Beyond search: Twitter joins the discovery wave


With the rise of social platforms and emergence of new mobile and connected devices, we have seen an explosion in the amount of information being created and consumed. It is not a surprise that we have quietly entered the post-search world.

And with information exploding on the web, companies big and small are finding ways to organize it around constructs such as “knowledge” and “interests.” Think of these as attempts to push the Internet into “discovery” phase.

Yesterday, Google announced its Knowledge graph. Today, Twitter is introducing a way to follow others based on interests. In a blog post, the company said:

Currently, when new users come to Twitter, we show them all almost the same suggestions for what or who to follow. That isn’t ideal. Since you have individual interests, you should get individual suggestions. To make it easier and faster for everyone to get started on Twitter, we’re beginning some experiments with tailored suggestions in a number of countries around the world.

The first experiment will show new users a list of accounts that we recommend you follow, alongside a timeline filled with Tweets from those accounts. If you’re part of the experiment, you’ll see a Twitter experience that’s relevant to you right when you sign up. (Of course, you can always choose to not follow the suggested accounts that don’t interest you.)

If you’re a current user, you may see tailored suggestions in Who to follow so you can constantly find interesting and relevant accounts that are new to you.

In doing so, Twitter is also telling the world that Google (s GOOG) and Facebook (s FB) aren’t the only game in town and it has a reach to match those mega-billion dollar giants.

These tailored suggestions are based on accounts followed by other Twitter users and visits to websites in the Twitter ecosystem. We receive visit information when sites have integrated Twitter buttons or widgets, similar to what many other web companies — including LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube — do when they’re integrated into websites. By recognizing which accounts are frequently followed by people who visit popular sites, we can recommend those accounts to others who have visited those sites within the last ten days.

(That paragraph also explains why Twitter was talking about its new do not track privacy policy earlier this morning.)

Twitter is trying to solve what my colleague Mathew Ingram calls its “filter” problem. It isn’t the only one. Zite, a mobile app, for example has tried to organize articles and blog posts around “interests.” Prismatic, arguably one of the best of all new services, is building the digital daily newspaper.

Back in 2008, I wrote a post, Can serendipity make you rich? arguing:

The problem is that there’s too much data coming online too quickly, and the traditional method of search that involves first finding and then consuming the information is not going to work for much longer. There just won’t be enough time for us to do that and still have a life. It’s a problem, and therefore solving it is an opportunity — a very big opportunity.

Well, looks like many companies are looking at the opportunity and licking their chops. And that can’t be a bad thing for us, the people of the Internet.


Zite and new notions of content discovery will be part of the discussion about the ever-changing media landscape at paidContent 2012: At The Crossroads on May 23 in New York City.


Therese Torris

Great article. I’m not too optimistic, though, about the multiple initiatives to solve the “filter” problem. As filters multiply each with their own categories and taxonomies, they create a need to search through the filters as well. The problem moves on. For example: I practice content curation. Content curation was supposed to help discovery in a “post-search world”. In practice, content curation does (marginally?) help discovery. But it also piles up (meta)content on (meta)content. In so doing it burries the original content under layers of more or less accurate “filters”/pointers. De facto, doesn’t it accelerate the content overload and the confusion, creating the need for… better search?

Marc is another company working on this issue of filtering and recommendation, providing a “social compass” to their users in the form of a Chrome extension

Jonathan Mendez

Om – There is no post-search phase of the web. The first popular sites on the web were directories and 15 years later Search is bigger than ever, driving more traffic than ever, driving more revenue than ever and growing faster on a pure dollar basis than most else. In fact, not much is growing faster than mobile search. This is all because Search is not a channel. It is not a wave. Search is a basic human nature and the most natural expression of this medium. I’ve seen the “search is dying” meme come and go for a decade – and here it is again. In fact the argument can be made that what you’re talking about here is indeed search as well. Jeff Bezos pointed out years ago there are two modes of Search – “Recovery” and “Discovery” Google’s KG is going on the SERP – still driven by query and cynics like myself who have felt Google has had the semantic intelligence to do this for years think the only reason it’s happening now is to pave the way for graphical ads on the SERP. What you’ll see in future is more people move into search. Would not surprise me to see Facebook launch its own engine within 18 months. Search is and has always been about discovery. It’s not a phase and it’s not happening in any meaningful way for most people outside of Search.

Therese Torris

I tend to agree with you Jonathan, as discovery mechanisms multiply, search becomes more needed than ever. At this point, there is enough competition for search positioning that Google has more to gain from creating parametric search (topic by topic) than from universal search. Question is: can Facebook or anybody catch up with Google in search? Will Facebook ever do a better job at it than Bing did? They’re so far from it…

Archana Baktha is a site that help defies all this and still provide what we users need and I work there. It makes every link suggestion you make go public under your name and provides an excellent search and discover facility. googles knowledge graph and twitters discover also share the same idea of our site.

Thomas Baekdal

What Twitter is doing is a massive violation of privacy. What they are saying is that they are now actively tracking every single site you visit, and every single article you read – unless you opt-out. Either by going to Twitter and blocking this, or blocking them in your browser.

But by default, Twitter now tracks everything you do on every site (because let’s face it, the tweet button is everywhere).

That is not the same as what Google or anyone else are doing.

There is an even bigger problem with this. On my site, for instance, I have a privacy policy that states that I do not share any personal identifiable information with third party sites. But every single one of my visitors is now suddenly tracked by Twitter – and Twitter now records every article each individual reads on my site, and links that data to each person via the twitter ID.

That is just a phenomenal breach of the contract I have with my audience. As a site owner, I have a responsibility to only use 3rd party tools that I trust to protect people’s privacy by not tracking third party usage.

I’m usually not a privacy advocate. I believe, the same way as you do here at GigaOm, that publishers have the right to track what it’s readers do on our sites. But Twitter has gone far beyond that. When people visit my site, or GigaOm, they did not agree to have their browsing data shared with Twitter.

We had the same problem with Facebook, but Facebook quickly responded and said *we do not track browser behavior through the like button* – and then that was ok.

I for one hate the European Cookie Law, but this is exactly the kind of rouge behavior it is trying to prevent.

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