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Why Search on Twitter changes everything, as seen through the window of Last.FM

What has the virtual landfill of spent Tweets got in common with the deluded output of indie bands who are only listened to by their mothers? Aside from the obvious, complete lack of lasting impact on popular culture, they are both good examples of how the increasingly sophisticated calibration of search engines makes it possible for everyone to be heard.

Last year the 3 guys that founded Last.FM presented in New York and told the story of how the 2 German guys had developed a distribution platform for long tail bands to be heard online, and how they teamed up with the Brit who had developed a search engine for music based on a sort of collaborative filter-meets-recommendation engine built around lists of what the user had most recently been listening to. Nothing much happened until they plugged the two inventions into each other and then, Kaboom! Well-engineered searchable supply platform met clever discovery demand tool, performance rocketed exponentially and CBS shelled out just south of $300million to join the party.

Much the same syndrome is now occurring with Twitter, except the commodity in question is not music but information. Until recently, many observers were fond of dismissing Twitter as aimless vanity broadcasting. To maintain the Last.FM analogy, it was like a long-tail music site for lame indie bands that no one in the music industry gives a toss about because they will never reach critical mass. The various search engines designed by non-commissioned Twitter addicts tended to bemuse. But when the company acquired Summize and integrated some first class search functionality and the penny finally dropped. It was like suddenly all of that random, inane, self-obsessed information could achieve some value by being directly connected to whoever is searching for it, because there is a key term in there that makes it relevant and interesting.

Game changing stuff, might even give Google pause for thought, especially since it is coming under fire from large media companies like the NY Times for the dubious quality of its search returns (In a heated industry debate recently, it was pointed out that ‘Gaza’ returns 2 Wikipedia entries and then reams of sketchy blogs, due to the Google algorithm’s penchant for links, but leaves NYT’s vaunted coverage way down the list of results, in fact whole pages below the blogs that are feeding off its original copy). A search engine built around the aggregated micro-opinions of active interest groups might just be a better way to go.

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