Search and Discovery – big changes coming at Twitter?

Are we about to see big changes at Twitter? A single tweet from a member of staff can send the social web in to a frenzy but is there good reason?

See below for update

Discover

Back in February I wrote that Twitter felt like it was stuck between two ideals: trying to portray itself as an information network while having to honour its social roots.

After the launch of the #discover tab it seemed that the company was finally trying to embrace those users who only consume and never tweet, the lurkers. I predicted that #discover would quickly iterate and, using the knowledge and talent from the Summify acquisition, could become a personalised discovery and recommendation engine which could potentially alter the way we use Twitter.

#Discover has, indeed, iterated and the emphasis on personal is starting to come through but it seems there is still so much Twitter could do.

Has the moment arrived when #discover will finally realise its potential?

Search and discover

Pankaj Gupta (who heads up the Personalization and Recommender Systems group at Twitter) tweeted a teasing snippet which could portend a massive change for the social/information network:

Search is one area where Twitter is consistently lambasted as it is impossible to find items older than just a couple of days (sometimes even less) so any improvements here will be most welcome. The inclusion of discovery in his tweet, however, indicates a distinction between the two that warrants mention and I can't help feel that #discover is to be enhanced and that could kick start a significant change on Twitter?

It is reasonably safe to assume that Twitter search will finally be improved but I also hope that the true impact of the Summify acquisition is about to be felt.

Delayed for a reason

Twitter has been on the offensive recently with regards to enforcing its image - be it the new logo or ensuring everyone knows exactly how tweets should look, or a reminder that developers are at the companies whim when it comes to using the API - but I has been criticised for demanding action when none has been forthcoming from itself.

If big changes are coming in search and discovery then this would explain the delay in releasing new versions of its own clients; why make minor cosmetic changes when you can wait to include much more important things later on.

I think we could get a nice surprise.

Change afoot

Claiming that upcoming changes to search and discovery are going to have an enormous impact that "few understand today" is incredibly bold and must demonstrate a seismic shift or potentially leave both Pankaj and Twitter with egg on their faces. Nothing short of radical improvements and, hopefully, new functionality will open the company up to ridicule for overstatement.

As I have said previously, I believe that Twitter could benefit from a shake-up which makes it easier for users to find items of interest and, quite possibly, encourage the large number of silent users to start tweeting. Change is a dangerous game, however, and there is a fine line between embracing additional users and alienating the ones you already have.

Fortunately, many are heavily invested in the service and its ecosystem so, just has been proven with Facebook, change can be accommodated and users adapt rather than attempt to rebuild their social circles elsewhere.

And, the winner is...

It remains to be seen if the company agrees and feels it's time for that shake-up or if we are merely reading too much in to a single tweet from someone proud of their team.

Update: new search features

Twitter have announced the new search features over at their blog which build on the recently added related query suggestions, spelling corrections and more relevant search results.

The new features are going down well and include:

  • search autocomplete
  • results with both real names and usernames, and
  • results filtering to show top tweets, all tweets or just those from people you follow
While they are very much needed and useful they are hardly a paradigm shift - or, perhaps, I'm not one of the few that understand their value today.

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