Google Threatened by Twitter

February 9, 2009

I read Lew Moorman’s “Google’s First Real Threat? Twitter” after walking by the field reworked by the Great Ice Storm. Branches and trees left the line of woods gat toothed. Forces of nature reword a familiar landscape with little effort. You will want to read Mr. Moorman’s comment here. He wrote:

So Twitter has value as a niche search engine today.  Who cares?  No one really.  But, there is more.  Twitter is building a human powered search indexing engine.  It is an engine that will build better results than any rules based index and has gotten millions of people super motivated to contribute for free every day (even though they don’t know it).

If he is correct, Twitter could affect Googzilla’s paws like a gym-transferred fungus. Under certain conditions, an annoyance can become life threatening. Mr. Moorman asserts the Twitter may be a digital fungus that could under certain circumstances overwhelm the GOOG.


A metaphor of Twitter users: “Sort of organized” like a flock of my best friends. Source:

As I proofed read this post, the chimes on my newsreader delivered a clump of responses to Mr. Moorman’s article. You will want to read John Borthwick’s “Google Next Victim of Creative Destruction?” here. He adds a useful comment about Twitter’s representing a move to “real time search”. Mr. Borthwick includes a useful link to a post by Gerry Campbell here. I liked the echo of that prose master Joseph A. Schumpter, although I think Clayton Christensen may be more familiar to the Twitter crowd.

In my opinion, Twitter is in a race of sorts. The system has demonstrated some fragility as users have become interested in microblogging, breaking information down into crunchy chunks. Listening to certain podcasts originating in California, it is clear that the Twitter users have found the system useful and a convenient way to exchange information in bite-sized nibbles. Stars or Hollywood luminaries’ publicists have discovered Twitter as well.

I picked up Mr. Moorman’s idea and did some preliminary thinking, which is subject to goosely revision:

Twitter Google
Microblogging base with millions of users Stub services available within Android; low profile
Applications are possible, driven by informed users Google’s social publishing Knol not successful; maybe a core problem
High visibility among the social media adopters Google may have greater brand impact; social  functions growing visibility
Subject to technical glitches Google infrastructure seems more stable
Content is user generated with minimal machine generation of outputs or results Machine-centric; social operations lag
Monetization model somewhat uncertain; subscription like SMS may be one avenue Google has options for its business models, billing systems in place
Infrastructure costs to scale unknown Google infrastructure in place
Cash position dependent on investors Strong cash position; options to get more capital if needed are available

Mr. Moorman is correct when he identifies “tweets” as a useful content form. He is correct when he asserts that a question posed to a community of followers can produce useful information, maybe not exactly like a search system that indexes about one trillion documents, but good and different.

My thoughts are:

  1. Maybe Google will take a long-term view to this type of information system just as it has done in the enterprise? Google’s hanging back creates an IBM-like FUD factor. When Google moves, the action is disruptive even if it does not generate significant revenue in the short term
  2. Could Google embed a Twitter function in its “stubs” that connect users to the Google infrastructure? Chrome extensions, Android applications, and telco partners might offer some purchase in this space?
  3. Why not buy Twitter? Google has the cash and investors respond to the sight, smell, and touch of cash? The economy is not too healthy, and if a Googler makes a compelling pitch, Twitter could follow in the footsteps of Keyhole or; that  is, become an enabler in a much larger ecosystem.

The social search and social software space is evolving rapidly. From my vantage point in the hills of Kentucky, I remain on the fence. Security, message integrity, spoofing, “ownership” of customers and content, and provenance give me some stale crusts on which to chew with my beak. These issues do not worry the young users nor the tech savvy early adopters who know the ropes of online. For more seasoned geese, Twitter is interesting. Twitter may kill Google, but I think it will like the foot fungus take some time to overwhelm Googzilla.

Stephen Arnold, February 9, 2009


One Response to “Google Threatened by Twitter”

  1. Twitter is just Twitter : PatchLog on December 7th, 2009 4:42 pm

    […] suggests twitter could become a payment gateway, three days ago someone wrote a post suggesting twitter search could be a threat to google , I still see tweets about that […]

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