Google and Facebook show their scale advantage by copying Twitter

By September 29, 2009 4 Comments

I read this morning on search engine land that Google is going a bit more real-time by putting trending search topics information direct onto the first page of search results.  This works by adding a ‘Hot Trends Onebox’ near the bottom of the results page, see the picture below.


For me this is a nice feature.  It will be cool to know when lots of other people are searching on the same topic as me, and also whether the topic has already peaked in popularity.

My point here though is that Google’s move shows the advantage their scale gives them versus startups like Twitter.  To explain; Twitter has done an awesome job building the realtime meme, and realtime search is an important part of that, and now Google is in a good position to take some of the benefits of all that hard work for themselves.  Hot Trends doesn’t compete directly with Twitter – it isn’t a microblogging service – but it does compete with Twitter Search, which is regarded as one of the potential money spinners for Twitter, and as such could hurt the world’s favourite micro-blogging platform as it tries to grow into its $1bn valuation.

To go into a little detail; Hot Trends looks at search query data, which Google is now describing as an alternative form of microblogging, with a MUCH higher volume of data. Google’s scale advantage comes from being able to quickly see what resonates with its huge user base and potentially innovate much faster than Twitter going forward (in this area).

A couple of caveats; 1) Twitter Search looks at the Twitter stream so the services are not directly comparable.  2) Google doesn’t have access to the full Twiiter firehose and so can’t compete directly with Twitter search.  The two companies are apparently in discussions though and the obvious value to Google of being able to index the full Twitter stream might be a clue as to why Twitter seems so relaxed about monetisation and why they attracted such a high valuation.

Facebook has been similarly copying Twitter although this time in direct competition with the core microblogging service.  They are also able to leverage their huge user base to quickly see what works and what doesn’t which gives them a structural advantage over Twitter going forward.

My point here is not that Facebook and Google will win, and Twitter won’t.  That battle remains open, and making the scale advantages count is not necessarily straight forward, plus all the services are a little different and there is probably space for all three (and I should also say that Twitter itself is pretty big now, in terms of users). 

The purpose of this post is rather to show how in the internet space everything plays out in public and larger companies can copy the best features from smaller competitors and then leverage the information that comes from their large user bases to innovate going faster going forward.  As a result the winner takes all dynamic is stronger on the web than in more traditional sectors of IT.

For a great breakdown of the realtime search world, looking at definitions and players check out this post from Danny Sullivan of search engine land.

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