade. It seems we have a need for both, if you ask me. I’ve been using Twitter lightly for a couple of months now, mostly for following a few Twitter streams that are of interest. This is, in fact, how I found the article with which I’m disagreeing. Twitter is in fact a highly useful tool, provided you apply it to the proper job… and though it can be used in this way, search is not the job to which it is best suited.

The article uses the example of a business professional who needs three images for a presentation the next morning, and can’t find the specific ones she wants on a stock photo site.  Turning to Twitter, she requests help from @stockphotofindr, and among the replies is a photographer who offers to photograph what she needs before the deadline. Ms. photo-seeker does the presentation and gets the promotion: end of fable.


The fable is hypothetical, and constructed with flaws worthy of a Hollywood B-Movie plot. Note that Twitter doesn’t find her the photographs, it finds her a photographer. Sure, it solves the problem, but at a much higher cost. You can certainly use Google to find a photographer just as easily — she was just locked onto the solution of finding  existing photographs rather than creating new ones. What Twitter does here is connect her to someone who offers an alternate solution.

And this is what Twitter does… it connects you with people and their ideas. In point of fact, in this basic task it is little different than bulletin boards, mailing lists, newsgroups, and even blogs. The difference is in the way it’s organized and in knowing how best to use it. Personally, I’ve never heard of @stockphotofindr but I do know  several stock photography sites and can construct a reasonable boolean search query (a necessity in the pre-Google days when I searched with AltaVista). I dare say that most Twitter-users (indeed, most Internet users) have never used an NNTP newsgroup server and would be generally unclear about the term “usenet” (unless they use it for file-sharing, of course). The identical fable could be constructed with a photography newsgroup, yet Google grew up after the newsgroup. Point is, a different user could have solved this mythic problem using standard search tools, or alternate Internet tools. Properly understood, I think the story is a testament to the power of the Internet, not a specific tool in that realm.

Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is a great application for which new uses have yet to be discovered. But fundamentally, Twitter is not a search engine, it’s a social networking engine. And as such, it simply won’t replace Google search.

Well, Twitter-addicts? Am I wrong?