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On its face, Twitter’s decision to put a search box on the right-hand column of all its user’s profile pages and to put query results on those pages as well seems like a bunch of search-world minutiae. But the blogosphere clearly thinks the news is important (take a look at Techmeme) — and this time, it’s right. Unlike the search redesign it announced last month though never actually rolled out, this one will encourage people who don’t now use Twitter’s search service to do so. The planned redesign last month hid “trending topics,” searches that appear with increasing frequency, below a tab. Now, those searches appear as text right under the new search box, which will get users to try it out. More importantly, users don’t have to navigate away from their profile page to see the results of a query.
What does this mean for Twitter? The new search interface might not be enough to get people who use third-party Twitter services like TweetDeck back to Twitter.com. But it will increase traffic to Twitter search, particularly among more casual Tweeters. Already, Twitter Search is proving itself to be a competitive search engine, particularly for news, because it works in real-time unlike its competitors and it could use more exposure.
The design change also could open up a new revenue stream for the company, if it ever decides to get around to making money. Twitter might hesitate to put sponsored Tweets or ads in the midst of a user’s stream on their profile page — but it’s another case entirely if an ad shows up in the results of a search query, where users are already very used to seeing ads on other search engines. And advertisers will appreciate that their ads show up among results on a user’s profile page, rather than elsewhere.
Update: A possible sign of how much value there could be in Twitter’s real-time search: TechCrunch is citing multiple sources who say Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is in talks to purchase Twitter. It’s not clear how advanced the discussions are. Initially, TC cited sources as saying the two companies were in “late-stage negotiations” but in an update to his initial post, Michael Arrington writes, “Yet another source says the acquisition discussions are still fairly early stage, and the two companies are also considering working together on a Google real time search engine.”
Either way, it would be easy to see how Google could benefit from supplementing its search results with Twitter’s. A user searching for a query in Google might not only see a set of traditional results but at the same time would see a snapshot of the conversation surrounding that term going on right then on the web.