Do Google's Tweaks Top Twitter?
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Google rolled out today some of the best new search tools ever. My favorites are the "Wonder Wheel" and the "Timeline." I'll save my over-enthusiastic gushing about these features for another column. Instead, I'd like to address the many comparisons being made between Google's new "Recent results" feature and the search function of Twitter.
Is Google's better than Twitters? The answer is no... and yes. It depends on what you're searching for.
(To find "Recent results" and other features, just do a normal search on Google. After the results show up, you'll see a "Show options" link. Click to see all features, and choose "Recent results.")
In reality, Google's "Recent results" isn't nearly as new as some of the other features. It essentially extends to non-news items the timeliness of Google News searches, which can be atomized to the most recent hour.
To illustrate the point, I entered my own name into the "Recent results" feature, and I got back a recent blog posting of mine, followed by a Twitter post from yesterday, followed by my main page on Twitter. My column from last week showed up near the bottom of the first page. The results felt to me to be based on some weird combination of relevance, recency, popularity and random chance.
For example, it picked up a blog post from yesterday, but what about the post I did four hours ago? I post about 10 to 15 Twitter tweets per day -- why did it select this one over the others? No way to know.
The good thing -- and the bad -- about Google's "Recent results" feature is that results are heavily vetted. You're not getting everything -- not even close. And it's not all that timely, either. It's just more timely than regular Google search results.
So if you want to learn more about a prominent person before meeting them, or want to know more about a company or just get a well-rounded understanding of something, Google's "Recent results" will give you a nice snapshot that's pretty timely.
If something is truly new -- breaking news (say, an earthquake hit Los Angeles 30 seconds ago) or public events (the playoffs are live on TV now), Google can't touch Twitter.
However, if you're searching for something that everyone is talking about, Twitter can be a nightmare of irrelevant chatter. Google "Recent results" will do a much better job of filtering out the noise.
Stated another way: If you want to know what happened today, use Google's "Recent results." If you want to know what happened in the past ten minutes -- and are willing to sort through a lot of crap -- use Twitter Search.
See the difference? Google gives you a really solid accounting of what's going on with Palm's next cell phone, with few irrelevant links. Twitter, on the other hand, will present links that beat Google in terms of timeliness, but you have to wade through a lot of irrelevant blather to find them. And while you're looking at the results on Twitter, the search page will inform you of new items posted since your search.
None of this matters to the average user, however. The vast majority of people will search by going to the Google home page, entering in their search and accepting whatever results pop up -- ignoring both the "Show Options" link and the idea of trying Twitter Search.
If Google really wants to knock one out of the park, it should acquire Twitter and add a one-click cascading, real-time feed of all searches -- Twitter, Google, YouTube and more to the bottom or the side of ordinary mainstream Google searches. (It should work like Twitterfall.)
That would bring real-time search to the masses, and drive Twitter awareness and usage to Facebook or Wikipedia levels (because posting on Twitter would provide Google exposure).
Best of all for us lazy power searchers, it would enable one-stop shopping for real-time search. Until that happens, however, I recommend both Google's "Recent results" feature and Twitter Search to everyone who wants more timely searches, depending on what you're searching for.
In the meantime, ignore the pundits who suggest Google "Recent results" in any way competes with Twitter. It doesn't. They're very different. They're both necessary. And they complete each other.
C'mon, Google: Acquire Twitter already!
In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.