Nathania Johnson recently wrote a post for SearchEngineWatch.com called Is Twitter the New Google Alternative? In it, she reports on a number of people (including my wife) who are using Twitter as a means of finding information, much as one would use a standard search engine such as Google or Yahoo. Instead of (or in addition to) asking Google to tell you what you want to know, you can now ask your Twitter followers.
This use of Twitter as search engine highlights a couple of interesting things:
1. The difference between "objective" and "subjective" information – While calling Google search results objective may stretch the definition of the word (lots of Google searches will turn up plenty of subjective opinions), it's certainly true that the results you get from a Google search are selected for you based on a) data that currently exists on the internet, and b) Google's search algorithm. But sometimes you may be specifically looking for opinions or even opinions from a specific group of people. In this case, Twitter serves as a way to shout a question out to a few dozen (or a few thousand) of your closest friends and get some answers fairly quickly, even if you're not actually with any of your friends at that particular time. The answers you get back may not represent the information available across the entire internet, but you may not care. In fact, if you've cultivated your Twitter following to match a particular demographic (e.g., people who work in your field), that may be just the group of people whose opinions you're looking for.
2. Twitter is increasingly showing itself to be more than just a mindless distraction – Lots of people, upon first hearing about Twitter, roll their eyes and assume that it's just another way to waste time online. (I confess that this was my first reaction; after all, do we really need to get constant updates from millions of strangers telling us what they're doing?) But more and more, Twitter is demonstrating its usefulness in a number of areas, including business networking, real-time audience feedback, and now internet searches.
While I'm still new to Twitter, and don't use it nearly as much as some people, I'm continually fascinated by all of the ways it's being used; and not just as a "mindless distraction," but in ways that enhance productivity and connect with others.