Twitter’s Inflated Sense of Search

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twitter_smallADOTAS – My favorite description of the Atlantic’s Aspen Ideas Festival comes from Salon’s Alex Pareene: “[T]he idle rich go to a ski resort town and pay the Atlantic Media Co. a great deal of money to listen to rich people with intellectual credentials of some kind talk at each other for a while.”

That made me chuckle, perhaps ’cause I’m cynical, perhaps ’cause I’m jealous I wasn’t invited. Still, I’m upset I missed Twitter cofounder Biz Stone say this with a straight face: “We’re not a social network–that’s been a myth since the beginning…. We’re much more like an information network or a source of news.”

I hope the audience at least tried to hold their snorts and sniggers. I really hope they kept any shock and exhilaration to a minimum when Stone declared that Twitter hits 800 million search queries per day, which averages to 24 billion per month.

That’s a giant leap from the 600 million daily and 19 billion monthly reported during developer conference Chirp in April. While it’s not even a third of Google’s 88 billion queries per month, but it’s more monthly searches than Bing (4.1 billion) and Yahoo (9.4 billion) combined.

Fast Company immediately proclaimed that Twitter was the fastest growing search engine, noting that queries were up 33% since last April. That makes Bing’s 22% growth in search share last year pale in comparison.

Such astounding figures will certainly draw interest to Promoted Tweets, Twitter’s complicated version of search ads, and its fresh augmentation: @earlybird, a Twitter account with 18,000 followers already that posts sponsored tweets with geotargeted offers.

But wait a minute, Mr. Biz-man — back in April at Chirp, Twitter CEO Ev Williams — who always makes me want to drink cheap bourbon when I write about him — noted that comparing Twitter searches to search engine queries is not an “apples to apples” comparison.

Back then Williams told Silicon Alley Insider’s Nicholas Carlson that Twitter itself contributes something in the low double digits to the overall searches per month, while “topic updates” from apps like Seesmic and Tweetdeck make up a noticeable addition.

Carlson explained on Wednesday that those updates are “actually just automated calls those apps send out every few minutes to populate columns users have set up to see tweets on certain topics.” However, Twitter appears to be counting those as “searches.”

Obviously Twitter is trying to rebrand itself as more than a social network, but using inflated stats to boost its search prestige is not the way to go. Unless no one in the media calls Biz and crew out.

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