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Twitter Search Fires Shot Across Google's Bow

The microblogging service is revising its search-engine-like capabilities, something Google is sure to notice.

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Writing on the official Twitter blog, Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, discussed some of the tweaks his team has made to make searching tweets more accessible.

Currently only available to a limited number of testers, changes to the home screen will include search results on the home page, saved searches and trending topics.

"We had the search box way up near the top of the page and the results on a separate page. It turns out that's not the awesome way to do it. The best way to experience Twitter Search is when it's a natural part of your normal Twitter experience," wrote Stone on the Twitter blog. "We went back to the original sketch and made everything far more awesome."

By default, Twitter search results on the home page will be culled from the sources of information an individual is most interested in—that means results will come from the people a user is following.

"When you search, you're asking for any tweets that contain the word or phrase you're interested in right now," wrote Stone.

By saving a search, the term a user regularly searches for will be saved in the sidebar of the home page, making it easier to see what is happening around a given topic at any time.

"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," wrote Stone.

With trending topics on Twitter—something third-party developer Tweetdeck does very well—any word or phrase that is occurring on Twitter regularly at a given time will appear in the sidebar as well. Twitter's initial question to users is: What are you doing? Adding trends to the home screen lets users find out what other people are doing and talking about at that moment.

"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," wrote Stone.

The potential Stone makes reference to has undoubtedly grabbed the attention of Google. Questions were originally raised when Google activated its own Twitter account in February. That move led to a large round of speculation questioning Google's intentions.

A large part of Google's clout comes from the fact that it has a strong hold on the search market. But the results that appear in Google have to be placed there, so to speak.

For example, when an airplane makes an emergency landing in the Hudson River a news source of some kind has to take the time to report the event then write an article about it. Once that article about the bird strike and water landing is posted, Google's search engine can crawl the results and then spit it back out to interested users.

That whole process could take minutes or hours.

With Twitter, as the water landing of US Airways flight 1549 showed, news updates can be instantaneous. Janis Krums (@jkrums) happened to be on a ferry in the Hudson River when flight went down. Krums snapped the first picture of the plane in the water and started reporting the event—all through Twitter.

That ability to find out what is happening right now is why Google is likely to have an interest in Twitter. Adding a robust search capability to Twitter means that search results are appearing in realtime.

Right now, that's something Google can't quite match because its search results rely on content that is placed on the Web. While Twitter's search results are limited to the content happening on Twitter, the number of users continues to grow daily. And that just makes a well-done search engine that much more powerful— and attractive.

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