Google + Twitter: A Hot Tweet Time Machine

Last Updated Apr 15, 2010 5:38 PM EDT

The field of real-time search gets more crowded every week, with start ups and tech giants jockeying for position. The problem is that, while dozens of sites can tell you what's popular right now, very few of them can make sense of what's relevant or why. A more interesting approach is Google's (GOOG) new Twitter time line, a short form history of consciousness, or if you prefer, consumer sentiment.

Real time search sites like Topsy, One Riot, Tweetmeme and Scoopler make the tech news every few week with another round of funding. And it's true that these sites are great for tracking breaking news and trending topics. But just as often they are overwhelmed with the kind of banal content that floats to the top of the internet meme pool. Do I care that people are Tweeting a lot about Congress or the iPad? Maybe. Do I want to watch this video of a cat on a slip and slide? Oh brother.

Google's new feature is different because it lets you search across time to see the volume and substance of posts. Scanning through it allows a user to see, for example, when the Tiger Woods story broke, how reaction changed with each new revelation, and what impact Nike's recent commercial had on popular sentiment.

For anyone in marketing or PR, this kind of data is invaluable. Let's stick with Tiger Woods and his controversial Nike ad. The time line would show how many people were talking about the ad an hour after its premier, how sentiment shifted with media coverage, and whether a corresponding spike in posts about Nike trended positive or negative.

Its clear that no one has fully cracked the puzzle of real time search yet, but the combination of Google and Twitter is a powerful one. Over at Techcrunch Erick Schnofeld made the elegant distinction between traditional and real-time search. The first taps into our memory, while latter peeks at our consciousness. The time line project is the best of both worlds, a marriage between Twitter's content and Google's smarts.

In fact, the time line, which has a Twitter logo at the bottom, marks the first time Google has ever allowed another brand to appear as part of its search tools, a clear sign of how important Google thinks real time search will be in the future.

Images from Flickr user Hryck

  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.