The Value Of Twitter As Compared To Google

from the it's-growing dept

I recognize that it’s becoming fashionable among many to bash Twitter, but for those who have learned how to use Twitter well (as opposed to many who use it poorly), the value of it is quite impressive. I now spend a lot more time using Twitter to find news than I do my feed reader — and that’s amazing to me. However, I think Mark Cuban actually has made the strongest point, noting that in many ways, Twitter is becoming more useful than Google. This isn’t to say that Twitter is “killing” Google (x killing y stories are lame), but that many people are finding information via Twitter now, where they used to find it via Google.

Cuban gives an example of trying to buy a car, where there may be a lot of value in being able to message a guru on the type of car he wants to buy via Twitter (or, better yet, finding a few of them). I know I’ve found Twitter to be useful in this manner. A few months ago, I was looking for a new backpack for my computer — and I had very specific requirements (such as the ability to carry both a laptop and a netbook at times comfortably). It was quite difficult to come up with a Google query that made sense for such a thing, but I could ask it easily in 140 characters and plenty of people could easily understand it, and then provide thoughts and recommendations. It comes back to two points:

  • Having real humans respond to a query works well for more specific queries that simply aren’t well automated.
  • Perhaps much more importantly, real people can better offer recommendations or explanations than an automated query on Google, which simply seeks to find data or answers.

Basically, what Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online: via conversation, rather than via data dump. Each has it’s place, but the reason many of us find Twitter so compelling is that it’s opening up tremendous new possibilities to enable useful information flow that simply wasn’t possible before.

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Comments on “The Value Of Twitter As Compared To Google”

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80 Comments
Phoenix says:

Google is messed up, IMHO. Increasingly, the user-interface is incapable of effectively supporting the volume of data that is returned from most search queries. It is too often a painful process to sift through search results to find what you’re looking for. Pretty soon, people will have to migrate to using meta search applications like viewzi to manage their search activity. However, Googles problems don’t mean that Twitter is good because this is a relative comparison. To me, Twitter is like the McDonald’s of information and networking. Cheap, convenient, and not very mentally nourishing. The 140-character Twitter culture may start to do to America’s minds what McDonald’s did to their bodies.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Re:

Increasingly, the user-interface is incapable of effectively supporting the volume of data that is returned from most search queries

Really? How hard is to use advanced search?

http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en

Or you could fine tune the results using Show options the top left corner? Or you could use Timeline or Wonder Wheel?

SRS2000 (profile) says:

Information that wasn’t possible before? an entirely different form of information gathering online? You can ask people a question and actual humans respond? …

Yeah.. We had that back in the day of the BBS. There is nothing new or unique about that. You have always been able to have conversations and ask questions online. Being limited to 140 chars. is seriously bad. You can’t put any details in your post. I see absolutely nothing special about twitter.

Cap'n Jack (profile) says:

"What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

I’m in agreement with the previous poster: the concept of obtaining information from people on the web, as opposed to search engines, is nothing new. There are specialized message boards(that are sometimes a hassle, because people have to go through the process of registration for every new message board) for this sort of thing.

Whereas in Twitter’s case, this form of communication only exists as a matter of consquence, there are web sites built from the ground up for this sort of thing (i.e. Yahoo! Answers).

Tony S. (user link) says:

Re: "What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

Twitter is comparable is many ways to BBS and even chat room systems (like IRC), in that information can be accessed and questions can be answered. It’s like a modern, web based version of these that any average internet user can figure out how to use. Also, I’d say the majority of people on the internet today never used BBS or even heard of it.

SRS2000 says:

Re: Re: "What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

Any user on the Internet is capable of using a website forum. I would say that they are more capable of using a forum than Twitter.

Forums are more specialized, also. You would get better answers.

If a random new person joins Twitter.. Posts a question.. What happens? .. Reminds me of “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it.. Does it make any noise?”

Just because a lot of people haven’t heard of IRC or a BBS doesn’t mean that Twitter is a new way of using the Internet.

Easily Amused says:

Re: Re: Re: "What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

The point you are missing is the relative effort and time consumed by each method of getting information.

To use your forum example- Mike wants a specialized laptop backpack. Steps followed:

1. Hit Google for a few of the best forums for backpacks.
2. Browse them to determine which will be the best for his needs, and doesn’t have an offensive color scheme/design.
3. Read through page after page of idiots flaming each other over some backpack related drama or another.
4. Unable to find a close enough question that answers what he is looking for, he decides to post a question. This requires registering on the forum, giving out personal data, and jumping through whatever email/Captcha BS is initiated by the forum.
5. Finally gets to post his question.
6. Has to log in to the forum manually for two days waiting for an answer, and the first four posts on his thread are from a guy who thinks he needs a waterproof pack for snorkeling, a guy telling that guy to “GTFO backpack n00b”, a link to a website selling backpacks in Euros only, and a would-be Moderator who suggests that Mike should have read the FAQ before posting and his question has been answered many times before, with a link to the FAQ, but not to any of the threads that supposedly answered the question.
7. Finally gets a suggestion from someone with a decent post-count about a bag that will work.
8. Immediately another user posts how that bag would be a terrible choice and questions the sexual orientation of the first poster.
9. Thread devolves into name calling, inside jokes, and pointless rants, and Mike notices the number of Viagra spam emails coming in has risen dramatically because the douche running the site sold his info.

Or, he could just ask on Twitter if anyone knows of a good backpack that would handle x, y, and z for less than $xxx on Twitter and continue his daily routine, receiving several good suggestions along the way.

miked (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

Or, he could just ask on Twitter if anyone knows of a good backpack that would handle x, y, and z for less than $xxx on Twitter and continue his daily routine, receiving several good suggestions along the way.

According to your example, anyone can open an account, post a question and have it answered by the mind meld that is Twitter.

Won’t the only people to really see the question be your followers? How do you get followers? Posting a lot of good stuff? That seems to take a of time as well.

Tony S. (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: "What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

You’re right Twitter is definitely not a new way to use the internet, and website forums have been around for forever. But most novice internet users and newer generations just don’t know otherwise. Besides doing a google search for information and discovering a forum or website with that information, Twitter may be taking the place of older forms of information gathering.

hegemon13 says:

Re: "What Twitter is enabling is an entirely different form of information gathering online"?

The difference is the Twitter actually has the active user base to make it useful in this regard. I agree the Yahoo! Answers is better designed for this purpose, but if you start exploring it, you’ll find that most of the Q&As are just Qs. Actually getting or finding answers is, in my book, much more useful that a better interface, so Twitter wins between those two.

However, I have yet to come up with a question that I can’t find an answer for within a minute or two on Google. I don’t have to wait for someone knowledgeable to stumble across my question. Instead, I look for the knowledgeable answer that someone, somewhere has already written. I enter two or three words in the box, look at the results for a couple minutes (or less), and I have my answer. So, Google wins for me, hands down, when it comes to facilitating the flow of information.

Mojo says:

I don’t see how broadcasting a short message like “which laptop bag is best for a 14″ notebook?” to a whole bunch of your friends on Twitter is any more likely to get you a great response than just typing “laptop bag” into google and spending 15 minutes following links and checking out shops.

If anything, sending out ANY question to people on Twitter is going to result in maybe 1 or 2 actual suggestions and 50 dumb comments.

I recently was in the same situation, and you know what I did? I actually phyically WENT to 2 or 3 stores in the area and LOOKED at the laptop cases. Touching and feeling and examining the bags in person was really the only way to make sure I was getting the item that suited my needs.

We don’t have to look to technology to get ALL our answers, you know.

Bettawrekonize (profile) says:

“on the twitter application page twitter says that twitter will take all of your email contact information from your email account and i believe that this major invasion Qualifies the owners of twitter to get a royal beat down”

At least they warn you. You don’t like it, don’t sign up (or simply skip that step I suppose). Also, yahoo or google or hotmail or wherever you already store your information already has it.

bigpicture says:

The difference between information, knowledge and experience

The difference here is that the information about this kind of subject matter may or may not actually reside on the internet to be found by a query. And even if query technology had advanced to the point of AI, there is still the difference between providing information, having knowledge, and having experience. Your Twitter example addresses more so human experience, and less so stored commercial information.

YouAreWrong says:

technical forums and google

technical forums/mls destroy twitter. check out the debian mailing list or gentoo forums. those guys give better technical answers than everything I’ve seen on twitter. saying twitter is better at natural language “searching” is a load of crap. what’s even more important is that if i want a technical answer, who is better equipped to answer it — the 3 friends i have who are an expert in a particular field, or the 150+ regulars on a technical mailing list or forum? and twitter is not a “push” style system. for anyone to receive your message, to get any worthwhile number of views everyone pretty much has to consent to receiving messages from you. however, a forum/ml “pushes” messages to everyone regardless of whether they’ve consented to your message or not.

and i have to say, twitter vs. google, i’d go with google in a heartbeat. if you can’t find solutions in a boolean search, you’re probably not searching correctly. as for natural language search problems, look at commentary on slashdot, arstechnica, torrentfreak or even here. when someone asks a question, rarely ever is there _ACTUALLY_ an answer — most of it is just jokes and reactionary rhetoric. mike/carl and the guys at ars talk about law all the time here, and most of the time, the author has no clue what they’re talking about.

half of your readers probably don’t understand the difference between natural language and boolean search. and people talk about tnc syntax (used in formal law/news databases) and they have no idea how it’s so much more accurate than both current NL searching and boolean.

Easily Amused says:

Re: technical forums and google

First, congratulations on hitting the geek quotient milestone that makes your brain turn every discussion about anything remotely technical into a elitist Linux plug.

Second, one reason that you don’t see a lot of questions answered in blog comments is that people rarely come back and re-read the comments after they post on them. The ones that do most often are the trolls. Most people make their comments and then move on to the next post.

YouAreWrong says:

Re: Re: technical forums and google

Linux was just an example. If I have a technical question in law, medicine, computers, math, or physics, I’m going to technical sites, because most of my friends who are active on these sites didn’t go to one of these specialties.

As for linux elitism, I have yet to find a microsoft forum that’s as in depth as debian’s ml or the gentoo forums/wiki. As one of the most obnoxious modern OSs, installing gentoo sets a bar such that joining the community merely requires a decent amount of technical knowledge. It’s not like here on techdirt where people talk about law and econmics usually without having a clue of what they’re talking about.

Anonymous Coward says:

google is a vast sea of information compare to twiter which is a pool of information so if your having easier time time using twiter to find your specific type information well then good for you… when you are looking for choices and what others information about something out there well google is for you….

SRS2000 says:

Wow.. Someone really is in love with twitter.
Previous examples don’t count. Current examples don’t count because you have to login to a forum. All the effort you have to invest in twitter doesn’t matter.
If a new person joins twitter to attempt any of this he will get absolutely nothing.
The same concept can be accomplished with an AIM/ICQ/YAHOO/etc.. away or mass message. Or a mass txt message.

Plus Mike automatically assumes that he will be met with hostility or bad information on a forum. …. Do you really think that can’t happen on twitter? Do you really think that no one outside of the USA joins twitter? Do you think there are only jolly helpers on twitter? Most forums will send you emails when you get a reply. The email usually has the response in it. You don’t have to keep going to the forum waiting. Mike also think that forums take days to get a reply. I’ve gotten responses in SECONDS.
Plus if you happen to be on a forum for cars and want to ask about backpacks.. They almost always have an off-topic forum. You can ask there. That is no different than posting a question with twitter to a bunch of people not specialized in backpacks.
On a forum you will hit a much larger base of people than the likely amount of people you have following you. Plus they can actually say more than 140 chars.

If you are in love with twitter. Fine. But, don’t try and say that it is unrivaled and infallible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As a long time Twitter user, let me add a few items.

1) You build a network of people that you are interested in following. If they Are interested in you, they will follow you. This gives a person to person relationship based on mutual interests. As none of us are 1 dimensional, you, those following you, and your followers might know things outside of a topic based forum.

2) Topic based forums are great if you have a long term interest in the topic. Twitter doesn’t replace that. Nor does it replace google or RSS, as some have asserted. At least Twitter is not a replacement for me. Twitter is additive. Often asking odd questions from people is more relevant than Google and I don’t have to go seek out a topic specific forum. For example, many people that follow me travel far more than I do. Asking them travel questions like “what laptop bag that can fit two laptops comfortably” will likely get me a qualified response than spending hours searching Google.

3) I have often received answers to questions from people outside my followers and I don’t mean spam or solicitations. In fact, with careful follow building, I have yet to be subjected to any spam. So that is useful.

4) Speed, some forums are active and you can get replies immediately. Some forums are not as active and you can wait days to get a reply, if at all. Twitter tends to be faster, but not always.

5) One of the powers of twitter over IM is that your network is wider than your contact list. IM is great for certain tasks, but finding new people is not one of them.

Bettawrekonize (profile) says:

“If you are in love with twitter. Fine. But, don’t try and say that it is unrivaled and infallible.”

I don’t think anyone is claiming any such thing. Then again, I don’t use it so I don’t know. I tried it once (after seeing this) and I don’t understand it. It just seemed to be a service designed to tell you what people are doing. Maybe I’m wrong, I didn’t spend much more than a few minutes using it. I’m sure it does have its advantages and disadvantages, and so do forums, and so do blogs, and so does almost everything else that people use. It probably wouldn’t be used by so many people if it had no advantages over other services.

Victor Salazar says:

Why does this sort of post always turn into an argument where people are bashing or defending social networking sites, or the whole concept in general? Some people love the ability to share information with friends through these services, while others appear to be offended by the idea that people are posting every minor detail of their lives on Twitter…or Facebook, or whatever. If you like using social networking services…go right ahead. But, if this trend bothers you, you’re going to just have to try not paying attention. Simply don’t look if what you’re seeing bothers you so much.

mojo says:

I seriously doubt you were able to ask a detailed question outlining all your needs in a tweet! Likewise, I don’t see how you could have gotten detailed responses in the same way.

And for something like a bag, seeing it in person is the ONLY way to know if it really suits your needs. I’m glad I spent half a day on a weekend “searching” in actual stores.

Brandon Franklin (user link) says:

The Problem with Twitter

First of all, let me say I use Twitter. I have over 200 followers, and follow over 100 people. I realize this is not nearly as much as many people, but my point is that I didn’t “just now sign up”.

The problem I see with your points about using Twitter to query for information, Mike, is that as more people use Twitter and follow a lot of other people, your own query easily gets “lost in the fray”. I’ve asked plenty of questions and received no answer at all, even though I have followers, many of whom I know in real life. My “friendship” with them didn’t seem to make any difference.

I suspect a large part of the reason for this is that they follow so many other people they probably never even SAW my question.

This, to me, is a sort of “negative network-effect” where as the network connections increase, the value of the network begins to DECREASE. I think Twitter would actually be a much more valuable service if rather than following “people” you followed “concepts” or even “tags”. This would not only filter out the obnoxious things like when people start tweeting about play-by-plays on sporting events, but would also allow you to meet new people with common interests to yours, and would expose you to information that you wouldn’t otherwise have seen at all.

You CAN accomplish this to some extent with Twitter by aggregating the RSS feed for a search, or using the new “saved searches” feature, such as: https://twitter.com/#search?q=%23grails

However, overall, Twitter DOES tend to lean toward what some here are calling “ego masturbation” because people focus on “how many followers they can get” and “pushing out my message”, “driving traffic to my site”, etc. I feel that this is a large part of why Twitter is perceived by many as shallow and pointless.

Todd says:

The Value Of Twitter As Compared To Google

I was looking for a new backpack for my computer — and I had very specific requirements (such as the ability to carry both a laptop and a netbook at times comfortably). It was quite difficult to come up with a Google query that made sense for such a thing.

Really? I performed a Google search for “dual laptop bag.” The TOP result was for a FORUM exchange that listed a number of bags from several different vendors. Took all of 5 minutes (including reading the various posts).

I’ll stick with Google.

R. Miles says:

I don't dislike Twitter...

…but I’ll never use it, either. After reading the comments, it seems people are on separate lines regarding its “usefulness”.

I’ve read examples, both business and personal, which Twitter was beneficial, but nothing stands out enough to entice me to become a “follower”.

I’m sure as hell not popular enough to gain followers.

Someone remarked how Twitter can be similar to an RSS feed, and that’s exactly how I see it.

I have three RSS feeds and they serve me quite well. And given this number of feeds, there’s no sense in signing up for a Twitter account.

I will have to say the internet has opened up an entire world of idiotic conversations than any communication system before it. Twitter certainly shows this (based on web items I’ve read, such as the Kutcher v. CNN race).

It’s here to stay until something better comes along. The best feature I’ve read about Twitter so far is its 140 character limit. Definitely keeps “conversations” to a minimum.

To the poster who said Google’s getting worse, I completely agree. It’s pretty damn sad when the advanced search has to be used because the results often fill the first 20 pages with links of stores trying to sell you the search topic.

I’ve been hitting Wikipedia much more often than Google. While some of the information is questionable, the “basics” are plenty good enough for me.

Libra says:

Persistence and confidence

For all of the same reasons the author cites, I use Yahoo! Answers. Why? Because I can gauge the credibility of each respondent (rating system) and all of the answers are categorized, rated and – best of all – persistent & searchable.

Many times, there’s no need to ask… the question has been answered before.

Where Twitter probably excels is its accessibility, timeliness and interactivity. But for difficult topics, the asynchronous nature of Yahoo! Answers is preferable.

twitterspam (user link) says:

Twitter Spam

Don’t be ridiculous. Twitter’s marginal utility at the moment is merely contextual and dependent on its relative obscurity. The spammers are already moving in en masse and within a couple of quarters I expect it to be thoroughly compromised by spammers, fakes, and MLMers. Google’s PageRank+juice approach does a reasomabley good job of repressing spam to tolerable levels and for promoting useful and relevant information… eventually. Twitter has no such organic, scalable mechanisms and is already descending into a spammy, panic-driven simulacrum of its evolutionary peers: IRC and Usenet.

lulz says:

Well Of Course

Mike, you keep on countering peoples’ arguments with “well just get better, non-idiot friends and this will work” (probably overstating it a bit but that’s what it comes off as)

Well, of course, if I were in your position (owner of TechDirt, guy behind the Insight Community, make a lot of speeches at the Free! summit, need i go on?) I assume that I would meet a lot of smart people and become friends with these people.

Now, the laptop bag example is a pretty easy question for my hypothetical friends, but something more deep requires people I know who have more knowledge to answer/discuss a question.

But these hypothetical people would probably have blogs of their own or post their ideas on a forum, who would discuss things in length, not 140 characters or less. If not, a simple email / IM would suffice if you really need to talk (i don’t see these things as “obtrusive” if they actually are your friends/acquaintances)

I don’t use twitter, and check facebook

Eric says:

Looking for Project Management Software

Mike – I have found Twitter to be absolutely useless. Please explain to me how to replace (or even supplement) a Google search for “Project Management Software” using Twitter.

I currently have around 10 followers – all of whom are personal friends that have no idea about said software.

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