Twitter, the microblogging phenom, has been testing a search function for several weeks with a few selected users, so you can find out what people are talking about right now. This has been especially useful for finding out immediately, before traditional news outlets, about events such as the US Airways plane that went down in the Hudson River in January. As much as anything, Twitter search is what has many people so jazzed about the company’s potential to be a commercial success.
Now, Twitter is looking to roll out a more integrated search feature, which cofounder Biz Stone calls a Discovery Engine. It will include not only the ability to save searches and view them on the right side of the page, but to view currently popular topics. Since I’m not one of the chosen few whose account has been blessed with being able to test the feature yet, I’ll depend on Stone’s blog post to explain it:
Currently, a small subset of Twitter users are trying this new search feature in the sidebar of their Twitter home page. When you do a search, you don’t go to another page, the relevant tweets instantly show up where you’d expect them to—right on your home page where tweets love to be.
This way of experiencing search is aligned with Twitter’s simple approach. By default, the tweets you see on your home page are from sources of information that you have curated over time—in other words, the accounts you chose to follow. When you search, you’re asking for any tweets that contain the word or phrase you’re interested in right now.
Saved Searches and Trends
We’ve added a few other features to this design. If there’s a search you want to do on a regular basis, you can “save” the search. That will place the word or term permanently in your sidebar for easy access. So if you want to know what people are saying about the city you live in, the products you use, or just something weird, it becomes a link on your home page.
Twitter Search is an engine for discovering what is happening right now but it doesn’t always have to be a box and a button. Trends are words or phrases being referenced with more frequency suggesting that something interesting might be happening. When you click on a trend link, you can read the tweets and find out what’s up. Trends is in beta—but it has potential.
I’m not yet convinced that Twitter search is the next coming of Google, as some believe. But clearly it’s a great feature for Twitter’s users, and it seems likely to have considerable commercial potential as an indication of what people might want to buy right now.